Facts about Barclays

Statements from Barclays make the bank sound greener and greener - but the facts tell a different story

Whether on its website, in its annual Environmental Social Governance Report, via its Statements and policy positions, or elsewhere, Barclays misses no opportunity to present itself as a bank making strenuous efforts to help tackle climate change and ecosystem destruction. Under scrutiny, the claims begin to appear misleading, as shown in some examples below. (You can find similar information for other organisations at www.greenwash.earth/.)

Claim

“Barclays is committed to aligning its financing with the goals and timelines of the Paris Agreement [...] Our approach is underpinned by BlueTrack™, a methodology we have developed to measure and track our financed carbon emissions at a portfolio level [...] For Power, Cement and Steel, we have set emissions intensity targets.”
About BlueTrack, Barclays PLC

Fact

Climate change can only be avoided by reducing overall CO2 emissions, that is, an absolute reduction. A reduction in power portfolio ‘intensity’ by no means entails an absolute reduction, and can instead simply be greenwash. Gas-fired power stations generally produced about half the CO2 per MWh as coal-fired power stations, so this can be shown with some before-and-after examples – for simplicity, considering power stations all of equal output.

Before After Intensity change CO2 change
A 1 coal power station 2 gas power stations -50% None
B 1 coal power station 1 coal power station, 2 gas power stations -33% +100%

In example A, financing 2 gas power stations instead of 1 coal power station achieves an intensity reduction of 50% - but the amount of CO2 emitted is unchanged. In example B, financing 2 gas power stations as well as a coal power station still achieves an intensity reduction of 33% - but twice as much CO2 is emitted. So, intensity reduction gives no real indication of what matters, absolute CO2 reduction. The only reasons to use intensity as a metric are 1. to make a small absolute reduction sound bigger, 2. to hide an absence of CO2 reduction, or even a CO2 increase. These reasons ideally fit the likely aim of BlueTrack for Barclays - to continue profiting from their existing customers' fossil fuel production and use, by ‘transitioning’ to extensive use of gas, particularly for power generation. Investing in gas infrastructure - tying countries into fossil fuel use for years to come - benefits fossil fuel companies and their banks, but is otherwise disastrous. For numerous reasons, gas “cannot form a bridge to a clean energy future”,
Burning the Gas ‘Bridge Fuel’ Myth, Oil Change International
as recognized in the EU’s sustainable finance drafting.
Gas denied ‘transition’ fuel status, edie

Claim

“We initially adopted the International Energy Agency (IEA) Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) to derive benchmarks and inform our target setting [...] The IEA subsequently introduced an updated scenario in May 2021, IEA NZE2050, which achieves net zero emissions by 2050 [...] We have integrated this scenario to derive our benchmarks and set our 2030 targets, replacing the IEA SDS scenario we were previously using.”
Barclays’ Climate Strategy, Targets and Progress 2022, Barclays PLC

Fact

Barclays has introduced an NZE2050-aligned target of 40% reduction in absolute CO2e emissions – but only for its Energy sector (fossil fuel companies), only by 2030, and without any exclusions in the meantime for financing (say) new oil and gas that must not be extracted. For Power, Cement and Steel, the bank has only set a target range, and only for emissions intensity (see above for how that can mislead). Worse still, only the top of that range is NZE2050-aligned, while the bottom of it is “based on our current view of sector and client pathways and commitments”, i.e. the so-called Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). Extensive criticism
Nordic investors urge IEA to deliver Paris-aligned scenario, Expert Investor
The IEA and WEO 2019, Oil Change International
of the SDS is exactly why the highly-conservative IEA introduced the newer NZE2050 scenario (contrasted here). SDS failings include:


To use decarbonisation targets based on the SDS is to plan ‘business as usual’ as long as possible, regardless of how that accelerates climate breakdown.

Claim

“When we set a target based on an emissions intensity metric, we recognise that it would in theory allow ‘greening’ a portfolio by keeping fossil fuel companies financing and adding green company financing to the portfolio, which would keep absolute emissions high. However, this logic would only apply in the short term, as the amount of green financing to be added in order to keep a portfolio in line with a 1.5°C scenario would soon become boundless (as the benchmark intensity gets closer to zero) and outside of what a bank can realistically capture as a fair share.”
About BlueTrack, Barclays PLC

Fact

It would indeed be difficult to continue to keep a portfolio in line with a 1.5°C scenario for many years by green-packing it in this way – but Barclays has not committed to anything of the sort for its Power (and Cement, and Steel) portfolio; the lower end of its target range is aligned with IEA SDS, not NZE2050.
Barclays’ Climate Strategy, Targets and Progress 2022, Barclays PLC
More importantly, it is the immediate action that is needed to ensure global emissions peak within 3 years
Global emissions must peak in just three years to stay below 1.5°C, New Scientist
that matters, not how many ways the bank’s distant lower target of 50% emissions intensity reduction in the Power portfolio by 2030 could be met.

