Activist investors failed in their attempts to force Barclays to phase out funding for fossil fuels at the company’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday.
But ShareAction, a charity that campaigns for responsible investment, managed to gain support from nearly a quarter of the bank’s investors to back its resolution.
In response, Barclays put forward an alternative proposal to make the bank emissions neutral by the middle of the century and promised to continue engaging with investors.
The bank’s resolution passed with 99.9% of investors voting in favour.
ShareAction’s resolution only secured backing from 23.95%, with 76.05% rejecting it.
For its #NetZero ambition to be credible, @Barclays needs to align its fossil fuel lending with climate science.— ShareAction (@ShareAction) May 7, 2020
Weâre in a #ClimateEmergency! We cannot afford to wait.
Our statement to the #Barclays board today >> https://t.co/LGOqotkirG #BarclaysAgm #BarclaysResolution pic.twitter.com/NJpI0tT65Y
ShareAction and its supporters had said they would vote for both, while Barclays dismissed the activists’ proposal as unworkable.
Following the vote, Barclays said its commitment to tackling climate change was reflected in the resolution that passed.
It added: “We have engaged extensively over recent months… We will reflect on this feedback from our shareholders and ensure that we understand fully the reasons why those shareholders who did so supported this resolution.”
Prior to the vote at the AGM, which took place remotely due to lockdown, the investor group questioned some elements of the board’s plan, despite pledging to vote for it.
Jeanne Martin, campaign manager at ShareAction, said: “Barclays’ ambition, while a positive result for investor engagement, leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the bank’s harmful financing activities in the short-term since it fails to commit to phase out support for fossil fuels.
“Voting for both resolutions is a way for investors to guarantee Barclays joins the dots between its long-term ambition and its current fossil fuel financing activities.”
🏦 *Barclays AGM Today*. XR Rebels have sprayed the head office of Barclays with fake oil to highlight their position as the biggest fossil fuel financiers in Europe, thus a major contributor to climate breakdown. pic.twitter.com/PBwiUmYX4W— Staines XR (@Staines_XR) May 7, 2020
Several institutional investors, including the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), M&G Investments and EOS1, the stewardship provider at Federated Hermes, had said they would support both resolutions.
During the AGM, chief executive Jes Staley revealed the bank has approved 5,270 loans worth just over £1 billion as part of the Government’s coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS).
It also approved around £670 million worth of lending to 20,000 small businesses in the first day the bounce back loan scheme was offered on Monday.
“Behind those numbers are stories of businesses and jobs surviving this crisis,” Mr Staley said.
Chairman Nigel Higgins said the bank was still committed to delivering a return on tangible equity “consistently above 10%”, however, he admitted this would be “much more difficult to achieve” in present conditions.
Mr Higgins added: “We have done a lot of thinking recently about how we can make a real and positive difference to society, and I think this has informed the way in which the bank has responded to the current crisis and to customers and clients.
“This also extends to our role in the preservation of our external environment. Barclays can and should play a leading role in tackling climate change. The size and scale of our business means that we can really help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Separately, three members of Extinction Rebellion sprayed fake oil on the bank’s headquarters in Canary Wharf in London on Thursday morning during the meeting.