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Barclays bosses defend climate ambitions after 'fake oil' sprayed on HQ

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FILE PHOTO: The Barclays logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration
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LONDON (Reuters) - The Chairman of Barclays said the British bank "can and should play a leading role" in tackling climate change, hours after environmental activists sprayed "fake oil" on its headquarters to call on the lender to divest from fossil fuels.

Nigel Higgins said the lender was committed to becoming greener.

"The size and scale of our business means that we can really help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy," Higgins said in a statement marking the British lender's annual investor meeting, due to be held behind closed doors to comply with COVID-19 social distancing rules.

Barclays has faced growing criticism over its environmental credentials, with some shareholders demanding radical reforms to its Big Oil and fossil fuel financing policies.

Investors voted remotely ahead of the meeting on two separate climate change motions - one backed by investor group ShareAction and the other by the Barclays board - with results due to be published later on Thursday.

Activists from Extinction Rebellion said biodegradable and vegan "oil" was sprayed onto Barclays' office in Canary Wharf in London in protest against the bank's financial support of energy and utility firms.

Barclays declined to comment directly on the Extinction Rebellion protest.

Higgins also said in the statement that the cancellation of the bank's dividend at the behest of the Bank of England had caused an "immediate and unwelcome" impact on shareholders, adding that the bank could have afforded the payout.

Prior to the virus outbreak, Barclays had been preparing for a further tussle at its annual meeting with activist investor Ed Bramson, but Bramson paused his campaign to oust CEO Jes Staley last month, saying responding to the pandemic should be the priority.

Separately on Thursday, the British parliament's treasury committee asked Barclays to explain delays to granting emergency loans to small businesses, amid criticism of banks for sluggish delivery of state-backed loans to struggling firms.

(Reporting by Sinead Cruise and Iain Withers; Editing by Tommy Reggiori Wilkes)

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