May Day Revellers and County Council Candidates Support Fossil Fuel Divestment

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See all the photos from the day here

 

Global Divestment Mobilisation kicked off in Oxford as campaigners from Fossil Free Oxfordshire asked revellers seeing in May Day in Oxford to show their support for divestment from fossil fuels by having their photograph taken. There was enthusiastic support.

During Global Divestment Mobilisation, thousands of people everywhere will highlight the impacts of our institutions’ investments in fossil fuels and demand they do the right thing: Divest!

 

Al Chisholm from Fossil Free Oxfordshire said:

We were so impressed that people who had heard that we would be here this morning on social media hunted us out to have their photos taken and show their support for divestment.

Pete Wallis, who is a member of the Oxfordshire County Council Pension Fund and a supporter of Fossil Free Oxfordshire said:

“May Day is a celebration of spring and we have been asking candidates for the Oxfordshire County Council elections to look to brighter future for the climate and the planet and support divesting the Oxfordshire LGPS from fossil fuels.”

Fossil Free Oxfordshire emailed the following question to all candidates who were contactable:

“As is well known, burning fossil fuels is causing climate change, and to keep to the internationally agreed target of 2 degrees of warming most known reserves of coal, oil and gas will need to remain underground. The companies that are still looking for new reserves (driving this) represent risky investments. The County Council administers the Local Government Pension Scheme which currently invests over £100 million in fossil fuels. This money could be better invested locally in socially relevant schemes and infrastructure such as housing, energy efficiency or renewable energy. The Pension Fund Committee has acknowledged the risks to the pension fund associated with investing in fossil fuel companies. Would you favour an end to the Council Pension Fund investing in the financially unsound companies that are driving climate change?”

Replies were received from candidates for each of the major parties standing in the County, the Conservatives, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP (alphabetically by surname):

 

From Catharine Isabel Arakelian, Labour Party Candidate for Kidlington South:

YES

From Jon Bounds, Labour Party Candidate for Abingdon North:

Thanks for the question.

Yes, I would fully support the Country Council using it’s purchasing and investing power to support green and socially responsible schemes where ever it can. Also as someone with a very small piece of the pension scheme I want my savings to be as ethically invested as possible too.

From Peter Coggins, Liberal Democrat County Council Candidate for Churchill & Lye Valley:

Your e-mail has been forwarded to me by my colleague Roz Smith.
I am strongly in favour of putting a stop to Oxfordshire Council’s Pension Fund investing in the financially unsound companies that are driving climate change.The Council has a duty to protect the people of Oxfordshire from the adverse effects of climate change. The Council should disinvest from these companies for moral reasons as well as for reasons of financial risk.

From Hazel Dawe, Green Party candidate for Cowley:

I whole heartedly support fossil fuel divestment. I have been on divestment demonstrations in Oxford, in one singing protest songs with the Sea Green Singers. I have signed every petition on divestment which has come my way.

As a Green Party candidate I take all measures to combat climate change very seriously. Divestment from fossil fuels investments and investing in truly renewable alternative energy sources is key to this. I have solar PV panels on my own roof at home.

From Tim Eden, Green candidate for Didcot West:

As a Green candidate, of course I will be working towards persuading council and the Pension fund committee to divest into other sources. I will be pointing out the thriving (at least for now(!)) electric mini plant as proof that other investments are sound. We should not promote the slow destruction of our work because it is simply inconvenient to alter our habits.

From: Helen Evans, Labour Party Candidate for Iffley Fields and S Mary’s:

Thank you for your email.

I wholeheartedly support Fossil Free Oxfordshire’s campaign to stop the County Council’s Pension Fund investing in fossil fuels. The Labour City Council’s Pension Fund has already stopped such investments and a Labour County Council would do the same. As you rightly say investing in fossil fuels contributes to climate change and presents a risky investment for the Council’s Pension Fund.

If elected I would be happy to meet to discuss how I can support your campaign going forward.

