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A previous divestment petition was handed in to ESCC in July last year (photo: Divest East Sussex).

A previous divestment petition was handed in to ESCC in July last year (photo: Divest East Sussex).

Divestment petition for pension committee

Divestment campaigners will step up the pressure on East Sussex County Council to withdraw pension fund investments from fossil fuels by handing in a petition ahead of the pension committee meeting next Monday. Nick Terdre reports.

The petition, with more than 1,500 signatures from residents across East Sussex, including Battle, Bexhill, Brighton, Crowborough, Eastbourne, Etchingham, Forest Row, Hastings, Heathfield, Hove, Lewes, Polegate, Seaford, St Leonards and Uckfield, will be handed in at County Hall in Lewes at 9.30am on Monday 27 February.

Organised by Divest East Sussex, the petition calls on East Sussex County Council to divest pension funds from fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.

The hand-in will take place immediately before the East Sussex Pension Committee meets to agree upon a new investment strategy for the East Sussex Pension Fund – an opportunity, as Divest East Sussex points out, to discuss the financial risks posed by climate change. The fund – which is administered by the county council on behalf of a wide range of organisations across East Sussex – has an estimated £172 million invested in the fossil fuel industries.

Last year the London Borough of Waltham Forest pension fund became the first local authority body to adopt a policy of divestment from fossil fuels, and has since been joined by Southward, another London borough.

Serious financial risk

“Investments in fossil fuels are not only damaging the balance of the earth’s climate, but also pose a serious financial risk to investors,” Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex said. “This explains why 685 institutions in 76 countries, managing assets worth more than $5 trillion, have now made some form of divestment commitment.

“The East Sussex Pension Fund should stop pretending that it can influence fossil fuel companies like Exxon – a company notorious for funding climate denial – by retaining investments in them, and instead join other local pension funds, such as the Waltham Forest Pension Fund, in ditching these dangerous and risky investments.”

Divest East Sussex has also sent ESCC pension committee members a document outlining how safeguards against the risks posed by climate change could be incorporated in the new investment strategy.

“The law is clear that where environmental issues are financially significant – as they are with the East Sussex Pension Fund’s investments in fossil fuels – pension funds need to take these issues into account,” said Rachel Crossley of Fossil Free Hastings, who co-drafted the document. “By writing divestment into its new investment strategy, the East Sussex Pension Committee could go a long way towards addressing such climate-change related risks, without compromising the financial returns to local pension fund members.”

Committee’s current view

In December, following a previous article on the East Sussex divestment campaign, the pension committee chairman, Cllr Richard Stogden, sent HOT a lengthy statement of the committee’s position on the matter. In it he said that, “At this point,  the Committee’s view is that divestment from any particular asset class is not in the best interests of the East Sussex Pension Fund.

“However, the Pension Committee is committed to an ongoing development of its ESG [Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance] knowledge with particular emphasis on obtaining further information on the long term financial return in regard to fossil fuel investment.”

The East Sussex Pension Fund is a member of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), he said, “which recognises the issue of stranded assets and continued fossil fuel extraction as a collective investment risk for all asset owners.

“LAPFF engages by meeting with companies and participating in collaborative investor initiatives including filing and supporting relevant shareholder resolutions to companies.  For companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction, LAPFF’s approach is to undertake robust engagement on aligning their business models with limiting climate change to a 2°C increase in global temperatures and to push for an orderly low carbon transition.”

Posted 18:38 Wednesday, Feb 22, 2017 In: Campaigns

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