Lewes signs up for fossil fuel divestment
The divestment campaign in East Sussex has taken a significant step forward, with Lewes Town Council adding its voice to calls for East Sussex Pension Fund to sell its investment in fossil fuels. Nick Terdre reports.
At its meeting last week, Lewes Town Council passed a motion calling on “both East Sussex County Council and East Sussex Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels by developing and adopting Responsible Investment Policies that take into account climate change by divesting from fossil fuel-based funds”.
The cross-party motion was passed with one abstention on the grounds of a potential conflict of interest. The motion further stated that the council supported “a Responsible Investment Policy that addresses serious climate change concerns by divesting from any funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years”.
“It is concerned that the East Sussex Pension Fund in which LTC [Lewes Town Council] members of staff are enrolled has yet to address such a policy that would minimise climate change risk and reduce the council’s carbon footprint”.
The town council also undertook to work with other district and town councils in East Sussex to lobby the ESCC pension fund committee to make these changes. Last year Hastings Borough Council also signed up for divestment, as did two London boroughs, Waltham Forest and Southwark.
Duty of care
“Lewes Town Council clearly has a duty of care to all its employees,” said Green Party Cllr Susan Murray, “and this must include safeguarding their pension provisions going forward, as well as keeping our planet in a fit state for them, their children and grandchildren to be able to flourish into the future”.
“For the East Sussex Pension Fund to invest in fossil fuel companies quite obviously fails them both economically and environmentally. After all, fossil fuel companies may well become economically unviable in the future as it becomes essential to keep coal, gas and oil in the ground and they are major contributors to climate change”.
Lib Dem Cllr Will Elliott said, “Apart from the obvious environmental concerns around extracting and burning of fossil fuels, the long-term financial security of pension investments for Council employees are not best served in what is widely recognised as an industry in decline”.
“It’s great that Lewes Town Council has taken the lead in the town by passing this motion”, said Arnold Simanowitz from Keep It In the Ground Lewes. “I hope that this, together with the motion by Hastings Borough Council, will send a strong message to East Sussex County Council that it is time for it to divest its funds from the fossil fuel industries”.
Earlier in the week, ESCC’s pension fund committee, which has an estimated £172 million invested in oil, gas and coal, opened the way to a possible change of policy by amending its investment strategy statement to recognise that “climate change poses material risks” to the pension fund.
Ahead of the meeting, a petition calling for divestment, signed by nearly 1,200 East Sussex residents, was handed in at County Hall.
Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex, a coalition of local pro-divestment groups, called the decision a “small but encouraging first step towards East Sussex County Council getting serious about the risk that climate change poses to Fund members’ pensions”.
“The Pension Committee has committed itself to consider these issues in greater detail at their next meeting in July,” she said. “We hope it will make tangible commitments and adopt a formal climate change policy later this year – ideally including a commitment to divest the Fund of its holdings in oil, coal and gas”.
The petition is still open for signature here.
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