UK bank sets stricter standards for investments but will not pull out of coal, oil and gas altogether, according to new statement
Barclays has unveiled new stricter standards for coal, oil and gas investments in a policy statement released yesterday, but the new strategy has left climate campaigners clamouring for bolder action.
The new policy declares banks have a crucial role in "ensuring the world's energy needs are met while helping to limit the threat that climate change poses to people and to the natural environment".
However, Barlcays said it will not pull out of any fossil fuel projects altogether - including coal mining, coal-fired power stations, oil sands and arctic oil and gas - instead promising to conduct Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD) "on a case-by-case basis" for clients in sensitive energy sectors.
The stance received mixed reviews from green groups, which described the policy as "underwhelming" for its failure to rule out funding for more controversial high carbon projects, including tar sands and Arctic oil and gas.
Nevertheless, the new statement represents a strengthening of Barclays' climate policies, and makes it the last major UK bank to clarify in detail how it will engage with companies involved in fossil fuels.
The Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC have both they will no longer finance coal-fired power stations, thermal coal mines, oil sands and Arctic oil projects in new climate policy statements last year. Lloyds Banking Group has also halted financing for new coal stations and mines.
The changes mean Barclays' clients will now have to prove they have considered the environmental and social impacts associated with their projects, as well as ensure adherence to local green regulations, and risk disclosure in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) guidelines.
The bank has also established a Green Banking Council to coordinate its strategy across its business.
Barclays claims such measures are fiscally prudent. Yesterday's statement highlights the $26tr economic opportunity from transitioning to a low carbon economy by 2030, in addition to avoiding risks from climate change. The bank said it "has no appetite" to support project finance transactions for the development of greenfield thermal coal mines, or to enable the construction or material expansion of coal-fired power stations "anywhere in the world".
The bank will continue to provide general financing for current corporate clients which own and operate existing thermal coal mines and coal-fired power stations, but has promised to review these arrangements on a case-by-case basis if a firm derives more than half of its revenue from coal.
Barclays' clients conducting new exploration or extraction of Arctic oil and gas will also be subject to its EDD review policies, as will any transaction using proceeds for the exploration, extraction, transportation or processing of oil sands, according to the statement.
Overall, Barclays said that while it was placing restrictions on its exposure in some carbon intensive sectors such as thermal coal, it would continue to "support oil and gas clients that operate in an environmentally and socially responsible way, in order to meet the world's energy needs".
"We expect that there will be a significant shift away from carbon based fuel consumption in the long term and we expect our financing activity to reflect that change," Barclays' statement reads. "In most scenarios, however, oil and gas are expected to continue to be the main source of energy for decades to come. The reliance on gas as a transition fuel, and a partial replacement for oil, is expected to increase over this time period."
But campaigners were unimpressed with the scale of change to the bank's investment policies.
Christian Aid's senior private sector advisor, Ashley Taylor, welcomed Barclays' stronger policies on financing for new coal power and coal mining around the world, but said the bank had "let itself down" elsewhere in the policy. "Although Barclays will stop coal project financing they will continue to fund coal companies and financing highly polluting tar sands oil," said Taylor. "Clearly they still have a long way to go."
Greenpeace UK oil campaigner Hannah Martin went further, arguing Barclays' new climate policy put the bank "on the wrong side of history".
"It shows either staggering ignorance or reckless disregard that Barclays has taken so long to deliver so little on climate change," she said. "In failing to exclude all financing to tar sands pipelines, and companies that continue to develop a significant number of coal plans around the world, Barclays' make a mockery of their claims to take climate change seriously. The pressure on them will only increase."
Investment banks across the world are facing growing public and shareholder pressure to green their investment activities. Barclays' efforts are a step in the right direction, but against stiff competition from banking rivals with arguably more radical positions, perhaps the bank has not gone far enough.
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