Lewes Town Council calls for East Sussex Pension Fund to ditch its investments in oil, coal and gas

Press release
7 March 2017
Divest East Sussex [1]

LEWES TOWN COUNCIL CALLS FOR EAST SUSSEX PENSION FUND TO DITCH ITS INVESTMENTS IN OIL, COAL AND GAS
Motion passed in wake of Pension Committee decision that climate change “poses material risks” to local people’s pensions

Councillors on Lewes Town Council joined forces last week to pass a cross-party motion calling on the East Sussex Pension Committee to divest the East Sussex Pension Fund of its investments in fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) [2]. The motion, which notes that such investments are “financially risky” and “damaging the balance of the climate”, was supported by all of the Councillors present – including members of the Green Party and the Liberal Democracts – with one abstention owing to a potential conflict of interest. Hastings Borough Council passed a similar unanimous cross-party motion last year [3].

The East Sussex Pension 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) [4].

The Lewes Town Council decision took place in the same week that the East Sussex Pension Committee agreed to amend the text of its new draft Investment Strategy Statement to recognise that “climate change poses material risks” to the East Sussex Pension Fund [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]. Two Local Government Pension Schemes – Waltham Forest and Southwark – have recently taken decisions to get rid of their investments in fossil fuels [7].

Lewes Town Councillor Susan Murray (Green) said: “Lewes Town Council clearly has a duty of care to all its employees and this must include safeguarding their pension provisions going forward, as well as keeping our planet in a fit state for them, their children and grandchildren to be able to flourish into the future. For the East Sussex Pension Fund to invest in fossil fuel companies quite obviously fails them both economically and environmentally. After all, fossil fuel companies may well become economically unviable in the future as it becomes essential to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground and they are major contributors to climate change.”

Lewes Town Councillor Will Elliott (Lib Dem)  said “I was delighted to be able to support this motion. Apart from the obvious environmental concerns around extracting and burning of fossil fuels, the long term financial security of pension investments for Council employees are not best served in what is widely recognised as an industry in decline.”

Arnold Simanowitz from Keep It In the Ground Lewes said: “It’s great that Lewes Town Council has taken the lead in the town by passing this motion. I hope that this, together with the motion by Hastings Borough Council, will send a strong message to East Sussex county council that it is time for it to divest its funds from the fossil fuel industries.”

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), Climate Forest Row and Keep It In the Ground Lewes.
[2] The motion, passed on 2 March 2017, states that “Lewes Town Council supports a Responsible Investment Policy that addresses serious climate change concerns by divesting from any funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years”. It also “Call[s] on both East Sussex County Council and [the] East Sussex Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels by developing and adopting Responsible Investment Policies that take into account climate change by divesting from fossil fuel-based funds.” For the full text of the resolution see http://wp.me/P6T1L6-4a.
[3] ‘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.
[4] ‘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
[5] ‘County Council accepts climate change “poses material risks” to East Sussex Pension Fund’, 27 February 2017, https://fossilfreehastings.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/254/
[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
[7] 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

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