From Ted Fenton, Conservative candidate for Witney West and Bampton:

Thank you for the question. I am very much in favour of a cleaner environment and a society that relies as little as possible on fossil fuels and to as great an extent as possible on renewable energy. I would never knowingly support investment in any financially unsound company.

From James Fry, Labour Party candidate for St Margaret’s:

I fully support your campaign. It is one case where the argument is strong on both investment and ethical grounds.

From Andy Graham, Liberal Democrat candidate for Chipping Norton:

As an advocate of protecting this planet from carbon emissions and fully behind renewable energies and solar farm as I have supported the solar farm in Charlbury I fully support taking action re pension funds as mentioned in your email
I will look into this if elected and look to take the appropriate action

From Alan Harris, UKIP candidate for Deddington:
On this matter I’m against UKIP policies on fracking. We are an island that should be investing in solar farms and wind energy

100 million could and should be invested in to the NHS.

I am also against HS2. This money could be invested in to roads and updating the rail service we have already in the country not a rail service to make a journey 10 minutes quicker.

From John Howson, Liberal Democrat candidate for St Margaret’s:

Thank you for your request about the Lib Dems position on the investment policies of the Oxfordshire Pension Fund . Cllr Jean Fooks has been the LibDem member of this committee for some years and has always taken a great interest in the Committee’s Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance Policy. She has pressed for climate change to be recognised as of considerable concern for the Fund’s investments and strongly supported engaging with fund managers on this topic. At the March meeting of the Committee, she was very pleased to support the Chairman’s proposal to amend the Committee’s Investment Strategy as below:

Investment Strategy approved subject to the addition of the following to the first sentence of the Committee’s Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance Policy to read as follows (amendment in bold italics):

‘The Committee recognises that environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues, including that of climate change, can have materially significant investment implications.’

I am sure we will continue to press this line in the new Council after Thursday.

From Stuart Sutherland MacDonald, Green Party candidate for Witney North and East:

The Greens are committed to cutting out fossil fuels and promoting investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
One of the first actions taken by the Greens on Oxford City Council, after being elected to Chair the Council’s Finance Panel, was to work with Fossil Free Oxfordshire to amend the City’s Treasury Management Strategy (which governs its invests) to insert the following ethical clause.

The Council will not knowingly invest directly in businesses whose activities and practices pose a risk of serious harm to individuals or groups, or whose activities are inconsistent with the Council’s mission and values. This would include, inter alia, avoiding direct investment in institutions with material links to:
a. Human rights abuse (e.g. child labour, political oppression)
b. Environmentally harmful activities (e.g. pollutants, destruction of habitat, fossil fuels)
c. Socially harmful activities (e.g. tobacco, gambling)

The inclusion of ‘fossil fuels’ as an environmentally harmful activity was hotly debated, but the arguments put forward by FFOx and the Greens won the day, making Oxford City Council the first Council in the Country to divest from fossil fuels.

The Council have not only divested from fossil fuels but started to redirect its investments towards more socially and environmentally beneficial causes. For example, the Council have started to purchase houses to provide social-rented accommodation and put money into renewable energy schemes. 

From Cllr Alison Rooke, Liberal Democrat candidate for Abingdon East

Apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

I am certainly against the county council pension fund investing in any unsound investments, and particularly in those causing environmental damage. It is the pension fund’s duty to get the best return for present and future public service pensioners of Oxfordshire; I am very keen for the pension fund to invest in both ecologically and morally sound companies.

From Roz Smith, Liberal Democrat candidate for Headington and Quarry:

Thank you for taking the time to write. As a member of the Green Liberal Democrats I wholely agree with your group’s aims and would be in favour of the County Council’s pension fund ceasing investments in fossil fuels and any companies driving climate change.

From Martin Stott, Labour/ Co-op candidate for Kennington & Radley:

I strongly agree with this. I have signed petitions as an alumnus of the universities I’m a graduate of – Oxford, LSE – demonstrated at the Oxford University one ( the Police have photographic evidence!) and lobbied my own pension fund (Warwickshire CC).

Happy to be publically associated with this campaign.

