Valentine’s tar sands exit fails to woo critics

Unlike the anonymous Valentine’s Day greetings sent by mystery admirers, the Barclays Annual Report released on February 14th was signed by the Chairman on behalf of the Board of Directors, who may have hoped it would charm the bank’s recent vociferous environmental detractors, from high-profile celebrities and organisations to investors representing over US$1.5tn in assets under management. The introduction to the report recognizes “increasingly frequent climate disasters” at the outset, and the revised Climate Strategy includes a change to Barclays’ much-derided fossil fuel policies, which now rule out tar sands exploration and production, as well as some related activities.

While the somewhat overdue withdrawal from one of its most ecocidal activities has been welcomed as further evidence the sector has no future, campaigners have lambasted Barclays’ failure to preclude financing of new oil and gas developments acknowledged by the IEA as having no place in any attempt to avoid devastating climate consequences. As Jeanne Martin, Head of Banking Programme at ShareAction noted, “despite not having published a new oil and gas policy for the last three years, the bank’s fracking policy remains unchanged and there is no mention of new oil and gas [so] Barclays continues to be out of step with current minimum standards of ambition within the industry”, sentiments echoed by Tony Burdon, Chief Executive of Make My Money Matter: “any strategy which does not include restrictions on financing for new oil and gas represents a failure of leadership, ambition, and action. We expect this approach will lead to Barclays customers voting with their feet and moving to a bank which isn’t financing climate destruction.” Although far from the most sustainable alternatives, HSBC, NatWest and Lloyds already have some restrictions of this kind.

Jeanne Martin also exhorted Barclays to update its oil and gas policy in advance of its 2023 AGM, failing which, “the bank should be prepared to deal with further shareholder action to encourage Barclays to meaningfully align with its net zero goal.” With this little love for Barclays’ current position, that AGM may end up as disrupted as the previous one.

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