‘Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.’ — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

Oxfordshire Pension Fund: Divest from Crisis – Invest in our Future!

On 24th March 2023 Fossil Free Oxfordshire marked national Divestment Day by calling on Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund to accelerate and broaden the changes it is making in its investments away from oil and gas. Campaigners gathered outside Oxfordshire County Council offices in Oxford to call on the County’s Pension Fund Committee to act more rapidly to divest from climate-damaging investments. They were joined by Oxford Friends of the Earth and XR members to leaflet Council employees and sing. Fossil Free Oxfordshire described where they think the Pension Fund has got to on the path to divestment by acting out an exchange between a Councillor and a Lobbyist, throwing an “earth” between them.

Fossil Free Oxfordshire member Andrew Finney said, “This week United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said that we all have the tools we need to solve climate change challenges – we just have to deploy them, everything, everywhere, all at once. Organisations like the Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund, and the larger Brunel Partnership that it’s part of, have the financial levers that can make those changes actually happen.”

Temperatures have already risen to 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a consequence of more than a century of burning fossil fuels, as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use.

A new UN report from climate scientists at the IPCC says that if temperatures are to be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, deep, rapid, and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed in all sectors this decade. Emissions need to go down now, and be cut by almost half by 2030, if this goal has any chance of being achieved.

Oxfordshire still invests in the climate crisis

Oxfordshire Councils have declared a climate emergency and say we must reduce our carbon emissions to zero. But they continue to invest in fossil fuel companies through the Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund. This still has a £20 million investment in Shell and investments in other fossil fuel companies. Shell continues to explore for and develop new fossil fuel reserves, and its business plan is not consistent with ensuring global heating is limited to 1.5°C.

Scheme members want divestment

Members of the pension scheme have been asking for more progress on divestment from fossil fuels. Groups like Fossil Free Oxfordshire have also been campaigning on this for a number of years.

Signs of progress

The Oxfordshire scheme has made some progress in the last few years including:

● Targeting a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its investment portfolio of 7% each year
BUT This doesn’t include the emissions from fossil fuel products like petrol for cars or gas for central heating
● Shifting the majority of its passive equity investments to a Paris Aligned fund
BUT This still left significant funds in UK equities that included fossil fuel companies like Shell
● Recently deciding to investigate moving its UK Equities investment to a UK Paris Aligned fund which would trigger the divestment of most of its holding in Shell
BUT This isn’t fast or far enough to address the scale of the crisis

We are watching the Oxfordshire Pension Fund

The Pension Fund Committee need to:
● move fast and start the process of shifting the current UK equities investment; and
● examine the rest of the Oxfordshire portfolio with a view of reducing or eliminating remaining investment in fossil fuel companies.

How to Support the Fossil Free Oxfordshire divestment campaign

Please support the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign by emailing your local county councillor and asking them to lobby the pension fund committee to adopt a Paris Aligned fund for UK Equities. You can find who local county councillor is at https://www.writetothem.com/.


Fossil Free Oxfordshire is proud to be part of the Climate League of Oxford and Cambridge (CLOC)

CLOC is a joint campaign set up by student climate-justice campaigners and local citizen climate-action groups in Oxford and Cambridge. The mission of the campaign is to persuade the colleges of the two cities to move from being laggards to leaders in tackling the climate crisis.

Although some other universities have a dual university-college governance structure, Oxford and Cambridge are unique in respect of their colleges’ wealth and influence. Combined assets of the 59 undergraduate-focussed colleges amount to £15 billion, and some colleges have property, stock and bond portfolios on a par with many hedge funds.

With property and investment assets of £1.5 billion, Trinity College Cambridge has the wealth of a large City firm.

Yet its net zero carbon emissions target is 2050, over 10 years behind that of Cambridge University, suggesting a lack of leadership ambition

On the global stage, the academics associated with the colleges are at the forefront of climate change science and have been amply represented within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports. Many were lead authors on the most recent report released on 9th August, whose findings UN General Secretary António Guterres described as “Code Red for Humanity”.

