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Letter to Bucks Herald calling for fossil fuel divestment

February 19, 2018 6:51 PM
Originally published by Buckingham Liberal Democrats

Brexit continues to dominate the political agenda as we progress into 2018. And there are signs that our campaign is bearing fruit, with, according to the latest polls, a majority now supporting our call for a second referendum.

But there are other issues and concerns to consider. In January I (chairman Gareth Davies) wrote to the Bucks Herald (see letter below) about the county's pension fund's investment in fossil fuels. You may have your own thoughts about whether divesting from fossil fuels is better than keeping those holdings and trying to influence oil companies as shareholders, but I and other members believe the time has now come to take a firm stand on the issue of funding the continuing extraction of coal, gas and oil if there is to be any possibility of keeping the rise in temperatures below 2°C, let alone the hoped-for 1.5°C.

Since the letter was published, New York City, New York State, and Edinburgh and Sussex Universities have begun the process of closing their fossil fuel investments.

I've yet to see a response from the committee that administers the Bucks fund.

Dear Editor,

Public service employees in Bucks are, without even realising it, funding fossil fuel companies out of their pension savings to drill for oil, thereby contributing to and accelerating climate change.

We in the Lib Dems are calling on the County Council, which administers the Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme on behalf of 218 employers across the county, to divest these holdings in oil and gas firms, worth £107 million, and put the money into renewable energy.

Previously the county had argued that it would be better to keep these investments, and try to persuade fossil fuel companies to change their ways. We believe this is futile. The Buckinghamshire Pension Fund Committee should take advantage of a coming relaxation in investment rules and withdraw their holdings altogether.

This would bring it in line with major international players, including the city of New York and New York State, which in December both resolved to pull their pension fund investments, worth billions of dollars, from oil and gas companies.

The World Bank has said it would no longer be lending money for oil and gas exploration. Norway's sovereign wealth fund is looking to divest from fossil fuels. And, also in 2017, President Macron said France would no longer grant licenses for oil and gas exploration in its various territories. In the UK a string of public bodies, including churches, universities and local authorities, have announced they will be divesting from oil, gas and coal companies.

The Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme is administered on behalf of a range of public bodies including the County Council, Milton Keynes Council and the district councils. The £107m investment makes up a not insignificant 4% of the available pension pot. Nationally public bodies invest a total of £16.1 billion worth of pension savings in oil and gas firms.

In 2014 Lib Dem county councillors Avril Davies and Steven Lambert asked the county council to divest from fossil fuel companies, as part of the fight against climate change. The county argued that it was governed by legal obligations to get the best return for contributors to the pension fund, irrespective of environmental concerns.

In December 2017 the government announced it was preparing to relax these rules, to allow public sector pension schemes to "mirror members' ethical concerns" and "address environmental problems".

So if employees don't want their pensions invested in oil companies, helping them continue to drill, then pension fund committees will have to listen to them.

We believe that, with the extremes of weather of 2017, and already in 2018 in Australia and the USA, adding further graphic proof that climate change is with us here and now, public sector workers' money should no longer be invested in the extraction of oil and gas that further warm the planet.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible, and make a major switch to renewable energy. The county council has the opportunity to take that meaningful action.

Yours sincerely,

Gareth Davies,

Chairman, Buckingham