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Councils urged to switch fund investments away from fossil fuels

Published 24/09/2015

Cooling towers for a coal fired power station, as analysis suggests that UK councils have invested £14 billion of pension funds in fossil fuels, an average of £218 per resident across the country. (John Giles/PA Wire)
Cooling towers for a coal fired power station, as analysis suggests that UK councils have invested £14 billion of pension funds in fossil fuels, an average of £218 per resident across the country. (John Giles/PA Wire)

Campaigners are calling for local councils to switch their investments away from fossil fuels, to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and ensure they are managing the funds responsibly.

UK councils have invested £14 billion of pension funds in fossil fuels, an average of £218 per resident across the country, the analysis suggests.

Leaving public sector workers' pensions in fossil fuels risks the assets becoming "stranded" and losing value as the world shifts away from fossil fuels to low-carbon economies to tackle climate change, the groups warn.

They said investment could be switched to clean investments with a safe return, with £14bn enough to put solar panels on all 10,000 schools with suitable roofs, 20,000 other municipal buildings and two million homes, to triple solar power capacity.

It could also be used to build 218,750 energy efficient social rent homes, alleviating the housing crisis and providing a secure income stream, the campaigners argue.

Danni Paffard of 350.org said: "Public investments in fossil fuels are fuelling dangerous climate change, and present a threat to the pensions of 4.6 million public sector workers.

"There's a strong ethical and financial case for local councils to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest into infrastructure fit for the 21st century."

Simon Bullock, senior climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Most of the world's oil, coal and gas has to stay in the ground to prevent runaway climate change.

"Local government can help protect all our futures by taking pension investments out of these planet-wrecking corporations."

A dozen new local campaigns calling on their councils to divest from fossil fuels have been launched, adding to 18 existing initiatives.

The assessment, which looks at investments totalling £231 billion made by the bodies that manage pension funds for all 418 councils in the UK, reveals that on average 6% of their money is in the largest oil, gas and coal firms.

Rankings for each council or group of councils in a pension fund scheme based on freedom of information responses shows that Greater Manchester has the biggest investment in fossil fuels, at £1.3 billion, which works out at £483 per resident.

Strathclyde pension fund, which covers 12 councils in Scotland, has £750 million invested in oil, gas and coal majors, and West Yorkshire has £670 million, according to the analysis that looks at direct investments and money in pooled funds which invest in fossil fuels.

London councils have almost £1.9 billion invested in fossil fuel companies between them, the data released by campaign groups 350.org, Platform, Community Reinvest and Friends of the Earth showed.

Merton and Camden councils are particularly exposed to fossil fuels, with 11% and 9.5% of their pension funds invested in the big oil, gas and coal firms.

Elsewhere, Worcestershire is among the councils with a large proportion in carbon fuels, with 10.7%.

Around three-quarters of the money invested in fossil fuels is in 10 companies led by oil and gas giants Shell and BP and mining company Rio Tinto, which extracts coal, according to the analysis.

The call comes as the movement to "divest" from fossil fuels and invest in clean technology gathers pace globally, with thousands of individuals and institutions including universities, pension funds and churches pledging to pull £1.7 trillion out of hydrocarbons.

For full details of council investments in fossil fuels, people can go to online at gofossilfree.org/uk/pensions.

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