Unfortunately, however, while college academics are at the cutting edge of climate change science, the college heads, bursars and governing bodies have been lagging on climate change action within their own college walls. The top-level university authorities have done better, with Cambridge University targeting the year 2038 to reach net zero carbon and Oxford 2035. The Universities have also begun to distance themselves from fossil fuel firms, both passing divestment motions in 2020.  

Outside in the wider community, city and county local authorities have proclaimed climate emergencies and implemented zero carbon transition plans, while the Oxfordshire local government pension fund is rapidly cutting emissions from its portfolio and starting to divest.

A core philosophy of the two universities is that decision-making should be evidence-based. Accordingly, CLOC proposes to create league tables that will allow any observer to contrast and compare the actions taken by each college over climate change to date. These can be thought of as mirrors to the Norrington and Tompkins tables that rank colleges by academic excellence. However, instead of rating them by degrees awarded, we will rank them based on the following four criteria: 1) decarbonisation, 2) delinking, 3) divestment and 4) disclosure.

Decarbonisation concentrates on zero-carbon transition plans; delinking relates to relationships with fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them; divestment is about the sale of investments in fossil-fuel firms; and disclosure deals with transparency.

“With COP 26 nearly upon us, we hope that the CLOC tables will act as a catalyst to accelerate those actions needed to tackle the climate crisis”

Will O’Sullivan, Oxford Climate Justice Campaign

CLOC plans to send a climate questionnaire to each college. Based on their replies and publicly available information, a climate score will be calculated for each college, and they will be rated accordingly. The rankings will then be published on the website www.theCLOC.org prior to the COP 26 climate talks in November.

A core principle behind the CLOC tables is public transparency. This approach was originally championed by former governor of the Bank of England and Oxford alumnus Mark Carney, and has now been adopted by government bodies, corporates, and non-profits across the country. The principle in the CLOC context can best be described as “no public disclosure equals no score”.

The primary goal of the CLOC tables is to highlight those colleges that have done the most work on tackling climate change to date, so they can become beacons of best practice for those that are falling behind. Through so doing, college authorities and student bodies can then work together in a positive partnership to address areas of weakness.

At this juncture in history, every organisation needs to maximise its efforts in the race to Zero Carbon if we are to avoid an environmental and ecological disaster. CLOC believes that the tables will act as a vital accelerant for the action required.

A win: Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Scheme begins to divest from fossil fuels

At its meeting on 10th September 2021, Oxfordshire County Council’s Pension Fund Committee chose to move its passive holdings into a Paris-Aligned Benchmark fund that excludes fossil fuel companies. We at Fossil Free Oxfordshire are delighted with this step, and look forward to more fossil fuel exclusions to come.
Pensions Age tells the story:

The Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund has announced plans to exclude fossil fuel investments, with the full value of the fund’s passive equity investment, worth around £530m, to be moved into a newly launched Paris Aligned Benchmark Fund.

The move, voted through by the fund’s committee this week, will effectively exclude all investments in coal, oil and gas companies, with the new fund expected to deliver annual emissions reductions of at least seven per cent per annum.

The new benchmarks were developed by FTSE Russell and Brunel Pension Partnership, and will provide the fund a new way to target Paris alignment with passive investments.

In addition to this, the pension fund has confirmed that it achieved a 17.7 per cent reduction in emissions across its measurable investments over the past year, and decreased exposure to fossil fuel reserves by over 30 per cent.

Commenting on the news, Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee chair, Councillor Bob Johnston, said: “There are many different arguments over the most effective climate investing strategy or policy, but the real proof is in the numbers.

“On that basis, Oxfordshire Pension Fund has made an exceptionally strong start, far outperforming its interim target in its first report, and putting it very much on track to deliver on its pledge to be Paris-aligned across all pension investments.”

Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee member and Green Party Councillor, Jo Robb, added: “The committee’s decision to invest in a fund that excludes fossil fuels and rapidly reduces emissions is critical.

“In the light of recent extreme weather events, the dire warnings of the most recent IPCC report, and the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, local councils across the UK must show the leadership the situation demands. I hope this commitment will be one of many in the months to come.”

