County Council accepts climate change “poses material risks” to East Sussex Pension Fund

Karl Horton and members of Divest East Sussex at County Hall on 27 February 2017
Karl Horton and members of Divest East Sussex at County Hall on 27 February 2017

COUNTY COUNCIL ACCEPTS CLIMATE CHANGE “POSES MATERIAL RISKS” TO EAST SUSSEX PENSION FUND
East Sussex Pension Committee amends draft Investment Strategy as local pension member delivers 1200 petition signatures calling on County Council to ditch “dirty” investments in oil, coal and gas

Monday 27 February, County Hall, Lewes: The East Sussex Pension Committee agreed to amend the text of its new draft Investment Strategy Statement this morning, to recognise that “climate change poses material risks” to the East Sussex Pension Fund [2]. The Fund – which is administered by the County Council and holds the pensions for a wide range of organisations from across East Sussex – is estimated to have over £150m invested in the fossil fuel industries (oil, coal and gas) [3].

This morning’s decision was made on the same day that local Pension Fund member Karl Horton delivered 1,200 signatures to the Council calling on the East Sussex Pension Fund to sell its investments in fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). The petition – which can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/divesteastsuss – has been signed by 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 [4].

Two Local Government Pension Schemes – Waltham Forest and Southwark – have recently taken decisions to get rid of their investments in fossil fuels [5]. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned that investors face “potentially huge” losses from climate change action that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas “literally unburnable” [6].

Pension member Karl Horton, from Hastings, said: “Like thousands of other local pension holders I’m relying on East Sussex County Council not to take avoidable and unnecessary risks with my pension. Investments in oil, coal and gas are one such risk. I urge all East Sussex residents to visit http://tinyurl.com/divesteastsuss and sign the petition calling on the Council to ditch its investments in these dirty, damaging and financially risky fuels.”

Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex said: “Today’s decision is a small but encouraging first step towards East Sussex County Council getting serious about the risk that climate change poses to Fund members’ pensions. The Pension Committee has committed itself to consider these issues in greater detail at their next meeting in July. We hope it will make tangible commitments and adopt a formal climate change policy later this year – ideally including a commitment to divest the Fund of its holdings in oil, coal and gas.”

ENDNOTES

[1] https://fossilfreehastings.wordpress.com
[2] The full text of the amendment reads: “The Fund believes that climate change poses material risks to the Fund but that it also presents positive investment opportunities.”
[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/. In 2015, based on data collected through Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs) to administering authorities for the 2013/14 financial year, it was estimated that the East Sussex Pension Fund had £172m invested in fossil fuels. This figure included 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?usp=drivesdk
[4] See https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/divest-east-sussex-pension-fund-from-fossil-fuels. Some signatures currently exist in hard copy only.
[5] 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
[6] ‘Mark Carney warns investors face ‘huge’ climate change losses’, Financial Times, 29 September 2015, https://www.ft.com/content/622de3da-66e6-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5

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