From Councillor David Williams, Green Party candidate for Iffley Fields and St Mary’s

The Greens are committed to cutting out fossil fuels and promoting investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
One of the first actions taken by the Greens on Oxford City Council, after being elected to Chair the Council’s Finance Panel, was to work with Fossil Free Oxfordshire to amend the City’s Treasury Management Strategy (which governs its invests) to insert the following ethical clause.

The Council will not knowingly invest directly in businesses whose activities and practices pose a risk of serious harm to individuals or groups, or whose activities are inconsistent with the Council’s mission and values. This would include, inter alia, avoiding direct investment in institutions with material links to:
a. Human rights abuse (e.g. child labour, political oppression)
b. Environmentally harmful activities (e.g. pollutants, destruction of habitat, fossil fuels)
c. Socially harmful activities (e.g. tobacco, gambling)

The inclusion of ‘fossil fuels’ as an environmentally harmful activity was hotly debated but the arguments put forward by FFOx and the Greens won the day making Oxford City Council the first Council in the Country to divest from fossil fuels.

The Council have not only divested from fossil fuels but started to redirect its investments towards more socially and environmentally beneficial causes. For example, the Council have started to purchase houses to provide social-rented accommodation and put money into renewable energy schemes.


On the County the Greens have constantly asked questions on Disinvestment of the Chair of Pensions Committee raised the issue in Committee on numerous occasions and spoken in full Council seeking a disinvestment strategy. Our reps have even attended the Pensions Committee supporting Disinvestment campaigners plus rallies and demos on the issue.

Nuala Young, Green Party candidate for St.Clements and Cowley Marsh

I joined in the lobby for divestment and attended the County pension fund meeting. We were pleased that the pension funds committee added a phrase to its policy stating that it would not invest in any funds that were found to be unethical. The assumption was that extraction and use of fossil fuels would be harmful and therefore unethical. If I were elected as County Councillor, I would make it part of my role as County Councillor to oversee this extra condition and hold the County to these promises, checking the list of investments to find if the County was still investing in companies involved in fossil fuels.

Do let me know if you need any further statement from me.

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Long-awaited success for Fossil Free Oxfordshire

We thought the day might never come, but we finally have a move in the right direction in Oxfordshire!
Climate change included in the ISS
The Pension Fund Committee met on Friday to sign off their Investment Statement Strategy and during the meeting itself agreed to insert the words “including climate change” to the first sentence, which now reads:

“The Committee recognises that environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues, including climate change, can have materially significant investment implications.”

New accountability and reporting mechanisms

I think even more significantly, the Committee responded to our demands (first made in July 2015 and repeated numerous times since) for greater accountability and transparency in how they ensure their fund managers mitigate climate risk. They told us they will use the Transition Pathway Initiative to assess all holdings on a four-monthly basis, further investigate any holdings that score poorly, and divest from companies that do not perform acceptably. They will develop a reporting mechanism that allows them to demonstrate to the public how this process reduces their exposure to climate risk. We need to examine the Transition Pathway and hold them to their word to divest from poorly performing companies, but this is progress we are very excited about.

Piling on the pressure

Our campaign has been going about three years and our target had long seemed resistant to our message. We knew that to get a shift we had to pile on the pressure so there was a frantic flurry of activity in the weeks leading up to the meeting. We encouraged supporters and local groups via our networks, the petition etc to apply to address the meeting using this briefing. We think about 25 did (an unprecedented number for this committee) and all were told they would not be allowed to speak. They were invited to send written statements which were circulated to the committee members, so the members received a bunch of diverse and brilliantly-penned arguments. We also encouraged people to turn up to the meeting, even though they were refused permission to speak at it. On the day there were at least 25 of us in the public seating which sent a powerful signal that people were demanding action. There’s no way this shift would have happened without the help of this fabulous band of volunteers.

Then to add to the excitement, just days before the meeting we learned from Simon Bullock at Friends of the Earth about the ClientEarth/Share Action referral to the Pensions Regulator (Oxfordshire gets a name-check in the referral, which was nice), and took full advantage of that. Thank you Simon for all your amazing support in the run-up to the meeting!