The announcement has also been welcomed by campaign groups, as Fossil Free Oxfordshire spokesperson, Al Chisholm, highlighted the plans as a “critical step” on the path to investing for a safer climate and more just world, congratulating the committee for taking this “decisive and forward-looking step”.

Adding to this, Platform energy economist and UK Divest co-ordinator, Robert Noyes, emphasised the need for more schemes to take action on climate issues, stating: “In the run-up to COP26, councils across the UK have an important decision to make.

“To hope beyond hope that engaging with fossil fuel companies – who denied the climate crisis for decades, and spent just 1 per cent of their annual capital expenditure on clean energy in 2020 – will magically work this time, or join the US$14.5trn coalition of climate leaders in ending fossil fuel investment.”

Platform has also previously urged Local Government Pension Schemes to take steps to divest from fossil fuels, despite research from the group revealing that Local Government Pension Scheme funds’ fossil fuel investments had fallen to £9.9bn since 2017.

15% of Oxfordshire LGPS could divest from fossil fuels on Friday. It’s a total no-brainer.

We are optimistic that, with the climate crisis at the top of the Liberal Democrat Green Alliance-led Oxfordshire County Council’s agenda, opportunities to be progressive and show leadership on climate will be firmly grasped. Such an opportunity will arise on Friday 10th September 2021 when OCC’s Pension Fund Committee will take a decision about reallocating the Local Government Pension Fund’s passive investments. The fund holds approximately £3 billion, and investing it in a climate-friendly way is a quick-win, low-cost way to combat climate change. 

The Pension Fund Committee has made some progress over recent years in recognising climate change as an important investment issue. Its Climate Change Policy aims to reduce the emissions associated with the fund by 7.6% per year, and this is certainly to be welcomed. 

However, it still invests an estimated £40 million directly in fossil fuel companies. In this respect, we believe the speed and urgency of the Pension Fund Committee’s response to the climate emergency falls short. Despite rhetoric suggesting they can be part of the solution to the crisis, fossil fuel companies continue to explore for new reserves even though we now know that the majority of known reserves must stay underground if we are to avoid runaway climate change. None has a business plan compatible with the 1.5 degree target of the Paris Accord, and financially supporting these companies is ethically indefensible. 

These investments are also financially extremely risky. Ed Davey MP recently called for a ban on new listings of fossil fuel companies on the London Stock Exchange and to require pension funds to divest from them. He is quoted in this article as saying “There’s a massive lie being perpetrated by people in the City, these fossil fuel companies and the government. The lie is these investments are safe. They are not safe. If the City of London doesn’t take this seriously, it’s risking its own future.”

On Friday 10th September 2021, the Committee has an opportunity to reduce the extent to which the Fund finances the climate crisis and is at risk of stranded assets. It can move money from existing passive funds (approximately 15% of the whole Fund) into a “Paris-Aligned Benchmark” (PAB) fund which would effectively exclude fossil fuel sector investments and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. The alternative “Climate Transition Benchmark” (CTB) fund would reduce emissions by only 30% and would not exclude fossil fuel companies. More information about the funds is published in this paper prepared by the Council Officers for Friday’s meeting.

We urge the Pension Fund Committee to invest in line with the climate emergency, and to protect the Fund from losing value as the fossil fuel industry declines over the coming years, by voting to move 100% of the passive investments to the PAB fund.

We are concerned that some Committee members may hesitate to do so for three reasons. First, the paper that accompanies the agenda item implies that excluding fossil fuels from the portfolio would be contrary to a “Just Transition” (para 21). The opposition of jobs vs environment is unhelpful: it is critical that the livelihoods of communities currently dependent on high-carbon industries are protected and the skills and experiences of oil and gas workers are harnessed to deliver an equitable and rapid transition to renewable energy. But the pursuit of profit maximisation by these companies through boom and bust cycles with little Government oversight has often come at the expense of the workforce. In a survey reported here, over 80% of offshore workers said they would consider moving to a job outside the oil and gas industry. Maintaining investments in these companies (which generally fund new developments and exploration, not existing ones) now will do nothing to materially improve the conditions of people working at those companies. Instead, maintaining these investments under the guise of finding financial solutions to a political problem delays political action, and will in the long run make transition less just than removing investments and pushing for Government action. 

