Campaigners hail passing of $5 trillion divestment threshold

CAMPAIGNERS CALL ON COUNTY COUNCIL TO DIVEST LOCAL PENSIONS FROM FOSSIL FUELS AS VALUE OF FUNDS DIVESTED GLOBALLY PASSES $5 TRILLION
Pension funds that fail to consider climate risk could face legal challenges – leading UK barristers

13 December 2016: Campaigners from around East Sussex have hailed a new report [2], showing that the global movement to get institutions to ditch investments in the oil, coal and gas industries has doubled in size since 2015. Over 685 institutions in 76 countries,  managing assets worth  more than  $5 trillion, have now made some form of divestment commitment.[3]

Divest East Sussex member Jamie Osborn takes the divestment message to East Sussex Pension Fund members at Aquila House in Hastings, 12 December 2016
Divest East Sussex member Jamie Osborn takes the divestment message to East Sussex Pension Fund members at Aquila House in Hastings, 12 December 2016

Included in the list are the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the City of Oslo, the World Council of Churches and the Waltham Forest Pension Fund. [4]  The East Sussex Pension Fund currently has an estimated £172m of local people’s pensions invested in fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) [5].

The report was released shortly after two leading UK barristers, including pensions expert Keith Bryant QC, issued a legal opinion confirming that pension fund trustees who fail to consider climate risk could be exposing themselves to legal challenge.[6]

Alice Garton, a senior corporate lawyer with legal firm Client Earth said: “This opinion clarifies beyond doubt that pension fund trustees are legally required to take climate risk into account where it could present financial risks to the fund’s investments. There is now abundant evidence to demonstrate that climate change presents major financial risks to investors as the world transitions to a low-carbon future in line with the Paris Agreement. Pension fund trustees can no longer legally ignore this issue.” [6]

Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex said: “Investments in fossil fuels are not only damaging the balance of the earth’s climate, but also pose a serious financial risk to investors. This explains why
685 institutions in 76 countries,  managing assets worth more than $5 trillion, have now made some form of commitment to divest. The East Sussex Pension Fund should stop pretending that it can influence fossil fuel companies like Exxon – a company notorious for funding climate denial [7] – by retaining its investments in them, and instead join other local pension funds, such as the Waltham Forest Pension Fund, in ditching these dangerous and risky investments. We urge all members of the East Sussex Pension Fund to visit http://tinyurl.com/divesteastsussex and make their voices heard in support of divestment.”

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] ‘The Global Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Investment Movement’, Arabella Advisors, December 2016, https://www.arabellaadvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Global_Divestment_Report_2016.pdf
[3] https://350.org/big-divestment-news/
[4] Worth £735 million, the London Borough of Waltham Forest pension fund has agreed to divest itself of its £23.9 million worth of investments in the oil, coal and gas industries. See ‘WIN: First UK pension fund divests from fossil fuels’, 23 September 2016, http://gofossilfree.org/uk/win-first-uk-pension-fund-divests-from-fossil-fuels/
[5] ‘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 and £4.3m figures are based on data collected through Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to administering authorities for the 2014/15 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. See https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19OSrcE1GsWqvA8T56v0RC0IwXcnDhFuWm3UnMjsWb8E/edit#gid=1078204141
[6] ‘Pension trustees could face legal challenge for ignoring climate risk – leading QC confirms’. Client Earth, 2 December 2016, http://www.clientearth.org/pension-trustees-face-legal-challenge-ignoring-climate-risk-leading-qc-confirms/
[7] ‘ExxonMobil gave millions to climate-denying lawmakers despite pledge’, Guardian, 15 July 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/15/exxon-mobil-gave-millions-climate-denying-lawmakers.

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