Referral to Pensions Regulator and exposure of Committee members to legal challenge

We have an important update!  Fossil Free Oxfordshire has just been alerted to these facts by the environmental law organisation ClientEarth:

  • In December 2016 ClientEarth received legal opinions from two leading UK barristers that pension fund trustees who fail to consider climate risk in their investment strategies could be exposing themselves to legal challenge.
  • Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Scheme is one of a number of UK LGPSs that have recently been referred to the Pensions Regulator by ClientEarth and ShareAction. They have serious concerns about the way in which many LGPS funds are approaching the financial risks associated with climate change, putting scheme members’ savings at risk.

In the referral, Oxfordshire is identified as an LGPS that operates under the misconception that “By delegating day-to-day investment decisions to external investment managers, the administering authority has discharged its legal duties to manage climate risk.”

Oxfordshire LGPS could demonstrate to the Regulator that the Committee now recognises its duty and ability to consider and address climate risk at portfolio level by including a statement to this effect in its new Investment Strategy Statement (a document that all LGPSs have to submit by 1st April 2017). The Conservative-led Councils in East Sussex and Wiltshire have both taken such a step, and have included these statements in their Investment Strategy Statements:

“The Fund believes that climate change poses material financial risks to the Fund but that it also presents positive investment opportunities”. 

East Sussex County Council LGPS

“One area of focus for the 2017 strategy review is the risks caused by climate change and the associated issue of stranded assets. The strategy review will look at the carbon footprint of the Fund’s equity portfolio and consider reduction options, as well as conducting a temperature rise scenario analysis that may have implications for the Fund’s future asset allocation.”

Wiltshire County Council LGPS (draft ISS approved 1 March)

Oxfordshire LGPS could add such a statement to their ISS tomorrow at the Pension Fund Committee meeting. We urge them to do this!

It’s not divestment yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s hope they do the right thing tomorrow!

County Bars Citizens from Committee Appearance

Individuals and Groups Condemn Lack of Local Democracy

The twenty individuals and groups who applied to speak at the next Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee meeting are angered by the county’s refusal to let them speak at the meeting.

The committee’s response to warnings about the risks of investing in fossil fuels has been completely inadequate” said Al Chisholm, Fossil Free Oxfordshire. “Refusing to let anyone address the committee is evidence that, once again, they prefer to kick the issue into the long grass. Written representations, like all our previous communications, will simply be ignored. The economic risks relating to climate change are developing almost daily and citizens ought to be able to make a timely representation on this issue.”

The Pension Fund Committee will be discussing their Environmental and Social Governance Policy at their meeting on 10th March, but the draft includes no mention of climate change. The Government has said councils must take climate risk into account and consult pension scheme members. Oxfordshire has not done this.

An unprecedented number of local individuals and groups submitted requests to address the pension committee, headed by Councillor Stewart Lilly. They plan to call for the long-overdue divestment from fossil fuels, following the lead of many other institutions, including Brookes Oxford Brookes University and Oxford City Council.

“The issue of where local government pensions are invested is one that affects all of us,” said Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) member Jill Green.  “We have important facts to present.  In a democracy, our representatives should make it possible for us to speak up!”

The reorganization of local government pension funds into eight groups across the UK is the perfect time for Oxfordshire County Council to pull over £55 million of employee funds out of unstable fossil fuel investments. This transition presents Oxfordshire with a unique opportunity to divest. The county pension fund should no longer invest in companies that are driving climate change. Instead, it should be invested more ethically, sustainably, and profitably.

“We’ve witnessed the hottest years on record, unstable weather incidents – from heavy rains and floods in Oxfordshire to hurricanes and droughts elsewhere – sea levels are rising, even the Arctic and Antarctic are melting,” said Andrew Finney, PhD, “What more proof that we are facing a growing climate crisis does the county pension fund committee need?”

To add to this, oil and gas investments have been underperforming in recent years.

“Responsible stewardship of the money that so many local government employees will depend on during their retirement years requires divestment from fossil fuels,” Peter Wallis, LGPS member and council employee. “It’s becoming as simple and obvious as that!”

