Due to a bank's financing of fossil fuels, the lyrics of Stop were altered to "stop immediately, no more oil and gas
Climate activists disrupted Barclays’ annual general meeting by using Shakespearean quotations and reworked Spice Girls lyrics to criticise the bank’s role as one of Europe’s largest fossil fuel financiers.
Dozens of activists from groups including Fossil Free London and Extinction Rebellion UK initiated their action less than five minutes into the meeting at the QEII Centre in Westminster, central London, where chairman Nigel Higgins was addressing shareholders.
A choir was the first to interrupt, performing Stop by the Spice Girls. Reworking the lyrics of the 1990s hit, the band sang, “Stop right now, no more oil and gas, stop burning fossil fuels and end this lunacy… Hey you, heating up the Earth, you’ve got to halt it now, darling… you filthy, filthy bank!”
Minutes after the chair of the bank instructed security to remove the choral group, another demonstrator stood up and shouted, “You are the worst fossil fuel funder in Europe.” Another participant directly addressed the chair, exclaiming, “Nigel, don’t you have children? Don’t you care about the planet? Don’t you care about your children?”
Hannah Ellwood, the company secretary for Barclays, was overheard murmuring to the chair that the protestors should be asked to leave, but others soon took over with a cacophony of chanting.
Some protestors used lines from a speech inspired by Shakespeare and generated by the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT: “The people you injure, and our oxygen you pollute! And yet, there is more, I tell you today, because Barclays is vilely culpable. I say that you are on the wrong side of history!”
Higgins urged calmness. “We are delighted to receive feedback on our work, but it may be beneficial to wait until the Q&A to engage in a dialogue.” However, when no reprieve was forthcoming, he demanded that security remove the remaining demonstrators. “As you stated, I believe that enough is enough, and I suspect that many in the room concur.”
The challenge posed by climate activists did not cease when the board opened the floor to questions; the majority of the three-hour meeting was dominated by inquiries regarding the climate and fossil fuel policies of Barclays.
One activist shareholder stated that Barclays’ intentions to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 were “too little, too late.” They also accused Higgins of displaying “arrogance and hubris” and disregarding the concerns of campaigners.
It is similar to a parallel universe. With the utmost affection and reverence for you all and your families, this is not true. What is true are record-breaking ocean temperatures, collapsing harvests around the globe, and a third of humanity experiencing record-breaking weather in 12 Asian countries. That is true. I’m not sure if you believe your privilege will protect you, but it won’t.”
And while the chair stated that Barclays’ goal was “to be one of, if not the leading, transition-financing banks” – referring to the transition to a lower-carbon economy – a proxy shareholder challenged the chair, stating “it seems you’re not leading, it seems you’re lagging.”
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They also warned Barclays investors that if the bank does not strengthen its climate strategy, it will face boycotts. Every person you’ve heard express concern is attempting to persuade everyone they know to leave Barclays and go to other institutions with much superior sustainability records.
“No one is obligated to stay with Barclays, and I believe more and more people are realising this, so I’d like you to be aware – and I’d like all investors to be aware – that if Barclays continues to be the worst fossil fuel funder in the UK, it will lose a lot.”
As Higgins continued to describe the bank’s climate commitments, another protester yelled, “Bullocks!”
The chair stated that the bank had “significantly enhanced” its climate disclosures and had attended to shareholder feedback after nearly 20% of shareholders voted against a climate strategy that campaigners deemed insufficient and riddled with exemptions.
Barclays has “substantially exited” the carbon-heavy tar sands sector, while increasing its financing for renewable energy, according to Barclays’ chairman.
However, Higgins stated that Barclays would not completely abandon the fossil fuel industry. We are of the opinion – and I am aware that not everyone agrees – that given the current state of energy provision and the issues of energy poverty and energy security, we cannot simply abandon this sector.