To our knowledge, the Committee has never previously been asked to concern itself about people’s jobs when pulling out of other types of investment in the normal run of things. Both PAB and CTB funds will exclude tobacco, but there is no indication of concern about the livelihoods of people in the tobacco industry.

Second, the same paper (point 21) states: “It was the view of Officers that the Climate Transition Benchmark more closely reflected the current wording within the Climate Change Policy”.  Rather than using the Climate Change Policy (agreed by the previous Conservative-led Committee) to justify continuing investments in fossil fuel companies, we suggest the Climate Change Policy itself should be reviewed in the light of the evidence from the latest IPCC report.

Third, Committee members have often been told that by maintaining shares in fossil fuel companies, they are better able to influence them. This is manifestly ineffective; after decades of such “engagement,” fossil fuel companies continue to invest far more in exploring for more fossil fuels than in renewables. No fossil fuel company has a Paris-Aligned business plan. Further, Pension Fund Committees have a fiduciary duty to invest money in their scheme members’ best interests. There is no financial loss to the value of the fund in opting for the PAB, but we would argue that promoting fossil fuel expansion, knowing that it can cause climate catastrophe, compromises the right of LGPS members to have their life and health protected. 

Transferring 100% of the Fund’s passive investments to a PAB fund is not only the right thing to do in the light of the most recent IPCC report’s warning of extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding. It is also the safe and responsible way to protect the fund from the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets as the oil and gas industry enters terminal decline. As UN Secretary General, António Guterres says, “This [IPCC] report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.” 

We hope the Committee will support the move of 100% of the passive investments to the PAB fund. It surely is a no-brainer!

Fossil Free Oxfordshire wins changes to Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Scheme

Fossil Free Oxfordshire, a climate change lobby group based in Oxford, has successfully influenced the county’s £2.5bn Local Government Pension Scheme to make critical changes to their investment strategy in response to the climate emergency. The Pension Fund Committee has agreed to align the Fund’s investments with the Paris Agreement, i.e. a limit of 1.5°C in global temperatures and net zero carbon emissions by 2050; they have also agreed to a target of 7.6% reductions in the Fund’s greenhouse gas emissions  year on year.  The Scheme will initially switch 5% of their assets into low carbon funds, a move described by the Independent Financial Advisor as a ‘first step,’ with the implication that more will follow. The new Climate Change Policy was signed off in June this year following seven years’ protesting, lobbying and educating by Fossil Free Oxfordshire (FFO), who persuaded the members of the Pension Fund Committee to recognise the climate crisis and contribute to the changes necessary to mitigate the devastating impacts that will follow unless swift action is taken. FFO continues to argue that the Pension Fund should divest from fossil fuels immediately, but is pleased to see that the Pension Fund has taken some small steps towards divestment and will continue to ensure it stays on a path to move away from fossil fuel investment with a clear timetable.

The Local Government Pension Scheme has 225 employers and approximately 64,000 members from all areas of council run activities including school teachers, library workers, social workers, public health staff, fire-fighters, waste disposal staff and many others.

Great strides were made at a climate change workshop organised by Council officers and the Committee in November 2019. A wide spectrum of stakeholders were represented, to FFO were asked to submit nominations for presenters. Following this session FFO were invited to join a newly formed Working Group to turn the key points from the workshop into a new Climate Change Policy for the Scheme; this resulted in the changes that the Fund Committee has now agreed to implement. FFO continues to be part of the Working Group and is ensuring that the targets are met, while continuing to argue for an acceleration in fossil fuel divestment beyond the measures already agreed.

