A wide network of campaign groups have been working together this month to bring the message of urgent climate action directly to shareholders of major banks and fossil fuel companies.
On the 3rd May, dozens of activists formed a ‘climate choir’ and infiltrated Barclays’ shareholder meeting with a newly-worded rendition of the Spice Girls’ “Stop Right Now”.
Activists condemn Barclays as the largest financier of fossil fuel expansion, funding many new projects while issuing statements promising a route to net zero. According to the Banking on Climate Chaos report, Barclays is Europe’s biggest fossil fuel financier, providing more than $16 billion for coal, gas and oil in 2022 alone. Standard Chartered is the UK’s third largest investor and has recently increased its portfolio offshore and in the Arctic, as well as backing fracking projects. At their AGM the same day, activists asked questions inside while protesters made speeches and played recordings of testimonies from frontline communities outside.
Later the same week, the HSBC AGM was disrupted in Birmingham for around 45 minutes by ‘dirty scrubbers’ and speakers, while outside an activist took a greenwash bath. The bank made a major announcement at the end of last year that like Lloyds’, it would be halting finance of new oil and gas fields, but they are accused of greenwash when just months later an investigation revealed a secret loan to RWE, the company bulldozing a village in Germany to expand its coalmine. Their ‘sustainable financing’ package is also under scrutiny for indirect funding of some of the worst fossil fuel companies.
The actions at HSBC and at Drax AGM took place ahead of an online People’s Health Tribunal on Saturday (13th) where judges listened to hours of testimony from frontline communities highlighting the pollution, ecological destruction and human rights abuses at the hands of fossil fuel corporations and subservient governments across the world.
At the end of the following week in Glasgow on the 12th May, activists held a small protest outside the Armadillo building (the venue for COP26 in 2021), while several made a series of speeches to shareholders during the opening presentation, disrupting the Lloyds’ AGM there. Although some shareholders listened, there was a generally unfriendly response to the interruptions and they were all eventually removed by security.
Lloyds’ makes much of its recent record on climate, and while it’s true it is the only UK bank that has announced an end to funding for new oil or gas fields, it still funds pre-2022 projects and continues to fund supply chains for the industry. Its membership of a Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA) is seen as a greenwashing exercise, and activists are pushing for the announcement of a real and unconditional withdrawal from all fossil fuel funding, which might even be a smart business move attracting many new customers.
Groups involved in the protests include Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Fuel London, Share Action, Global Witness, Christian Climate Action and Money Rebellion.
A week after the People’s Health Tribunal heard evidence and testimonies from frontline communities, on 20th May the judges gave their damning verdict, accusing fossil fuel companies and their senior executives of crimes against humanity and ecocide.
Just days after the Tribunal verdict, one of the worst companies indicted held their AGM at the Excel Centre in East London. Shell made £32 billion in profits last year. Their departing CEO Ben van Beurden was paid just under £10 million last year, nearly £4 million more than the amount of tax the company paid to the UK government.
Dozens of activists continually interrupted the start of the meeting, groups sang re-purposed songs such as “Hit the road, Shell, and don’t you come back no more”, and after more than an hour, an attempted storming of the stage caused havoc as large numbers of security personnel dragged multiple protesters out of the hall.
Meanwhile outside, a crowd of more than a hundred chanted and listened to speeches, and gave a warm greeting to those ejected. Greenpeace, Global Justice Now, and Quakers for Climate Justice Now were among the many groups supporting the protest, as well as the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People.
Simultaneous protests took place in the City at the offices of BlackRock and Vanguard – the two largest corporate financiers of Shell.
UPDATE: 26th May
Yesterday Lloyd’s of London held their AGM attended by representatives from their Syndicates. Money Rebellion joined up with Coal Action Network, Mothers Rise Up, Eko and other groups to bombard the company’s phones with dropped calls, and activists earlier on also claimed to have sprayed black paint on the facade of Probitas1492‘s offices nearby, stencilling slogans berating the Syndicate’s support and financing of Indian coal giant Adani.
Outside the iconic Lloyd’s building, campaigners set off alarms and red and black smoke flares “sounding the alarm for the climate”. Students also handed in a letter signed by more than 500 graduates and undergraduates, part of a pledge not to work for companies that insure the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), the Rosebank oil field, and other fossil fuel expansion projects.
Last year, Gurridyula Gaba Wunggu of the Waddananggu tribe (the traditional owners of Wangan-Jagalingou country where Adani’s Carmicheal mine began operating) said: “Adani does not have our free, prior and informed consent to have his mine. By insuring Adani Carmichael’s rail network, Lloyd’s of London and Probitas1492 are enabling this breach of our human rights and allowing Adani to destroy our sacred sites. We’re asking Probitas1492 and Lloyd’s of London to walk away from Adani.”