'Banker's tea party' feasts on resources in latest Extinction Rebellion protest in Sheffield

“This is a really good turn out during a pandemic.”
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So said Steph Howlett, action co-ordinator, as she surveyed 45 people who turned out for the latest Extinction Rebellion event in Sheffield.

But what they lacked in numbers - similar demonstrations in Manchester and London attracted hundreds - they made up for in theatrics and noise.

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Instead of calling attention to global climate change, this time they had a narrow focus: Barclays, Santander and HSBC. The three are allegedly the biggest investors in fossil fuels among UK banks.

A protester dressed as a banker at an Extinction Rebellion Bankers' Tea Party protest in Sheffield.A protester dressed as a banker at an Extinction Rebellion Bankers' Tea Party protest in Sheffield.
A protester dressed as a banker at an Extinction Rebellion Bankers' Tea Party protest in Sheffield.

But could seven drummers, men dressed in pinstrip suits, a model of an oil well on a cake and banners painted with alarming slogans make a difference?

Steph said they already were.

Following events by Extinction Rebellion last year, the UK Parliament and scores of councils, companies, colleges, universities and the Welsh government had declared a climate emergency and committed to achieving ‘carbon net zero’ by the government’s legal deadline of 2050. In many cases, such as Sainbury’s, 10 years before that and some 20.

Previous XR demonstrations in Sheffield had stopped traffic, sparking ‘mixed feelings’ from the public, she admitted.

Extinction Rebellion drummers on Norfolk Street.Extinction Rebellion drummers on Norfolk Street.
Extinction Rebellion drummers on Norfolk Street.

But this was a “fun one” that wasn’t disrupting anything.

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She said: “I think people are really interested. I’m sure it’s making a difference. Banks are making the right noises but aren’t acting fast enough.

“It can be done, the University of Sheffield has come out of fossil fuels.

“How can you not fight to prevent something that has such catastrophic consequences? If we don’t radically change it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Bankers' Tea Party outside Barclays on Pinstone Street, Sheffield.Bankers' Tea Party outside Barclays on Pinstone Street, Sheffield.
Bankers' Tea Party outside Barclays on Pinstone Street, Sheffield.

Wildfires were devastating California ‘again’ and would soon in Australia. And floods were devastating communities from Fishlake in Doncaster to Pakistan and China.

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“People’s lives and communities are being destroyed. If we hit four degrees of warming it’s the end of human civilization as we know it - that’s what’s driving me.

“I try not to despair and I try to have hope and while people are being active I have hope. This is just one of several actions around the country.

“Although the years are slipping by to turn this around, it’s still possible.”

Extinction Rebellion's message to Barclays, HSBC and Santander.Extinction Rebellion's message to Barclays, HSBC and Santander.
Extinction Rebellion's message to Barclays, HSBC and Santander.

The protest started on Union Street and progressed through the Peace Gardens to Barclays Bank on Pinstone Street, which featured its by now common long queue of customers outside.

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A string quartet played Mozart to create a ‘bankerish vibe’ while four actors performed a play about them feasting on resources.

It moved on to Fargate and performed it again, between the branches of Santander and HSBC. The protesters were all ages. Their banners said ‘Planet before profit’ and ‘Don’t bank on destruction’.

Extinction Rebellion alleges that since the 2015 Paris Climate agreement Barlcays has loaned $118bn for fossil financing, the highest in Europe. HSBC has loaned $87bn and Santander $26bn.

A Barclays spokesperson said: “We want to take a leading role in tackling climate change as we recognise that it is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today.

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“Our ambition is to become a net zero bank by 2050, and we’ve made a firm commitment to align our entire financing portfolio to the goals of the Paris Agreement. That means our own operations, and the financing we do for our clients, in every sector, will support the transition towards a low-carbon economy.”

A string quarter plays Mozart to create a 'banker-ish vibe' at an Extinction Rebellion demo in Sheffield.A string quarter plays Mozart to create a 'banker-ish vibe' at an Extinction Rebellion demo in Sheffield.
A string quarter plays Mozart to create a 'banker-ish vibe' at an Extinction Rebellion demo in Sheffield.

Barclays is proposing to build and openly share a ‘robust methodology’ to measure the carbon intensity of its portfolio, set transparent targets and report on progress regularly from 2021. It also has a target of providing £100bn of ‘green’ financing by 2030, intends to invest £175m over the next five years in ‘innovative and environmentally-focused’ private companies and has a three-year, £5m partnership with the Blue Marine Foundation to advance programmes that support conservation of the oceans.

An HSBC spokeswoman said: “HSBC understands the crucial role banks have in supporting a transition to net zero, and we are committed to playing our part.

“We seek to ensure that the financial services we provide to our customers to support economic development do not result in an unacceptable impact on people or the environment. We will continue to support the broader needs of our customers and governments in taking effective steps to help reduce the world’s dependency on fossil fuels.”

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HSBC ‘ends banking relationships’ with customers when they are unwilling or unable to comply with our standards, she added.

“We frequently review our activities against ESG criteria. For example, we recently updated our energy policy to remove the exemption to coal financing in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.”

Satander did not comment.

At least 90 people were arrested at climate change protests in England yesterday.

Extinction Rebellion organised actions in London and Manchester to urge the government to prepare for a "climate crisis".

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It was part of 10 days of demonstrations to ‘peacefully disrupt the UK Parliament in London’ until MPs backed the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.

Last Friday, Extinction Rebellion Sheffield and other environmental groups hung signs over the Wicker Arches and Park Square roundabout to mark the start of the group’s ‘summer rebellion’.

Last September climate change campaigners caused major rush hour delays in a protest over road-widening. Extinction Rebellion blocked Bridgehouses roundabout in Sheffield, with police liaison officers stepping in to calm irate commuters. The group said Sheffield Council's £4.6m roadworks "undermine its declaration of a climate emergency."

The council wants Sheffield to be a ‘zero carbon economy’ by 2030. At the time, Coun Mark Jones said the road widening meant short-term air improvements, allowing the "ambitious" zero carbon targets to be met.

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