It is estimated globally that up to $14.6trillion worth of funds have divested from fossil fuel funds and companies (https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/) by a wide-ranging group of organisations including faith-based organisations, philanthropic foundations, educational institutions, governments and many other large pension funds.  Recently the UK’s biggest pension fund, the government-backed National Employment Savings Trust (Nest) scheme, with nine million members, agreed to start divesting from fossil fuels by banning investments in any companies involved in coal mining, oil from tar sands and arctic drilling and moving £5.5bn into “climate aware” investments.

FFO has been active for over five years and it is the dedication of a few hard-working members that has resulted in this breakthrough in Oxfordshire. Founded by Al Chisholm, a local resident living in Rose Hill, the group comprises members from around the county with wide-ranging expertise including technical, campaigning, finance and negotiating skills. If you would like to join the group -and we are especially looking for those with investment experience and social media skills at present – please contact us at fossilfreeoxon@gmail.

Help kick fossil fuel out of local government pension scheme – action needed by 15th May 2020! Please respond to the council’s consultation on Oxfordshire Pension Scheme’s Climate Change Policy

With a quick email action, you can help push for a Climate Change Policy with teeth that will have a real impact on how public pension money is invested.

How to respond to the consultation: The short version

Responses should be sent by email to sean.collins@oxfordshire.gov.uk, stating whether you are responding as an Oxfordshire tax-payer or as an LGPS member.

There is more detail on the Climate Change Policy and consultation process in the long version below but, if you are pushed for time, below are key points you could usefully make in your response to the consultation, if you agree with them.

1.We ask that the Pension Fund’s investments be aligned with the Paris Agreement’s aim to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees rather than consistent with governments’ Paris pledges which are predicted to produce unsafe temperature rises of 2.9 degrees or more.

2. We ask that the Fund divests from (sell all shares in) all fossil fuel companies which continue to extract further fossil fuel reserves because 

a) fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis so public money should not be invested in them

b) divestment sends a clear message to governments and to the companies themselves that driving the climate crisis is morally unacceptable, so fits with the Fund’s stated goal to “influence policy in the climate change arena” 

c) divestment would protect the fund from the well-documented risk of falling share value.

3. We ask that the Fund supports engagement (using investors’ position as shareholders to push for change) with non-fossil fuel companies, aimed at aligning their business with below 2 degrees warming.

4. Clear and measurable criteria are needed to assess companies’ alignment with a less than 2 degrees scenario. The climate change policy needs to be clearly enforced and actioned by these inclusion/exclusion criteria.


The longer version

Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund has made great strides in developing a  Climate Change Policy that recognises a need for the Pension Fund to align its investments with the Paris Agreement and its ambition to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees C. The draft policy is out for consultation until 15th May, and you can respond by emailing Sean.Collins@oxfordshire.gov.uk.

We at Fossil Free Oxfordshire are broadly in agreement with the stated aims of the Policy, but have concerns about some crucial details.  We encourage our supporters to respond to the consultation, and in this blog we offer our views on what a response might include. The consultation document details how to respond, and invites comments on the following issues (see paragraph 23 of the consultation document).  Fossil Free Oxfordshire’s views on these are shown in italics below each point.

  • The use of the Paris Agreement to act as the guiding principle for the Climate Change Policy. Are there alternative strategic drivers better suited?

We support the use of the Paris Agreement to act as the guiding principle for the Climate Change Policy.  However we think that the pension fund needs to be very clear that the objective of the fund is to be compliant with the objectives of the Paris agreement i.e. consistent with limiting global heating to less than 2C rather than just consistent with the current government pledges under the Paris Agreement which scientists believe will result in unsafe heating of between 2.9C and 3.4C [1]. This principle places limits on the use of many investment vehicles by the pension fund.

  • The decision not to include any blanket divestment statements within the Policy but to focus on a practice of engagement and selective divestment across all asset classes and sectors where sufficient evidence of compliance with the Paris Agreement is not forthcoming.

We agree that engagement and divestment are not mutually exclusive – indeed they are intrinsically interlinked.  Engagement must be underpinned with clear criteria, metrics, timelines and the sanction of divestment for companies whose performance does not meet stated criteria within the timeline. Otherwise it acts as an excuse for the same stalling and greenwash we have seen from oil companies for decades, and which has led organisations such as the National Trust to divest.