Claim

“In November 2020, we set [...] a target for a 15% reduction in absolute CO2 emissions of our Energy portfolio by 2025. In 2021, we reduced our absolute financed emissions in Energy by 22%, exceeding our 2025 Energy target.”
Annual Report 2021, Barclays PLC

Fact

During the turmoil of COVID-19 pandemic, the Energy sector experienced a significant dip,
IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants, Carbon Brief
with corresponding drop in financial activity. As Barclays’ fossil fuel investment policies were (and are set to remain
Barclays’ new climate plan makes own ‘Net Zero’ goal impossible, Market Forces
) so ineffectual,
Detailed analysis of Barclays’ 2020 energy policy, ShareAction
it can take no credit for the direction of its clients finances in that period – or as Barclays puts it, “This reflects year-on-year reductions in borrowing and capital markets volumes across the market to more normalised levels”. Use of fossil fuels has since leapt again,
Fossil fuel demand shakes off pandemic in blow to climate fight, Reuters
and as it continues to finance them, so will Barclays’ financed emissions, as the bank discreetly recognizes: “In 2022, a post COVID-19 pandemic rebound of the markets may result in increased issuance volumes which in turn may reverse some of our progress achieved to date.”
Annual Report 2021, Barclays PLC

Claim

“Today, thermal coal is a climate risk and, increasingly, the financing of these activities is a credit risk. We are therefore tightening our thermal coal policy in a number of areas [...] from 1 January 2023 we will not extend financing to new clients engaged in thermal coal mining and we will not provide financing to existing clients that generate more than 30% of their revenue from thermal coal mining”
Barclays’ Climate Strategy, Targets and Progress 2022, Barclays PLC

Fact

Applying a 30% revenue threshold excludes very few of Barclays’ existing clients – applicable to only 2 out of the 45 bond transactions undertaken in 2019, and only 9 of the 38 syndicated loans made in 2019.
Detailed analysis, ShareAction
This is significant given the scale of the sums Barclays has channelled into coal; between 2019 and 2021, it was the fourth largest lender in the world to the coal industry.
Research reveals Asia still top lenders and underwriters of the Global Coal Industry, 350.org
The bank has finally set exit dates for coal financing - but not until 2035 (exceptions: 2030 for coal mining in OECD countries and coal-fired power in UK/EU). Barclays’ threshold-based restrictions - which amount to hardly any restriction at all - and distant coal exit dates stand in stark contrast to the call to action from UN secretary-general António Guterres:

Today, I am calling on all governments, private companies and local authorities to take three steps [...] First, cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline and end the deadly addiction to coal. Second, end the international financing of coal plants and [...] third, jump-start a global effort to finally organise a just transition [for coal industry workers], going plant by plant if necessary.
Cancel all planned coal projects, says UN chief, The Guardian

Claim

“We will not directly finance projects involving fracking in the UK and Europe;
In addition, we will not provide any financing to companies primarily engaged in fracking activities in the UK and Europe;
Any financing for a company involved in fracking activities outside the UK and Europe, is subject to EDD [Enhanced Due Diligence]”
Barclays position on climate change, Barclays PLC

Fact

Most of the world's fracking activity takes place outside Europe. Between 2016-2020, Barclays provided US$23.9 billion of financing for fracking, making it the world’s fifth largest fracking financier over the period.
Banking on Climate Chaos 2021, Rainforest Action Network
In addition, although bank financing for the industry fell overall in 2020, Barclays increased its fracking financing by 24% from 2019.
Banking on Climate Chaos 2021, Rainforest Action Network

Claim

“We have committed to aligning our financed emissions with the goals of the Paris Agreement, on the way to achieving our ambition to reduce those emissions to net zero by 2050.”
Environmental Social Governance Report 2020, Barclays PLC

Fact

Following that commitment, Barclays’ financing of fossil fuel firms increased.
Barclays fossil fuel financing increases despite ‘net zero’ pledge, City A.M.

Claim

“Last year, Barclays took decisive action to make a real contribution to tackling climate change. [...] As the frontier of what constitutes effective action to tackle climate change moves forward, our approach will naturally evolve with it, but we do not believe we should radically change course now from the path we have only just taken. ”
Board statement on why you should vote against resolution 29, Notice of Annual General Meeting 2021, Barclays PLC

Fact

In possibly one of the longest examples of greenwash on record, the Barclays board issued a 1,000-word statement urging shareholders not to vote for a resolution that would have required the bank to take genuine action on climate change. The many misleading claims in the statement mean it needs a lengthy rebuttal, which is available here.

Claim

“We are working in partnership with the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) […] Through a three-year, £5m partnership, Barclays is working with BLUE to advance conservation of the world’s oceans.”
Environmental Social Governance Report 2020, Barclays PLC

Fact

Barclays is a major shareholder in the Bahamas Petroleum Company
Major Shareholders, Bahamas Petroleum Company
(a fact the bank prefers to obfuscate) who are pursuing oil offshore of Uruguay
Uruguay, Bahamas Petroleum Company
and the Bahamas
The Bahamas, Bahamas Petroleum Company
(and many more onshore wells). Offshore oil spills devastate the marine environment, and wells disrupt ecosystems even when running smoothly. If Barclays cared about our oceans, it would not invest in companies jeopardising them, and would find more than £5m over 3 years to protect them – a sum less than 0.3% of its loans to major EU coal utilities alone over a much shorter period.
New Beyond Coal briefing prompts bogus Barclays denials, Sharklays