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A message to East Sussex County Council and the East Sussex Pension Fund, 6 February 2024. PHOTO: Steve Lewis

Climate campaigners take ‘giant letters’ message to County Hall

On Tuesday (6 February) local climate campaigners – with strong representation from Hastings & St Leonards – staged a ‘Time to Divest’ protest outside the last County Council meeting before the next votes on fossil fuel divestment on 22 February. Gabriel Carlyle reports.

Climate campaigners processed through the streets of Lewes to County Hall on Tuesday, with giant letters spelling out the words ‘TIME TO DIVEST’.

The protest – part of a ten-year-long campaign – was demanding that the East Sussex Pension Fund stops investing in the giant fossil fuel (oil, coal & gas) companies that are driving the climate crisis.

The giant letters are processed through the centre of Lewes on the way to County Hall, 6 February 2024. PHOTO: Steve Lewis

It was timed to coincide with East Sussex County Council (ESCC)’s last full council meeting before three votes on fossil fuel divestment on 22 February.

Participants assembled outside Lewes train station before processing to County Hall for a photocall with the letters at 9am, followed by a special performance by acting troupe The Crude Mechanicals.

‘Cllr Fox’ repents after a visit from the Ghost of Climate Future. Outside County Hall, Lewes, 6 February 2024. Photo: Steve Lewis

The latter included the Ghost of Climate Future and a special foxy guest ‘Cllr Fox’, whose namesake Gerard Fox is chair of the East Sussex Pension Committee, the decision-making body for the East Sussex Pension Fund.

The Fund, which covers Brighton & Hove as well as East Sussex, is administered by ESCC. It currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies invested in oil and gas companies like Shell and BP.

Over 100 members of the public submitted a written question to the 6 Feb meeting, asking if the Council and the Fund ‘understand’ that ‘By clinging on to its remaining investments in fossil fuels (which now amount to a mere 0.6% of its investments) the Fund is providing a fig-leaf for these companies’ ongoing attempts to block effective climate action and missing a huge opportunity to show real leadership on the climate crisis.’

Three divestment proposals are expected to be voted on at the 22 February East Sussex Pension Committee meeting.

Outside County Hall, Lewes, 6 Feb 2024. Photo: Steve Lewis

A spokesperson for Divest East Sussex said: ‘Engaging with fossil fuel companies isn’t working. But global divestment campaigns have a proven track record of driving ‘restrictive legislation’ on stigmatised firms – exactly what’s needed in this case, where fossil fuel companies have spent decades trying to block effective climate action. By making a public commitment to divest from fossil companies, the East Sussex Pension Fund would be showing that East Sussex County Council doesn’t just talk-the-talk (‘declaring a climate emergency’) on this issue but that it’s also walking-the-walk: taking effective, evidence-based action wherever possible. Moreover, a recent analysis of these issues commissioned by the Fund appears to show that the commitment that we’ve long been calling for would be both fairly straightforward to implement and have no significant negative repercussions for the Fund’s overall strategy. It’s time to divest.’

The chair of the East Sussex Pension Committee, Cllr Gerard Fox, has repeatedly voted against fossil fuel divestment – truly the timidest vote of them all! Photo: Steve Lewis

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Posted 12:48 Wednesday, Feb 7, 2024 In: Campaigns

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