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Barclays shareholders file resolution to force bank to end fossil fuel funding

A group of institutional investors managing £130 billion in assets along with individual shareholders have filed what they say is the first climate change resolution at a European bank in which they call on Barclays Bank PLC to phase out its financing of fossil fuel companies.

The resolution, coordinated by investor activist group ShareAction, demands that the U.K. lender provides a plan to stop financing to the energy sector and to gas and electric utilities that are not aligned with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to limit the rise of global temperatures to "well below" 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

The move comes as banks face increasing pressure to rein in their funding to fossil fuels, and Barclays has been singled out for its heavy exposure to the sector. The British bank ranks as the world's sixth-largest financier of fossil fuels, and Europe's largest, according to BankTrack, a watchdog group that monitors lenders' exposure to fossil fuels.

In May 2019, a group of investors wrote to CEO Jes Staley, urging him to end financing to companies involved in coal mining or oil sands exploitation.

"We believe that it is crucial for investors to carry out climate change risk assessments across the whole financial chain. As banks are the biggest lenders, they are a key component of this," said Laura Chappell, CEO of Brunel Pension Partnership, which manages £30 billion in assets, and is among the investors calling on Barclays to withdraw from fossil fuel funding.

"The lending practices of many banks poses a serious threat to the goals to the Paris Agreement. As such, we welcome ShareAction's call to the world’s largest banks to integrate climate change risk assessment and to set and disclose adequate phase-out targets in response. We hope the Barclays board formally supports this resolution," Chappell said.

The resolution, which will be voted on at a shareholder meeting in May, also asks Barclays to consider the social aspect of transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and is the first climate change resolution to include a so-called just transition request in its supporting statement.

The bank announced in January 2019 a tougher approach on fossil fuel funding by conducting enhanced checks on clients and deals, but came under fire from environmental groups for failing to pull out of tar sands financing.

"We are working to help tackle climate change, and we meet with ShareAction and other shareholders regularly to update them on our progress," a Barclays spokesperson said when approached for comment.