A ONE TIME OPPORTUNITY FOR FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT IN OXFORDSHIRE

Dear Friends,
Local government pension funds are currently being reorganised. This transition presents us with a unique opportunity. It’s time to demand that the funds are no longer invested in fossil fuel companies that are driving climate change. Instead, they should be invested more ethically, sustainably, and profitably.
We need to grasp this opportunity, and we need your help!
On Friday March 10th, the Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee will be discussing “Ethical and Socially Responsible Investment”. We want to make a huge noise around this! The meeting starts at 10.15am and will be held at County Hall in Oxford.
We’d like a deluge of local individuals and organisations to join us in calling for the long-overdue divestment from fossil fuels, following the lead of many other institutions. The most effective way to do this is for us all to request to address their meeting. This will make it impossible for them to ignore the urgent need for action and the strength of feeling locally.
We at Fossil Free Oxfordshire will prepare a detailed briefing about how to apply to speak and what could be said. We will offer any support you need, should your request to speak be granted. We have spoken to the committee before and know the ropes!
There is a good chance that not everyone who applies to address the committee will be granted a slot to speak, but the more widely they feel it is a concern, the better. Those who don’t speak are very welcome to attend the meeting to show your support.
Please let us know by 10th February if you would like to help us make the most of this opportunity. It won’t come round again! You can contact us at fossilfreeoxon@gmail.com.

Thanks for your support!
All best wishes from everyone at Fossil Free Oxfordshire

Bill McKibben in Oxford – Videos

Bill Mckibben is one of the world’s foremost environmental activists. See him here talking to campaigners and supporters from Fossil Free Oxfordshire about the necessity for divestment from fossil fuels.

 

An introduction to Bill’s talk from Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaigner Al Chisholm

 

Bill Mckibben’s talk on the necessity for divestment

 

A Q&A session with Bill Mckibben and some campaigners and supporters from Fossil Free Oxfordshire

Tea and Cakes with Bill McKibben

Last Saturday, Fossil Free Oxfordshire had the honour of hosting an event with Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, star of “Do the Math” and tireless climate change campaigner. We hadn’t had much notice that he’d be in Oxford and could spare us some time, so we had thrown ourselves into getting the word out about the event. But, although Facebook said 40 people were coming, you never know whether they’ll show up on the day, even if you’re offering tea and cake! But they did come and seemed to have all brought at least one friend. The Wesley Memorial Hall was packed and at least a hundred people gave Bill a rousing welcome to Oxford.

Bill laid out the case for the urgency of addressing climate change and leaving carbon reserves in the ground. You can see him in action in these videos. The key argument for me was that if the Divestment Movement – hand-in-hand with direct actions that block pipelines and fracking sites – can stave off any further expansion of the fossil fuel in the next few years, then the technological and economic progress in renewables will make our old carbon ways.

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Bill McKibben’s audience filled the Wesley Memorial Hall

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The most shocking thing I heard was the depth of understanding of climate change that had existed within Exxon, the largest oil company on earth, as long ago as 1977. They had not warned the world or changed their approach to burning carbon – no, they had built their drilling rigs taller, to flood-proof them against a warmer world and laid plans for where in the arctic they could drill, once enough ice had melted. Wow.

Bill is an inspirational speaker – which you will know if you were there or have seen “Do the Math”. Have a look at that video I mentioned. We are delighted that it inspired a whole bunch of people to sign up to help out with the Fossil Free Oxfordshire campaign. We have 40 ticks against actions that people would like to help out with and we have 9 people who’d like to join our campaign team – which is fabulous. The existing team was hugely motivated by spending a little time with Bill and one of us managed to get his copy of Bill’s first book, The End of Nature” autographed. Completely by coincidence, Google reminded us on Saturday morning that it was the third anniversary of registering the fossilfreeoxon@gmail.com email address. So even more appropriate that we had cake.

Please let your County Councillor know that you support divestment from fossil fuels – it is not only ethical but also makes economic sense.