A divestment policy applied to the fossil fuel industry would be powerful in the following two respects:

  1. It would align the fund with the values of pension scheme members who have principled moral objections to the actions of the fossil fuel industry which has done, and continues to do, unequivocal harm to the world. The Unison survey suggested LGPS members object in principle to their pension being invested in unethical industries.
  2.  It would align with the Fund’s goal to “influence policy in the climate change arena” by stigmatising the fossil fuel industry, undermining its social license to practice and encouraging government to strengthen legislation against it.

Engagement can be a highly effective approach with companies whose business models can be adapted to respond to the climate crisis. We agree that it is not too late for some companies who are not currently aligned with a 2 degrees scenario to adapt.   

However, any companies whose business plans include continued exploration and extraction of new reserves of fossil fuels could not be said to meet any reasonable criteria for 2 degree-compliance. Any engagement process that employed credible criteria would surely exclude such companies. Any engagement/divestment policy that does not lead to their exclusion in the very near term, is self-evidently inadequate.

  •    Whether the focus on climate change risks relative to the other risks facing the pension fund is appropriate, and whether there should be greater emphasis on any of the other UN Sustainable Development Goals or risks.

We think that climate change poses by far the most significant set of risks to the pension fund, so the focus on that is appropriate. We recognise that there are also other risks that should be considered, but that the main emphasis should remain on climate change.

  • Potential metrics to be included in any future iterations of the Investment Strategy Statement and Climate Change Policy against which compliance can be assessed.

The Church of England Commission used the Transition Pathway Initiative’s assessment of the energy sector which led to immediate divestment from all but two fossil fuel companies.  We would support such divestment by the Oxfordshire as a first step towards an investment policy which will eventually be consistent with limiting global heating to less than 2 degrees C.  (Further steps to divest fully from fossil fuel companies would be required at a later stage given none has a business plan consistent with that objective.)  

 [1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/countries-must-triple-climate-emissions-targets-to-limit-global-heating-to-2c

Progress towards Divestment in Oxfordshire – next step Brunel

Some good news from Fossil Free Oxfordshire, the Oxfordshire local government pension fund divestment campaign. The Conservative Party-dominated Oxfordshire Pension Fund committee now appears ready to move more of its pension fund assets into carbon-emission friendly funds at its next asset allocation meeting, which is a significant step toward divestment.

This sea change in attitude came after a Climate Change Workshop was held on 8th November 2019 to discuss how the Oxfordshire Pension Fund could play a part in tackling the climate crisis. The meeting included the Oxfordshire Pension Fund committee and board members, senior Brunel Pension Partnership executives, fund managers with expertise in low carbon funds, a leading climate scientist, an Oxford University student climate campaign representative, Oxfordshire District councillors holding senior environment positions and members of Fossil Free Oxfordshire. This all came about through the unrelenting pressure Fossil Free Oxfordshire has put on the Oxfordshire Pension Fund committee and County Council over the last few years.

The consensus achieved at the workshop was positive. All participants agreed that the Pension Fund should support the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees. Moreover, the fund management representatives who spoke at the workshop assured participants that Pension Fund performance would not be affected if assets were transferred into zero or low carbon investment funds; indeed, they argued that a move away from fossil fuels could be a source of superior Pension Fund returns.

Even more encouraging, a working group is being set up to incorporate the Climate Workshop’s conclusions into the Pension Fund’s new Investment Strategy Statement to be published in March 2020, and Fossil Free Oxfordshire has been invited to be a part of that group. This, we believe, will allow the divestment agenda to have a major impact on the allocation of the Pension Fund’s assets going forward.

While this is real progress, a lot more has to be done, and we need your help. Under a central Government directive, local government pension funds are being required to pool their assets. Most of Oxfordshire Pension Fund’s assets are to be managed by the Brunel Pension Partnership, along with the assets of Avon, Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, the Environment Agency, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Accordingly, we urge all local environmental and climate groups within the Brunel region to pressure their local pension funds to recognise the climate emergency and allocate their pension fund assets accordingly.

