Barclays’ annual general meeting was disrupted by climate activists who unfurled Shakespearean-inspired quotes and reworked lyrics from a Spice Girls hit to decry the bank’s role as one of Europe’s biggest financiers of fossil fuels.
Dozens of activists from groups including Fossil Free London and Extinction Rebellion UK began their action less than five minutes after their chairman Nigel Higgins addressed shareholders at the QEII Center in Westminster in central London. .
A choir was the first to interrupt, with a rendition of the Spice Girls song Stop. Reworking lyrics from the ’90s classic, the group sang: “Stop right now, no more oil and gas, stop burning fossil fuels and end this madness… hey you burning the earth gotta stop now baby We’ve had enough…dirty.” , dirty bench.”
Minutes after the bank president ordered security to remove the choral group, another protester stood up and shouted: “You are the worst financier of fossil fuels in Europe.” Another made a beeline for the chair, yelling, “Nigel, don’t you have kids… don’t you care about the planet? Don’t you care about your children?
Barclays company secretary Hannah Ellwood was heard whispering into the chair that the protesters should be made to leave, but others quickly took over in their own chorus of shouting.
Some protesters unfurled lines from a Shakespearean-inspired speech, generated by the artificial intelligence tool, ChatGPT: “People harm you and our air you pollute! And yet, there is more, I tell you today, because Barclays is guilty in a vile way. You are on the wrong side of history I say!
Higgins tried to urge calm. “Obviously, we’re very happy to hear feedback on what we’re doing, but it can be helpful to wait until Q&A and have a two-way discussion.” However, after there was no pardon, he urged security to remove the remaining protesters. “I think like you said enough is enough, I suspect a lot of people in the room would agree with that.”
The challenge from climate activists did not end once the board opened the floor for questions, with most of the three-hour meeting dominated by consultations on Barclays’ climate and fossil fuel policies.
One shareholder and activist declared that Barclays’ plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 were “too little too late”. They also accused Higgins of displaying “arrogance and arrogance” and of not taking activists’ concerns seriously.
“It’s like a parallel universe. With the greatest love and respect to all of you and your families, this is not real. What is real are record temperatures in the world’s oceans, failing crops around the world and a third of humanity in record heat in 12 countries in Asia. This is real. I don’t know if you feel like your privilege is going to protect you, but it’s not like that.”
And while the chairman said Barclays’ ambition was “to be one, if not the leading, transition finance bank”, referring to the transition to a lower carbon economy, another representative shareholder challenged the chairman saying “it seems that you are not leading, it seems that you are lagging behind”.
They also warned Barclays investors that the bank would face boycotts unless it improved its climate strategy. “Everyone you’ve heard raising a concern is trying to tell everyone else they know to leave Barclays, go to other banks that have much better sustainability records.”
“No one has to stay with Barclays and I think people are realizing that more and more, so I would like them to know, and I would like all investors to know, if Barclays is still the worst financier of fossil fuels in the UK, you are going to lose a lot.”
As Higgins continued to describe the bank’s own climate commitments, another protester yelled, “Nonsense.”
The chairman said the bank had “significantly improved” its climate disclosures and listened to feedback from shareholders after nearly 20% voted last year against a climate strategy that activists said was too weak and contained a series of gaps.
The chairman said Barclays had committed to end financing of thermal coal in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and EU countries by 2023, and had “substantially exited” the high-carbon tar sands sector. carbon, while increasing its funding for green energy.
However, Higgins said Barclays would not leave the fossil fuel sector entirely. “It is our opinion, and I know not everyone agrees, that the current state of energy supply and the issues of energy poverty and energy security mean that we cannot simply abandon this sector.”