Environmentalists have attacked Barclays rules that fail to ban funding oil projects linked to tar sands. Pictured: Greenpeace activists are seen during an anti-tar sands pipelines protest at the Barclays bank branch in Piccadilly Circus, 5 December 2018. Photo credit: Greenpeace/Jiri Rezac
Environmental activists have accused Barclays of being on the “wrong side of history” after releasing an “underwhelming” climate policy that has failed to rule out funding for controversial tar sands projects.
Barclays is the last major UK bank to release new rules for how it will conduct business with companies involved in carbon-heavy industries, such as oil and coal, with lenders including HSBC, RBS and Lloyds having outlined their own commitments last year.
Despite meeting environmental activist groups including Greenpeace and ShareAction while finalising the policy in recent weeks, Barclays stopped short of introducing a full ban on funding for oil projects linked to tar sands.
The bank’s new policy explains that any transaction where proceeds are used for exploration, extraction, processing or transport of tar sands oil – including pipelines – would face “enhanced due diligence”. The bank will also force firms to prove that they have considered the environmental and social impacts associated with their projects.
The UK bank was targeted by Greenpeace protests last month over its policy on tar sands oil projects, notably in Canada. The activist group occupied a Barclays branch in London, while thousands of customers threatened to switch banks unless it promised not to invest in pipelines for tar sands oil.
Barclays said the bank does not currently provide finance for any specific tar sands pipeline projects.
However, the Guardian understands that the lender does provide general corporate finance to firms in the energy sector that may have some involvement in tar sands projects.
Greenpeace said in a statement that the new policy has left Barclays “on the wrong side of history”.
It said: “By continuing to fund tar sands pipelines, Barclays is once again choosing short-term profit over human rights and the wishes of a small number of corporate clients over those of tens of thousands of its customers.”
Barclays’ new policy also means it will not completely pull out of Arctic oil and gas, saying it would introduce “enhanced checks” for financing any new clients or projects for exploration or extraction in the Arctic. However, the bank stressed: “Under current rules Barclays does not expect any such proposals to meet our criteria.”
It is understood that existing Barclays clients involved in established oil fields will not be affected.
Sonia Hierzig, a senior projects manager at the campaign group ShareAction, said: “Overall, this new policy is underwhelming and makes it questionable whether climate-related risks are taken seriously enough at the most senior levels within the bank.”
While the group welcomed Barclays’ fresh stance on coal – which will end project financing for greenfield mining and the construction or expansion of coal-fired power stations in all countries – it said the new policy “falls short beyond that”.
Hierzig said: “We are also disappointed that the bank will continue to finance tar sands and related infrastructure – despite investors increasingly voicing concern about the sector and other banks starting to adopt more ambitious exclusion policies.”
A Barclays spokesperson said: “Our approach balances the need to accelerate the transition away from the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel sources, with ongoing financial support for clients operating responsibly in energy sectors that are expected to contribute significantly to the world’s energy mix.”