Campaigners welcome UNISON decision to back fossil fuel divestment

Hastings and Eastbourne branch played crucial role in decision to ditch investments that are putting
workers’ pensions ‘at risk’

East Sussex residents who have been campaigning to persuade the County Council to ditch the £150m worth of local people’s pension monies that it currently has invested in fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) [2], have welcomed the passing of a motion at UNISON’s national conference, committing the union to “seek divestment of Local Government Pension Schemes from fossil fuels” [3].

The largest body representing local government workers in the UK, UNISON passed the motion last week at its general conference in Brighton, and will now promote a five-year timeline for divesting “all pension funds where we have members” from fossil fuels, “giving due regard to fiduciary duty” [3]. As the largest union representing pension holders, UNISON representatives sit on local government pension boards.

The motion was proposed by Unison Scotland, Norfolk County, Camden and Southwark branches, and with amendments from the Hastings and Eastbourne Healthcare branche as well as the union’s National Executive Council. Support from the branches played a crucial role in getting the motion onto a packed agenda of over 100 motions.

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 at least £150m invested in fossil fuels [2]. Three members of the Fund – Hastings Borough Council, Lewes Town Council and Brighton and Hove City Council – have already passed motions calling on the Fund to divest from fossil fuels [4].

Investments in fossil fuels have become increasingly controversial, with over 685 institutions in 76 countries, managing assets worth more than $5 trillion, making some form of divestment commitment since 2012 [5].

Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor in UNISON Scotland, who brought the motion to conference, said: “Our priority always needs to be to ensure our member’s pensions are protected. We are increasingly aware that investments in fossil fuels are not only harmful to the environment but put the sustainable future of our pensions at risk. Unison will now extend our campaigns to develop alternative investment strategies to enable pension funds to divest from fossil fuels over a number of years.”

Welcoming the motion, Hastings residents and UNISON member Rona Drennan said: “I encourage everyone in East Sussex, and especially Local Government Pension Fund members, to sign the petition to Divest East Sussex Fund from fossil fuels: Reducing, recycling and reusing our consumption at home on a personal basis all counts but keeping fossil fuels in the ground is a direct and potent way of holding back global warming. This is your chance to make a significant contribution to the future of our planet.”

[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 (, Climate Forest Row and Keep It In the Ground Lewes.
[2] This £150m figure is for oil and gas investments only. ‘Climate change, carbon risk and investments’, presentation by investment consultants Hymans Robertston at East Sussex County Council’s training day on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) issues and climate risk, 13 June 2017.
[3] For the full text of the motion see
[4] ‘Campaigners’ joy as Hastings council agrees fossil fuel divestment’, 14 April 2016, Hastings Observer, ‘Lewes Town Council calls for East Sussex Pension Fund to ditch its investments in oil, coal and gas’, 7 March 2017, ‘Brighton Council calls for East Sussex Pension Fund to ditch fossil fuels’, 6 April 2017,


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