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!”

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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.

The Leaflet Tour Continues!

On the morning of Wednesday January 27th, Pete and Alan and I (Julia) headed off to Witney – before sunrise – so that we were at the offices of West Oxfordshire District Council in time to greet staff arriving for work with our lovely LGPS leaflets. We were very happy with how it went. No one asked us to leave (as we were at the Vale of the White Horse offices) and we had very few bad or disinterested responses from individual members of staff. We felt very welcome, in fact. Several people thanked us for doing this, which was just lovely. In fact the very first man we spoke to not only took a leaflet himself but also another half a dozen for his colleagues.

What we do know, however, is that West Oxfordshire is not quite the bustling, go-getting environment of, say, County Hall in down town Oxford. It was pretty quiet between 8 and 8.30am.  In fact, one of us wondered if there had been swingeing cuts and they had all been sacked. But arrivals picked up after 8.30 and we got just over 50 leaflets into the building before we left. Unfortunately, we really had to leave at 9 to get back to Oxford for work and a date with a dredger. From chatting to a member of the premises staff we discovered that most people come to work between 9 and 9.30am. So if anyone with a flexible work-life schedule fancies another slightly later trip to Witney sometime, it might be worthwhile?

Oxfordshire Pension Fund: Fiddling While the Earth Burns

On the morning of the 24th of September we took our campaign to Oxfordshire County Hall. Accompanied by a fiddler, we met county council employees on their way into work to highlight how those who invest their pension fund are fiddling while the earth burns as climate change takes hold.

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Photo: Zoe Broughton

We were drawing attention to the fact that Oxfordshire County Council has £55,609,000 of public money directly invested in fossil fuels through the Local Government Pension Scheme, a figure that increases to £119,694,000 once indirect investments are taken into account. Using data released by Fossil Free UK we can see that 7.18% of the Oxfordshire Pension Fund is  invested in fossil fuels, greater than the 6.22% national average invested by local authorities.

Oxford City Council was the first UK local authority to make a divestment commitment, and we are calling on Oxfordshire County Council who administer the pension fund to follow suit. Fossil fuels are causing irreversible changes to the climate and they are now proving to be financially dangerous with Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, warning that investors face “huge losses” from the fossil fuel industry .

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Photo: Zoe Broughton

We encourage all members of Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Scheme to write to Councillor Lilly, chair of the pension fund committee, and call on the committee to divest their funds from fossil fuels and pursue more ethical investment opportunities.

Our action was covered in the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times and on Jack FM. Council spokespeople, including Councillor Lilly himself, responded with three misleading assertions that we would like to challenge:

  1. “Oxfordshire Pension Fund has nothing at all to do with Oxfordshire County Council”

First, they appear to distance themselves from responsibility for the fund, claiming – bafflingly – that the pension fund has “nothing at all to do with Oxfordshire County Council” and is “administered by the county council but it is not actually run by the authority.” While it is true that the fund assets are not owned by the County Council, this is a red herring: the fund is administered by a committee made up predominantly of elected members of the county council. We have been fed the same line in the past, and on seeking clarification on the point, we were advised by the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Ian Hudspeth, that “The Pension fund committee set the general principles of investment for the fund.”  

If it is not a matter for them, then why did the following happen?

  • The Leader of the County Council agreed to receive the 1200 signature-strong petition calling for divestment in February 2015
  • We have twice  been invited to address the Pension Fund Committee on the matter of fossil fuel investments. At the Pension Fund Committee in June 2015, Councillors discussed divestment from fossil fuels at some length.
  • The County Council’s Chief Finance Officer prepared a paper on Corporate Governance and Socially Responsible Investment that considers in some detail the arguments for and against fossil fuel investments. It concludes that “The emphasis should therefore remain on challenging the Fund Managers to ensure that they are properly researching all investments, along the lines suggested in the [Carbon Tracker] Blueprint document, and that they are in a position to justify their decisions on individual investments.”
  1. “The county council can’t impose its own social, environmental or ethical views when making investment decisions.”

While it is true that the County Council cannot invest on ethical grounds only, a Law Commission report states that they can take into account ethical factors.

The CFO’s paper itself states: “The Law Commission has stated though that trustees can make investment decisions on non-financial factors, as long as there is no risk of significant financial detriment.”

  1. “We have a legal duty to invest in the best financial interest of pension fund employers and beneficiaries.”

Our point precisely! We have argued all along that fossil fuel investments are not only bad for the climate, they are risky economically. In asserting that the pension fund has a legal duty to invest in the best interests of the fund’s members, the council’s spokesperson quoted in the Oxford Mail article, Paul Smith, supports the case for divestment: investing in fossil fuels is risky and therefore at odds with that duty.

Many establishment figures are warning that fossil fuels could become the sub-prime assets of the future: The Governor of the Bank of England has warned that the vast majority of reserves are unburnable and has launched a major enquiry into this risk. Similarly, the President and the former Chief Economist of the World Bank, and the UN’s top climate change official have issued warnings of stranded assets. HSBC recently advised its clients against investing in fossil fuel companies on the grounds that they will become “economically unviable.” The real question is why the Pension Fund Committee is not taking more urgent action to protect LGPS members from the looming “carbon bubble.”

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Photo: Zoe Broughton

We reiterate our call that for the good of the planet and the pension fund beneficiaries, the Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Scheme divest from fossil fuels and will continue to campaign for our local authority to take the lead in transitioning away from these damaging and dangerous investments. If you are an Oxfordshire LGPS member, please speak up and  add your voice to the call by writing to Councillor Lilly here.

Oxfordshire LGPS, Fiddling While the Earth Burns – Video

On Thursday 24th September we took our campaign to Oxfordshire County Hall. We alerted the council workers, many of whom are members of the Local Government Pension Scheme, to the fact that their pensions had over £50m directly invested in fossil fuels and explained how the committee was fiddling and stalling whilst they invested in the industry directly responsible for climate change.

Zoe Broughton has created a short video from the action.