Extinction Rebellion's "oil" graffiti on Senate HouseKatie Kasperson

A majority of colleges bank with Europe’s biggest fossil fuel investor, a Varsity investigation can reveal.

Twenty of the thirty-one colleges bank with Barclays, which a recent report showed is Europe’s biggest spender on fossil fuels. Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, Barclays has invested over $144.9 billion in fossil fuels - the seventh highest in the world, nearly as much as the GDP of Qatar in 2020.

Barclays’ fossil fuel investments

The bank’s recent investments, Rosie Smart-Knight and Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle write, include a $194 million bond to Enbridge, an energy company that owns part of the Dakota access pipeline (DAPL).

The pipe cuts through land belonging to the Meskwawi tribe, decreasing its soil and water quality and making it vulnerable to oil spills. The infrastructure project had been blocked by Obama, before the Trump administration revived it.

Enbridge also owns the Line 3 pipeline, which was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history in 1991.

In the lead-up to COP-26, Barclays also invested $200 million in the tar-sand extraction company MEG Energy. Tar sands oil is up to a third more polluting than traditional oil, and creates toxic waste harmful to the neighbouring environment.

Exploitation of tar sands are one of the factors that prevent Canada from being on track to its Paris Agreement commitments.

In May of 2021, Barclays’ shareholders voted against a resolution to phase-out the bank’s fossil fuel investments. This resolution, if adopted, would have aligned Barclays with the targets mapped out in the Paris Agreement of 2015. Barclays still claims it is their “ambition to be net zero by 2050”, despite their multi-billion investments in fossil fuels.

Student Union President Zak Coleman said that “students should be furious that so many colleges are lending social legitimacy to banks like Barclays in the face of an escalating climate emergency that these banks’ policies are directly fuelling.”

Lloyds, the second most popular bank with Cambridge colleges, has spent $11 million on fossil fuel investments - 100 times less than Barclays.

A group of Oxbridge students who aim to get major UK banks to cut their ties with the fossil fuel and arms industries, Boycott Banks’ Destruction, have called for the university and colleges to cut ties with the worst offending banks HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays and NatWest over their “exceptionally poor ethical track records”. All thirty-one Cambridge colleges bank with one of them.


The group said: “It is outrageous that the money paid to the colleges by students is being used to support these types of investments. The banking sector must divest in fossil fuels, and our institutions should use their influence to enforce this change. If the university and colleges are serious about reaching net zero then they must ensure that none of their activities are used to exacerbate the climate crisis.”

Fitzwilliam College told Varsity that they expect the banks they work with to align with their social and environmental values. They said that conversations were already underway with Barclays regarding its environmental record, and that if action isn’t taken, they will consider swapping.


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St Catharine’s College, who also bank with Barclays, state on their website that they would also consider switching banks if Barclays continues to clash with their values. They did not respond to Varsity for comment.

Coleman added, “As with divestment, there is clear evidence that the strategy of ‘influence from within’ is far, far less effective than publicly cutting ties with these banks. So if colleges are truly serious about tackling climate breakdown, they must urgently sever ties with Barclays and other top fossil fuel funding banks until they commit to ending all current and future fossil fuel financing.”

The news follows a recent protest by Extinction Rebellion over the University’s ties with the oil company Schlumberger.

All colleges were contacted for comment and all, bar Fitzwilliam, declined to comment. As did Barclays bank.