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UK conservation charity the National Trust is under pressure to stop banking with Barclays from the grandson of one of its largest donors because of the lender’s funding of the fossil fuel industry.
Dominic Acland said his grandfather, who in 1944 presented the family’s 17,000-acre ancestral estates in Devon and Somerset to the charity, was an environmentalist who would be “horrified that the National Trust is banking with Barclays”. The bank is Europe’s largest funder of fossil fuel companies and projects, according to research by a coalition of campaign groups.
The National Trust, which conserves places of historic and natural interest in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has already stopped investing in fossil fuels because of climate change. Acland said he had written to the organisation’s financial director three times in the past year to urge the charity to take the same approach to banking.
In his latest letter in August, he wrote that there was “growing evidence” that the organisation’s stance of engaging with Barclays to push for change to its fossil fuel lending policies was “not working”.
The National Trust’s reply to Acland, which was seen by the Financial Times, said there was a lack of banks big enough to cater to its needs while also meeting high climate standards.
The charity added it was “monitoring this situation in parallel with our strategy of engagement [with Barclays] and are palpably aware of the need to keep this stance under review”.
Barclays said: “We believe that Barclays can make the greatest difference as a bank by working with customers and clients as they transition to a low-carbon business model, focusing on facilitating the finance needed to change business practices.”
The National Trust has faced calls from others to end its relationship with Barclays. Last year, more than a fifth of members who voted at the group’s annual meeting backed a resolution for it to ditch the bank.
Barclays has set a target to reduce its financed emissions in the energy sector by 40 per cent by 2030 and be “net zero” by 2050, but unlike some peers it continues to resist calls to stop funding new oil and gas projects.
In contrast, HSBC published a policy to not directly finance new oil and gas fields in December, while Lloyds and NatWest have taken similar steps.
The National Trust told the Financial Times: “We are clear that banks, including Barclays, need to do much more to address the financing of the fossil fuel industry.”
Richard Acland’s bequest in 1944, when he was 36, was one of the biggest the National Trust has ever received. Acland, a politician, believed ownership of the estates was in conflict with his beliefs as a Christian socialist.
Speaking to the FT, his grandson said that as a customer of Barclays, the National Trust was helping it fund fossil fuel projects.
“It seems completely out of kilter to be banking with Barclays . . . when they [the National Trust] are an organisation that cares so deeply about nature and the environment,” he said.
He argued that because of the National Trust’s position as a respected and trusted UK organisation with more than 5mn members, withdrawing its custom from Barclays would have more influence on the bank’s fossil fuel policies than conversations behind closed doors.
There is a growing movement in the UK to convince big organisations to stop banking or partnering with Barclays. Earlier this summer, campaigners including actor Emma Thompson and screenwriter Richard Curtis called on the Wimbledon tournament to end its sponsorship deal with the bank.
Last month, Christian Aid, one of the UK’s largest development charities, said it would no longer bank with Barclays because of its links with fossil fuels.
Since then, other charities have asked for meetings with the bank to express their concerns, according to people familiar with discussions. Earlier this year, Barclays held a roundtable to try to reassure charity clients about its environmental commitment.