Councillors & residents call on East Sussex Pension Fund to ditch fossil fuel investments

COUNCILLORS & RESIDENTS CALL ON EAST SUSSEX PENSION FUND TO DITCH FOSSIL FUEL INVESTMENTS
Divestment campaigners to make presentation to Pension Committee this Thursday (8 September)

8 September, County Hall, Lewes: Campaigners calling on East Sussex County Council to ditch its investments in fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) will address the East Sussex Pension Committee at its next meeting in Lewes, this Thursday (8 September) [2]. The appearance follows the hand-in of a petition, urging the County Council to divest the Pension Fund of its investments from fossil fuels, which was signed by over three hundred people from across East Sussex, including residents of Battle, Bexhill, Brighton, Eastbourne, Etchingham, Forest Row, Hastings, Heathfield, Hove, Lewes, Polegate, Seaford, St Leonards, and Uckfield [3].

It also takes place in the wake of a unanimous cross-party motion, passed by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) – a member of the Pension Fund – calling for the Fund to be divested from fossil fuels [4]. The East Sussex Pension Fund – which is administered by the County Council [5] and holds the pensions for a wide range of organisations from across East Sussex – currently has an estimated £172m invested in fossil fuels [6].

In July, Hastings Borough Councillors Peter Chowney (Labour) and Liam Atkins (the Conservative Group Leader) wrote to the Chair of the East Sussex Pension Committee, urging him to divest the Fund from fossil fuels. In their joint letter [7] the Councillors cite Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s warning that investors in fossil fuels face “potentially huge” losses from climate change action that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas “literally unburnable” [8]. Divesting the Pension Fund, they note, would “not only help to limit climate change, but … also avoid the potential risk associated with such investments”.

Residents from Lewes, Forest Row and Hastings hand in hundreds of signatures calling for the divestment of the East Sussex Pension Fund from fossil fuels, at County Hall in Lewes, 12 July 2016. East Sussex County Council Chair Michael Ensor (Cons) and Councillor Ruth O'Keeffe (Independent Group) accepted the petition on behalf of the Council.
Residents from Lewes, Forest Row and Hastings hand in hundreds of signatures calling for the divestment of the East Sussex Pension Fund from fossil fuels, at County Hall in Lewes, 12 July 2016. East Sussex County Council Chair Michael Ensor (Cons) and Councillor Ruth O’Keeffe (Independent Group) accepted the petition on behalf of the Council.

It is anticipated that the Pension Committee will reject the call to divest on this occasion and continue to pursue its current policy of “active engagment with investee companies” [9].

A spokesperson for the group Divest East Sussex [1], which will address the Pension Committee this Thursday, said: “Investments in oil, coal and gas are not only damaging the balance of our climate but also pose serious financial risks to investors, including many local pension holders. Decades of ‘engagement’ with fossil fuel companies like Shell, BP and Exxon have not succeeded in achieving any meaningful moves towards reducing emissions or changing these companies business models. Indeed, after over 35 years of ‘enagagement’, Exxon – in whom the Pension Fund currently has some £4.3m of local people’s pensions invested [10] –  is still spending £27m a year delaying and obstructing climate legislation [11]. If it’s serious about tackling climate change and protecting local people’s pensions then East Sussex County Council needs to follow the lead of the University of Glasgow, the South Yorkshire Pension Fund and the City of Oslo and begin to divest itself from these dirty and damaging fuels. [12]”

ENDNOTES
[1] Divest East Sussex is a coalition of East Sussex organisations calling for the divestment of the East Sussex Pension Fund from Fossil Fuels. Members include Fossil Free Hastings: https://fossilfreehastings.wordpress.com
[2] See item 9 on the agenda: https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=2520&x=1. This agenda item will be heard at some point during the morning session, which starts at 10am.
[3] See http://tinyurl.com/divesttheespf for the petition text.
[4] ‘Campaigners’ joy as Hastings council agrees fossil fuel divestment’, 14 April 2016, Hastings Observer, http://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/local/campaigners-joy-as-hastings-council-agrees-fossil-fuel-divestment-1-7328414.
[5] https://new.eastsussex.gov.uk/jobs/workingateastsussexcountycouncil/pensions
[6] ‘REVEALED: UK Councils have £14 billion invested in fossil fuels’, Fossil Free UK, 24 September 2015, http://gofossilfree.org/uk/revealed-uk-councils-have-14-billion-invested-in-fossil-fuels/. The £172m figure is based on data collected through Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to administering authorities for the 2013/14 financial year. It includes direct equity holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies as well as estimated fossil fuel investments in pooled equity funds.
[7] https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/documents/s10524/Appendix%202%20-%20HBC%20letter.pdf
[8] ‘Mark Carney warns investors face ‘huge’ climate change losses’, Financial Times, 29 September 2015, https://next.ft.com/content/622de3da-66e6-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5
[9] In a May 2016 email to Fossil Free Hastings the Pension Committee Chair, Richard Stogdon, wrote that ‘At this point in time … active engagment with investee companies is the preferred option to bring about change’.
[10] https://fossilfreehastingsblog.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/escc-fossil-fuel-investments.jpg. The figures in this graphic are derived from the report cited in note [3] above.
[11] http://influencemap.org/report/Climate-Lobbying-by-the-Fossil-Fuel-Sector
[12] http://gofossilfree.org/commitments

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