Students campaign for Durham to “dump Barclays” over links to fossil fuel industry

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Student groups have called for Durham University to quit its involvement with Barclays due to the banking company’s investment and involvement with fossil fuel companies.

On 26th February 2024, EcoDU, a climate justice society, handed out ‘Durham Dump Barclays’ leaflets, campaigning for Durham University to “join a coalition of other Universities who are moving their banking away from fossil fuel funders.” The student activists were supported by Bank On Our Future, an organisation aiming to stop banks from supporting fossil fuel companies.

In 2023, Barclays gave $4.9 billion in loans to the fossil fuel industry and, according to Reuters, was the biggest funder of fossil fuels in Europe between 2016 and 2022. However, as of February 2024, the bank has announced that it will no longer provide direct funding for new oil and gas projects.

Lia Windsor, the co-facilitator of EcoDU, told Palatinate that, “As one of the top universities in the country, Durham University has a responsibility to set an example in demonstrating commitment to sustainable and ethical practices.

Durham scored 0 for both its ethical banking policy and for excluding banks that finance fossil fuels

“A possible move away from fossil-funding banks will have a direct influence, taking money out of an extremely harmful industry.”

In the 2023/24 People & Planet University League, a university league table based on environmental sustainability, Durham scored 0 for both its ethical banking policy and for excluding banks that finance fossil fuels. Furthermore, a Durham University spokesperson emphasised: “We are recognised as one of the world’s leading universities for addressing the most pressing environmental, social and governance challenges society faces today, including being ranked 19th in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability 2024.

Windsor called for Durham University to sign a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) released by the University of Cambridge, saying, “By mobilising student support, we want to show the university’s financial office that by signing the Request for Proposal, they will be representing the values and concerns of the wider student body.

Cambridge University have formally asked the banks that bid for their banking contract to maintain divestment from fossil fuels. So far, over 60 UK universities have endorsed Cambridge’s RFP. The proposal doesn’t commit or necessitate any action for the University to switch banks once signed.

Durham University has, as of 2018, committed to divesting from companies “that are involved in the extraction of fossil fuels.” It continues to maintain this in its Ethical Investment Policy.

Barclays financed nearly $13 billion into Exxon Mobil, an oil giant, between 2016 and 2022

Palatinate spoke to David Hayman, the Campaign Director for Make My Money Matter, a grassroots pressure group which promotes divestment from financial institutions which have investments in fossil fuels. The group intends to inform individuals of banking and financial practices that may not align with their ethical and sustainable values.

He encouraged Universities to divest from fossil fuels, arguing they should “think about who they are banking with, because those banking choices — particularly those banking with Barclays, Europe’s biggest fossil fuel funder — may be undermining some of their other actions on sustainability.”

Mr Hayman continued, “Barclays are giving billions and billions of pounds every year to the fossil fuel industry and, regardless of what they may be doing on transition finance or investing in renewables, there’s a huge inconsistency by giving this amount of money to fossil fuel companies.”

In 2023, whilst Barclays loaned billions to the fossil fuel industry, Bloomberg UK reported that this has decreased from an average of $7.2 billion a year between 2016-2022. The bank has committed $1 trillion to developing sustainable and transition finance by 2030.

Banking on Climate Chaos reports that Barclays financed nearly $13 billion into Exxon Mobil, an oil giant, between 2016 and 2022; they have measured if the bank has played a role in a transaction with the fossil fuel company, the figure was subsequently scaled with the company’s fossil fuel intensity. Exxon Mobil is an oil and gas corporation infamous for spreading misinformation regarding climate change in the 1990s. Alongside Exxon Mobil, Barclays’ second and third largest fossil fuel receivers of financing is Shell and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Regarding Barclay’s recent commitment, in February 2024, to halt direct funding of “upstream oil and gas expansion projects”, Mr Hayman told Palatinate, “Yes, they’ve ruled out project finance for new fossil fuels, that is an important step, but that just covers a really small portion of their money to the fossil fuel industry […] so while they’ve made big public proclamations and statements […] it barely scratches the surface.”

A Barclays spokesperson said: “With a target to provide $1 trillion of Sustainable and Transition Finance by 2030, Barclays continues to support an energy sector in transition, focusing on the diversified energy companies investing in low-carbon and with greater scrutiny on those engaged in developing new oil and gas projects.

“It [the RFP] symbolises to the rest of the market that there is a real demand there for cleaner, greener banking products”

David Hayman

“We are committed to financing current energy needs, while financing the scaling of the clean energy system of tomorrow, to ensure that energy is secure, affordable and reliable. Barclays’ absolute financed emissions for the Energy sector reduced by 44% since 2020, exceeding our 2030 target.”

Mr Hayman also argued that “their [Universities] position and their financial influence and sway with big banks is really significant. When the organisations signing the RFP call for greener banks, banks pay attention to that, and they listen.

“Universities are very respected bodies across the UK; what they do, the steps and actions they take, resonates with others. They resonate with businesses, they resonate with the NGOs, they resonate with the public […] they have a leadership role and platform within society to take a positive stand on these issues.

“It [the RFP] symbolises to the rest of the market that there is real demand there for cleaner, greener banking products.”

A spokesperson from Durham University said: “We divested from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction in 2018, following extensive consultation with the University community.”

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