25 meter petition to be handed-in as County Council discusses climate risk

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.

TWENTY-FIVE METER DIVESTMENT PETITION TO BE HANDED-IN AS COUNTY COUNCIL DISCUSSES CLIMATE RISK
Over 1180 people from across East Sussex call on County Council to ditch “dirty” investments in oil, coal and gas

9.30am, Monday 27 February, County Hall, Lewes: East Sussex residents will be handing-in a 25m-long petition at County Hall in Lewes next Monday (27 Feb), calling on East Sussex County Council to divest the East Sussex Pension Fund of investments in fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). The petition has been signed by over 1180 people from across East Sussex, including residents of Battle, Bexhill, Brighton, Crowborough, Eastbourne, Etchingham, Forest Row, Hastings, Heathfield, Hove, Lewes, Polegate, Seaford, St Leonards, and Uckfield [2].
The hand-in will take place immediately before the East Sussex Pension Committee has an opportunity to discuss the financial risks posed by climate change as part of its deliberations to agree a new Investment Strategy for the East Sussex Pension Fund. The Fund – which is administered by the County Council [2] and holds the pensions for a wide range of organisations from across East Sussex – has an estimated £172m invested in the fossil fuel industries (oil, coal and gas) [3].

The hand-in also takes place in the wake of decisions by two other Local Government Pension Schemes – Waltham Forest and Southwark – to divest from fossil fuels [4].

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 divestment commitment [5]. The East Sussex Pension Fund should stop pretending that it can influence fossil fuel companies like Exxon – a company notorious for funding climate denial [6] – by retaining investments in them, and instead join other local pension funds, such as the Waltham Forest Pension Fund, in ditching these dangerous and risky investments.”

Rachel Crossley from Fossil Free Hastings, who co-drafted a document that has been sent to all of the members of the Pension Committee, outlining how the Fund’s new Investment Strategy could be amended to guard against the risks posed by climate change, said: “The law is clear that where environmental issues are financially significant – as they are with the East Sussex Pension Fund’s investments in fossil fuels – Pension Funds need to take these issues into account [7]. By writing divestment into its new Investment Strategy, the East Sussex Pension Committee could go a long way towards addressing such climate-change related risks, without compromising the financial returns to local pension fund members.”

ENDNOTES

[1] https://fossilfreehastings.wordpress.com
[2] Over 880 of these signatures can be found here: https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/divest-east-sussex-pension-fund-from-fossil-fuels. The remained are were either collected here: http://epetition.eastsussex.public-i.tv/epetition_core/community/petition/3616 or are currently available in hard-copy only. Duplicate signatures and signatures with postcodes from outside East Sussex have not been included in the total.
[3] ‘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.
[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/. In December 2016 the £1.2bn Southwark Pension Fund also committed itself to divesting from fossil fuels: https://gofossilfree.org/uk/press-release/southwark
[5]  https://350.org/big-divestment-news/
[6] ‘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. As at the end of the 2013/14 financial year, the East Sussex Pension Fund had £4.3m of local people’s pensions invested in Exxon. See https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19OSrcE1GsWqvA8T56v0RC0IwXcnDhFuWm3UnMjsWb8E/edit#gid=1078204141
[7] See ‘Fiduciary Duties of Investment Intermediaries’, Law Commission, October 2014, http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/fiduciary-duties-of-investment-intermediaries. The Law Commission noted that ‘Where trustees think ethical or environmental, social or governance (ESG) issues are financially material they should take them into account.’

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