We realise, nonetheless, that mounting a divestment campaign can be quite daunting, as a starting point you could review the Climate Workshop briefing document that supported our campaign. We hope that this report will give you valuable information in helping to persuade your local government pension fund to play its part in fighting the climate crisis.

If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to get in touch on fossilfreeoxon@gmail.com

Oxfordshire council takes important step towards possible divestment

Oxfordshire County Council Pension Fund Committee meeting on Friday 7th June made some significant decisions that could lead to divestment from fossil fuel companies. For the first time there was substantial debate about the merits of divestment.  

The public gallery was packed with people who came to support councillors and campaigners speaking in favour of divestment.  The committee members certainly behaved as if they had an audience and this clearly focused their minds on the many problems with investing in fossil fuel companies.  The campaign is grateful for this support.

As part of the campaign’s  lobbying effort Julia Spragg (a long standing campaign member), Jess Mallighan and Xanthe Wells (school students) spoke to the committee in favour of divestment at the meeting.  Jess and Xanthe were particularly inspiring and received a well deserved standing ovation from some of the committee members and the public gallery.


Campaign speakers (left to right):
Jess Mallighan, Julia Spragg, and Xanthe Wells


Jess’ and Xanthe’s speech challenged the Pension Fund Committee, saying:

“I found out that you still invest millions of pounds of the pension fund into fossil fuels. and it made us think, what does acting on the climate emergency really mean to you? If you actually believed in the climate emergency and wanted to take action you would definitely not invest in companies like BP or Shell, who are still spending money looking for new oil and gas to dig up.”

The committee has decided to hold a workshop on climate change risk policy in the autumn which will develop an approach to climate risk that includes “decarbonising the listed portfolios, and developing measurable objectives and targets”.  The chair of the committee has invited Jess and Xanthe to participate in the workshop which will help ensure that divestment is taken seriously. The workshop organizers “will seek participation from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure a balanced discussion”.  We hope this means that ethical and financial arguments against continued investment in fossil fuel companies are properly reviewed.

It appears that workshop was placed on the agenda through the efforts of Councillor Mark Lygo (Labour) in his “pre-meeting” with the committee chair Councillor Kevin Bulmer (Conservative).  The other opposition Councillors addressed divestment in other ways. Councillor John Sanders (Labour) proposed a divestment motion “to instruct officers to investigate the best possible way it can divest itself of all fossil fuel investments (i.e. the equity or bond of any company which derives more than 50% of its total turnover from the extraction and production of fossil fuels) as soon as is reasonably practicable”.  This motion was supported by all three opposition councillors. However, the motion was not carried as all the Conservative councillors voted against the motion.

John Sanders gave a forceful speech in favour of his motion very much in line with the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign.  He said that fiduciary duty does not mean inertia and has not stopped other councils from divesting. He said, or implied, that the outcomes from engaging with fossil fuel companies were not substantive, and that engagement needs to demonstrate results and needs to be backed up with the divestment stick of “do this or else…”.

One of the objectives of the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign is to persuade the committee to move a substantial proportion of its investments into available funds that already have a reduced exposure to fossil fuel companies.  The council has relatively recently started the process of changing the structure of its investments so that a “pooling” company called Brunel Pension Partnership will manage those investments for Oxfordshire council along with councils across the South West of England.  Brunel offers a Low Carbon fund and a Sustainable fund both of which have a lower exposure to fossil fuel investments. Councillor Roz Smith (Liberal Democrat) persistently asked why the fund has not invested in these funds. She requested that a discussion of this issue should be on the committee’s agenda at a future meeting.  This was the first time that this important issue has been raised at pension fund committee meeting.

The meeting represented a major step forward for Fossil Free Oxfordshire, the result of concerted campaigning over a number of years.   The campaign now needs to ensure that the debate about divestment at the committee’s climate risk workshop in the autumn is substantial and results in a clear commitment to substantially reduce or eliminate the Oxfordshire fund’s investments in fossil fuel companies.