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Barclays chair says ‘plenty of evidence’ it will meet climate targets as protesters removed from AGM

Barclays’ iconic Canary Wharf headquarters
Barclays’ iconic Canary Wharf headquarters

Barclays’ chair defended its record on climate change, saying there is “plenty of concrete evidence” it is on track to meet its financed emissions targets, at a feisty annual meeting that saw a number of protesters removed.

At the bank’s AGM in Glasgow on Thursday, chair Nigel Higgins responded to a string of questions and loud heckles from climate campaigners slamming Barclays’ financing of fossil fuel extraction companies.

He asked for several individuals chanting phrases including “blood on your hands” and “shame on you” to be removed from the meeting.

Barclays has long faced criticism from investors, campaigners and politicians on its approach to green finance. The bank was the world’s seventh-largest and Europe’s biggest financier of fossil fuels between 2016 and 2022, according to the Rainforest Action Network.

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The bank is also Europe’s biggest financier of fracking and the eighth largest globally, according to Banking on Climate Chaos.

At Thursday’s meeting, a group of 24 investors coordinated by NGO ShareAction, with nearly £1 trillion in assets under management, reiterated demands to end fracking finance.

Barclays announced in February that it would no longer provide direct funding for new oil and gas projects, although campaigners criticised it for not ruling out financing companies that focus exclusively on fossil fuel extraction, including fracking.

When asked by a ShareAction spokesperson to rule out financing pure-play fossil fuel extraction firms, Higgins replied: “We do recognise that there are different regional pathways, and we don’t think that restricting finance for US fracking companies is consistent with supporting an orderly affordable energy transition.”

“Investment is still required in short-cycle, short-lead time fossil fuel resources, and that’s where we put fracking,” he said, adding that Barclays was now “looking much more strictly” at non-diverse energy companies with longer lead times.

Another spokesperson asked whether the bank would set a more specific target on clean energy. “We don’t set individual targets,” Higgins said. “I’m half-inclined to answer that nobody ever judges us on our targets anyway. They judge us on what we have done.”

He added that the bank had given “a lot of thought” to setting sub-targets, but it is difficult for a firm that does its volume of corporate lending.

“We need to power up the clean energy side of the equation as much and as fast as possible, but in the meantime we need fossil fuels,” Higgins added.

In December 2022, Barclays announced a target to facilitate $1 trillion of sustainable and transition financing between 2023 and the end of 2030.