Why target Barclays? It is one of a number of banks that invests heavily in the coal industry, largely because coal is cheap and plentiful, with worldwide reserves estimated to be enough to last for 150 years. However, coal is also the dirtiest, least efficient fossil fuel, adding considerably to greenhouse gas emissions.
As last year’s report Cashing in on Coal by the campaigners Platform highlighted how important banks are to the expansion of the coal industry:
Banks play a vital role in driving forward this carbon frontier. As in other capital intensive industries, both power and mining companies rely heavily on banks to finance their ongoing operations and expansion of infrastructure. When an electricity generating company such as E.ON plans to build a new coal power station, it needs to borrow a significant proportion of the construction costs. Similarly, coal extraction companies such as UK Coal or Arch Coal require loans and credit to open or expand new mines.The largest of the UK banks investing is RBS, which between May 2006 and April 2008 invested $95.83 billion. The seventeen loans provided by Barclays totaled $38.24 billion. Its investments are not just in the UK – one recent loan was for $845 million to India's Tata Power in April 2008 and it has extensive investments, in collaboration with other banks, in the US.
Like other banks, Barclays responds to criticism by highlighting its other investments in renewable energy and its enthusiasm for commoditising pollution through discredited and corrupt Emissions Trading, but neither will address the threat of climate change if we continue to increase the rate of extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, particularly coal. The 50 million tonnes of CO2 that new coal plants in the UK would emit will make any prospect of cutting our emissions by more than 80 per cent by 2050 – Britain’s share of what is needed to avoid disastrous climate change – impossible, especially with the Brown government committed to protecting mass air travel.
And yet, if we fail to make these cuts and other industrial nations that the banks are busy investing in also fail too, by 2050 the poorest one billion people of the world, in Asia and Africa, will face water shortages and crop failures that raise levels of starvation and food prices as agriculture struggles to cope with growing demand in increasingly arid conditions. Rising sea levels meanwhile risk submerging homes in coastal communities in southern Asia, the Far East, the south Pacific islands and the Caribbean.
Put simply, targeting corporations like Barclays is a question of survival. But they are just one of many who are responsible for capitalism’s climate madness and there will be others reminded of their guilt over the coming days.
OK, on a lighter note: can you spot the drunk City 'merchant banker' in the picture by Amelia Gregory? What a cunning stunt...