On Friday 8 November 2019, Oxfordshire County Council are running a workshop on climate change for members of the Pension Fund Committee and the Pension Board. Fossil Free Oxfordshire has produced this briefing for attendees, explaining the case for divestment from fossil fuels.
In our last post we gave details of the speech Jess Mallighan and Xanthe Wells (school students) gave at the last Oxfordshire County Council Pension Fund meeting. This post is a video of that speech.
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.
Do you agree it’s time your pension stopped fuelling climate breakdown through its investments in fossil fuel companies? We at Fossil Free Oxfordshire have been telling the Pension Fund Committee this for a long time, as have the 1,200 people who signed the petition and about 200 LGPS members who wrote to the (former) Chair of the Pension Fund Committee.
Other LGPSs have committed to divest, like Waltham Forest and Islington, and so have the whole of Ireland and New York! But Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee has not budged on this issue so it’s time to push the campaign up a notch, and we need your help.
You can quickly and easily take action by asking your MP to push for your pension fund to be divested from fossil fuels. We’ve created a template email and listed the Oxfordshire MPs’ email addresses below.
Thank you very much for your support!
PS It would help us if you would cc/bcc or forward your email to email@example.com.
Template email to MP
Dear [MP’s name],
I am an Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) member. I understand a percentage of our pension pot is invested in fossil fuel companies.
I am very concerned that my pension is fuelling climate breakdown through being invested in fossil fuel companies. I’m also worried that these are unsafe financial investments because renewable energy is becoming cheaper.
Taking action against climate change is now urgent, as climate scientists have made clear (e.g. recent IPCC report from October this year “Global warming of 1.5 degrees”)
The Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee has not responded to sustained calls to move our investments out of fossil fuels, even though climate risk is noted in the Investment Strategy Statement. A mechanism to take our money out of fossil fuel companies has been made available by the Brunel Pension Partnership. So there is no reason to delay.
Please would you, as my MP, take up my concerns with Cllr Kevin Bulmer, chair of the Pension Fund Committee and push for the fund to be made completely fossil fuel-free as soon as possible. I would like to see concrete action in time to be reported at the Committee’s meeting in March 2019.
It’s important to include
· your full name
· your postal address, including postcode
· your contact number(s)
Oxfordshire MPs’ email addresses
If you’re not sure who your MP is, you can check by putting your postcode in here.
Anneliese Dodds (MP for Oxford East) firstname.lastname@example.org
Layla Moran (MP for Oxford West and Abingdon) email@example.com
Victoria Prentis (MP for North Oxfordshire) firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Vaizey (MP for Wantage & Didcot) email@example.com
John Howell (MP for Henley) firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Courts (MP for Witney & West Oxfordshire) email@example.com
At this week’s meeting of the Oxfordshire County Council we think there’s been a major shift in the attitude to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues and investment amongst the Councillors.
We knew that a Lib Dem Cllr, Bob Johnston, was putting a motion to the full Council today about ESG issues and Council investments. He reports to the PFC from the Pension Board, so we’ve seen a lot of each other over the last few years at PFC meetings! One of our supporters is his constituent and went to lobby him – and found out about the motion.
So we decided to do what we could to support the motion. We lobbied other Councillors who we thought would be supportive – Labour Councillors – and Andrew Finney organised giving a public address at the Council meeting, before the motion was proposed.
One of the Labour Councillor asked to support the motion told us before the meeting:
“Absolutely it’ll have my full support and that of the County Labour Group. I think unfortunately it may be voted down by the Conservatives but hopefully I’ll be proved wrong!”
Andrew Finney gave a 5 minute public address to the Council for Fossil Free Oxfordshire in which he spelled out some pertinent information:
- Why it was important that the Council’s actions started to reflect the new ESG statement adopted last March that recognised risk due to climate change
- That the Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, has told the Commons environmental and audit committee this month that many trustees are failing to fulfil their duty to consider climate risk
- Why continuing to invest £20 million directly in Shell is a mistake and why it is a fallacious argument (put to us by the Pension Fund Committee in the past) that investing in Shell is a way of supporting renewables
- That Lancashire County Council Pension Fund invested £12 million in the Westmill Solar Farm in Oxfordshire in 2013
Andrew Finney urged the Council to ask the Pension Fund Committee to commit to a fossil free strategy as it enters the new Brunel Partnership and select low carbon options.
Cllr Bob Johnson’s motion was:
“Investment, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are now rising rapidly up the Agenda. This is evidenced, for example by the recent decision of the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund to cease investment in oil and gas. The Oxfordshire Local Pension Fund has an obligation to review its investment strategy, when the present 3-year framework expires. Council therefore calls upon the Pension Committee to incorporate the latest and best advice available on ESG matters when reviewing its policies and drawing up the next 3-year investment strategy.”
The big news is that the motion got passed unanimously – of 60 Cllrs present, 59 Yes, 1 Abstention. That’s a lot of Tory Cllrs deciding to take ESG issues seriously.
At the PFC June meeting Cllrs will review ESG issues and investment strategy, so we’re very hopeful for some real movement – from Conservative Cllrs!
Passionate about fighting climate change?
Know your way around social media?
Want to get involved in campaigning?
We’re looking for someone to take control of our social media to support the work we do; pushing Oxfordshire County Council to divest from fossil fuels. The Council currently invests a portion of its pension fund in companies that profit from environmental destruction. We think this must stop. If you think so too and you know your Twitter from your Instagram then why not help us put an end to the funding of fossil fuels in Oxfordshire?
We need help with:
– Keeping our Facebook page and Twitter feed up to date – posting about news and upcoming events, developments in the campaign and blog posts
– Managing our blog – editing and uploading posts and generating content
– Creating photos and images for use on social media and elsewhere in the campaign
– Increasing our social media presence and reach
– Supporting the campaign in general and attending regular fortnightly meetings
Get in touch with us if you’re interested in getting involved at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NB None of us at Fossil Free Oxfordshire are paid, and you would be no exception 🙂 We do it because we think it’s important and it’s fun!
On 17th November 2017, County Councillors attending a meeting of the new Brunel Pension Partnership at County Hall in Oxford were met by campaigners from Fossil Free Oxfordshire dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Andrew, dressed as Brunel, said: “If Brunel … Continue reading