Climate protesters rework Spice Girls song to disrupt Barclays AGM
Barclays’ annual general meeting was disrupted by climate activists deploying Shakespeare-inspired quotes and reworked lyrics of a Spice Girls hit to condemn the bank’s role as one of Europe’s largest funders of fossil fuels.
Dozens of activists from groups including Fossil Free London and Extinction Rebellion UK began their action less than five minutes into the meeting where its chair, Nigel Higgins, was addressing shareholders at the QEII Centre in Westminster, central London.
A choir was the first to interrupt, with a rendition of the Spice Girls song Stop. Reworking the 90s classic’s lyrics, the group sang: “Stop right now, no more oil and gas, stop burning fossil fuels and end this madness … hey you, burning up the Earth, gotta stop it now baby we have had enough … you dirty, dirty bank.”
Minutes after the bank’s chair instructed security to remove the choral group, another protester stood up, yelling: “You are the worst fossil fuel funder in Europe.” Another addressed the chair directly, shouting: “Nigel, don’t you have children … don’t you care about the planet? Don’t you care about your children?”
Barclays’ company secretary, Hannah Ellwood, was heard whispering to the chair that the protesters should be made to leave, but others quickly took over in their own chorus of shouting.
Some protesters deployed lines from a Shakespeare-inspired speech, generated by the artificial intelligence tool, ChatGPT: “The people thee harm, and our air thou pollute! And yet, there is more, I tell you this day, for Barclays is guilty in a vile way. Thou art on the wrong side of history, I say!”
Higgins tried to urge calm. “We are obviously very happy to hear opinions on what we do but it may be helpful to wait until the Q&A and have a two-way discussion.” However, after no reprieve came, he urged security to remove the remaining protesters. “I think as you said, enough is enough, I suspect a lot of people in the room agree with that.”
The challenge from climate activists did not end once the board opened the floor for questions, with most of the three-hour meeting dominated by queries over Barclays’ climate and fossil fuel policies.
One shareholder and activist declared that Barclays’ plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 was “too little too late”. They also accused Higgins of showing “arrogance and hubris” and not taking campaigners’ concerns seriously.
“It’s like a parallel universe. With the greatest love and respect to all of you and your families, this isn’t real. What’s real is record-breaking temperatures in the world’s oceans, crops failing around the world, and a third of humanity in record-breaking heat in 12 countries in Asia. That’s real. I don’t know if you feel that your privilege is going to protect you, but it isn’t.”
And although the chair said Barclays’ ambition was “to be one, if not the leading, transition-financing banks” – referring to the transition to a lower-carbon economy – another proxy shareholder challenged the chair, saying “it seems you’re not leading, it seems you’re lagging”.
They also warned Barclays investors that the bank would face boycotts unless its climate strategy improved. “Every person who you’ve heard raise a concern is trying to tell everybody else they know to leave Barclays, go to other banks that have much better records on sustainability.”
“Nobody has to stick with Barclays and I think people are realising that more and more so I’d just 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’s going to lose a lot.”
As Higgins went on to outline the bank’s own climate commitments, another protester shouted: “Bullshit.”
The chair said the bank had “significantly enhanced” its climate disclosures, and had listened to shareholder feedback after almost 20% voted last year against a climate strategy that campaigners said was too weak and contained a number of loopholes.
The chair said Barclays had committed to ending thermal coal financing in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and EU countries by 2023, and had “substantially exited” the carbon-heavy tar sands sector, while increasing its financing for green energy.
However, Higgins said Barclays would not abandon the fossil fuel sector entirely. “It is our view – and I know that not everybody agrees – that the state of energy provision today, and the questions of energy poverty and energy security, mean that we cannot simply abandon this sector.”