So what happened at the County Council?

On Tuesday 1st July 2014 the Green Party put a motion to the full meeting of Oxfordshire County Council, calling on the council to consider divesting from fossil fuels.

Outside the council:

FFCountyCouncillors arriving at County Hall were greeted by a group of 12 fossil free protesters, including city councillors from Labour and the Green Party, to encourage them to vote for the motion. We held banners and placards, talked to the local press and were treated to the views of some of the councillors on their way into the meeting. The winner of the most unedifying comment: “Global warming? Great – get your bikinis on ladies”!!

Fossil Free Oxfordshire was granted a 5 minute public address to the Council early in the meeting and before the motions were heard. Al set out the arguments – environmental and economic – for divestment and reminded the councillors that this was an opportunity to set out on a truly ground-breaking path to protect their employees’ pensions as well as much of what we hold dear about our way of life.

The motion is being discussed:

The motion itself was heard in the afternoon. It was proposed by David Williams and seconded by Sam Coates, both Green Party Councillors. In the following discussion the Chair of the Pensions Fund Committee, Councillor Stewart Lilly (Conservative), argued that the Council itself does not own the assets and cannot influence their investment. Our understanding is that, while the council isn’t in a position to demand anything of the pension fund, is it certainly able to make suggestions. Otherwise, we’re not quite sure what is the role of the council’s Pension Fund Committee. In any case, Cllr Williams pointed out that his motion doesn’t *demand*anything from the pension fund, but rather brings the undesirability of investing in fossil fuels to the trustees’ attention, and calls on the fund to look into this issue.

Councillors John Tanner (Labour) and Jean Fooks (Liberal Democrat) both spoke in favour of divestment in principle and its future consideration, but not in favour of this motion. John Tanner cited support from Oxford City Council and the trades unions.

Pension funds??

It is worth noting here, that though pension funds managers have a fiduciary duty to maximise profits from their investments (or more specifically, they are “required to balance returns against risk. “), this financial duty is only part of the story. A recent report by the Law Commission clarifies what is apparently a rather confusing piece of legislation, and states that trustees should consider environmental, social and governance factors where they are financially material.

(You can fund the full, 272-pages long, report here, or the executive summary here, where the relevant part is the appendix, starting on page 19)

The vote:

When it came to the vote, the motion was heavily defeated, with four votes for (two LibDems and two Green councillors), 40 against and 9 abstentions. But these numbers belie a growing level of understanding of, and support for, the notion of divestment: some of those who voted against or abstained because they were unhappy with details of the motion’s wording have openly pledged support for the principle of divesting from fossil fuels (we are currently trying to get information about what exactly they were unhappy with).

This is certainly not the last the County Council will hear about fossil fuel divestment – we’re just getting going!

(But don’t just take our word for it – check out this article from the Telegraph – an unexpected campaign ally! – which backs up some of our arguments. The Divestment campaign is really going mainstream!)