Barclays’ annual general meeting (AGM) in Manchester got off to a chaotic start with a series of disruptions from climate change activists in the audience.
Chairman Nigel Higgins was forced to pause the meeting while security officials removed the protesters after he was repeatedly interrupted, with the activists dominating the first hour of the event and setting off alarms.
A number of protesters glued themselves to their seats in the Manchester Central Convention Complex to avoid being removed.
Protesters criticised the bank over its investment strategy, claiming it is continuing to invest heavily in fossil fuels and accusing it of “greenwashing”.
Extinction Rebellion and sister movement Money Rebellion said they had disrupted the Barclays AGM and that of fellow bank Standard Chartered to demand they stop financing fossil fuels.
A total of around 60 people interrupted speeches at both meetings, they said.
One activist at the Barclays AGM said the bank is “morally bankrupt”.
He said: “Barclays has ploughed 160 billion US dollars (£128 billion) into fossil fuel extraction.”
Another called on the bank to “change your policy”.
He said: “You did say you were going to do it last year and you failed.
“Please, I’m begging you, after this meeting, change your policy.”
Mr Higgins – appearing flustered amid the disruption – had asked protesters to wait until the question and answer session at the end of the meeting, but was forced to ask security to step in.
The environmental campaigners claim Barclays is the UK’s largest investor in fossil fuels, having put 19.6 billion US dollars (£15.7 billion) into the industry in 2021, and that Standard Chartered has put in 6 billion dollars (£4.8 billion).
Aidan Knox, 22, a student and member of Money Rebellion, who took part in the action at the Standard Chartered AGM, said: “We are disrupting the AGMs because we are in a climate crisis, but Barclays and Standard Chartered are more interested in their profits than a habitable planet.”
He pointed to warnings from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of a “code red for humanity” and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) calls for no more investments in fossil fuel expansion if the world is to meet global targets to curb dangerous temperature rises.
He warned that both banks put billions into companies expanding oil and gas in 2021, and said: “We are scared for the future and we have no other option but to pressure these UK banks to change.”
Mia Watanabe, a member of campaign group Market Forces, who was at the Barclays AGM, said: “Barclays’ refusal to listen to climate protesters and instead to drown them out with loud videos is a perfect metaphor for the bank’s attitude towards climate change.”
She added: “Barclays can either align themselves with the science or continue to be the biggest fossil fuel funders in Europe. It can’t do both.”
In response to a barrage of climate change questions from shareholders at the event, Mr Higgins said Barclays will not pledge to immediately stop investing in oil and gas firms, but insisted net-zero aims are a priority for the group.
Barclays has tabled a new advisory resolution on climate for shareholders to vote on at the event, after a proposal for the bank to reduce fossil fuel finance was rejected last year despite heavy campaigning from activists and investors.
Mr Higgins told investors at Wednesday’s AGM: “We get the point. We share the ambition and are aligning the IEA scenarios with the targets that we are setting, but there’s a hell of a lot else that needs to be done to make that scenario come to fruition.”
Barclays confirmed later on Wednesday that 19.2% of shareholder votes were cast against its climate strategy proposals.
However, the strategy passed with 80.2% of votes in favour, ensuring it easily passed the 50% threshold.
The company also reported that 10.97% of shareholder votes were cast against its pay proposals for executives.