Banking Brandalism

Back in my student days I supported the campaign to end the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. A big part of that campaign was to persuade the banks, notably Barclays, to stop investing in the country, to speed the fall of the regime.

Roll on nearly half a century and today we find Barclays and HSBC at the centre of another controversy. So much so that they are falling victim to “Brandalism” by climate activists.

Barclays and HSBC branches and ATMs in Sheffield have been regularly covered in stickers and posters by members of Extinction Rebellion protesting the banks’ funding of fossil fuels and biodiversity loss, as part of ongoing actions taking place across the UK. The posters draw attention to the banks’ funding of fossil fuel extracting companies like Adani, who are building a controversial coal mine in Australia.

I asked why otherwise respectable people are resorting to such tactics. Mike, a retired GP told me “”We’re surrounded by adverts, and much as we all think they don’t affect us, I think they must or it’d not be a multi-trillion pound industry. So, it is important to correct some of the “information” they give… in whatever ways available.”

Ann, a concerned citizen, said “Barclays bank, HSBC and many other high street banks try to give the impression that they are your friend and they will do the best for you and your money. What they don’t tell you is that your money is used to finance polluting fossil fuel companies for example, or that your money is used to supply weapons of war used to kill innocent people. It’s time that the public knew the whole truth so they can make a more ethical choice and know their money is causing no harm.”

Chris, a call centre agent, said “So many of us are not aware of where the money we put into our banks goes. When you realise that the money is often invested in climate destruction, human rights violations and the arms trade, then it is morally impossible to keep funding these banks. “Rebranding” these banks offers an easy, fun and informative way to spread the message about the hidden side of high street banks.”

Barclays and HSBC have been the two leading European funders of fossil fuels in the last four years, according to a recent report by the Rainforest Action Network , having provided £95.2 billion to carbon-intensive companies and projects since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016.  

A recent report has also cited Barclays and HSBC as the number two and three European banks respectively for funding biodiversity loss . 

Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Rob Wheeldon, said: “David Attenborough warned us that capitalism is literally destroying life on Earth, and banks like Barclays and HSBC are among the worst culprits. Both are planning to pour fuel onto the climate and ecological crisis for the next 30 years, and our criminally complicit government has no interest in stopping them.

“As one of the world’s biggest historical emitters, the UK and its financial institutions have a responsibility to end their funding of fossil fuels well ahead of the IPCC’s global 2050 net zero target date, and furthermore to abandon the economic model of endless extraction that is rapidly destroying what is left of our natural world. We demand that Barclays and HSBC completely divest from fossil fuels and halt their destruction of nature by 2025 at the latest – 2050 is a death sentence for our planet.”

A Barclays cash machine.

Last May, Barclays announced it would shrink its carbon footprint to net-zero by 2050 , a statement matched recently by HSBC . However, both banks have set very distant deadlines and lack detail in their pledges. Neither bank has made clear commitments regarding the biodiversity impacts of their lending activities.

Government bodies like the Treasury and Bank of England are supposed to regulate the banking sector. However, the Committee on Climate Change, the government’s official climate advisors, reported in June that the UK was on track to meet only 6 out of 53 indicators and milestones needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The Government can’t even meet it’s own weak targets, let alone enforce them in the banking sector.

The Committee on Climate Change advised all government departments to prepare for “a minimum of 2C rise in global temperature with considerations of 4C.” Among other catastrophic impacts, 4C global heating would likely force humans away from equatorial regions, expand deserts into Southern and Central Europe, and intensify the unprecedented fires, floods and hurricanes already wreaking havoc across the world. Crops would fail, starvation would be common and civilisation as we know it would probably come to an end.

In 1986, to my delight, after 16 years of campaigning, Barclays pulled out of Apartheid South Africa. Campaigning does work, but we don’t have 16 years to save the climate. If you bank with Barclays or HSBC switch now to a more ethical bank. Don’t forget to tell them why you are switching.

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