Fossil Free “Brunels” greet County Councillors

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 was around today he’d be building trains powered by renewable electricity, not steam trains. Investing in coal and oil now would be like Brunel investing in horse drawn carriages.”

In March this year, the Council Pension Fund adopted a new Investment Strategy Statement in preparation for joining the Brunel Pension Partnership next year. It specifically includes risk due to climate change in its Environmental and Social Governance policy, as well as reference to the possibility of divestment. It’s time to put this into practice and start phasing out investments in the companies responsible for the crisis before shares in these companies become “stranded assets.”

On the same day as our Brunels visited County Hall, the share prices of companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron took a tumble after the Norwegian central bank, which runs the country’s vast Sovereign Wealth Fund, advised the country to dispose of the 6% of the fund held in fossil fuels. The advice was issued to make Norway “less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil and gas prices.”as the world turns towards renewable energy sources.”

On the final day of the COP23 Climate Talks in Bonn, Germany, it seems clear to Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaigners that all countries signed up to the Climate agreement are pushing forward with carbon-free solutions.

Yet last week, a County Council representative responded to a Fossil Free Oxfordshire press release by saying that they believe that engaging with companies can deliver long term change. Fossil Free Oxfordshire responded this week by pointing out that the latest data released at the COP23 meeting in Bonn make it quite clear that change is urgent. Short term action, such as divesting from companies that persist in exploring for new, unburnable fossil fuel reserves, is vital now.

The second argument that the Pension Fund Committee relies on in resisting divestment is about fulfilling their fiduciary duty to their pensioners. Full divestment commitments have been made by two UK council pension funds, Waltham Forest and Southwark, with another four making partial commitments. The campaign to divest local council pensions has this year received backing from Unison and the TUC. These examples demonstrate that divestment is compatible with fulfilling a pension fund’s fiduciary duty and the more Councils and other pension funds that ask their investment managers for fossil-free funds, the more, we suspect, will be created. We need to adopt investment strategies for the future, not the past.

The Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee is gearing up to join the new pension pool with other LGPSs across the south west, the Brunel Pension Partnership, from April 2018. Now is the time to make sure fossil-free investment options are available for Councils.

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