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Proposal to add BHCC councillors to East Sussex Pension Fund Committee

A Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) Councillor will propose that East Sussex County Council (ESCC) add two BHCC Councillors to the decision-making body for the East Sussex Pension Fund Committee at a meeting of the East Sussex Pension Board at County Hall in Lewes this Friday [2]. Divest East Sussex reports.

In a paper submitted to the meeting, Cllr Tom Druitt, who sits on the Board, claims that ‘[f]ailure to support effective action to address [the threat posed to the Fund by climate change] is … a clear violation of the Pension Committee’s fiduciary duty’ to the Fund’s members, and that the Committee has ‘continued to promote and defend a failed policy of ‘engaging’ with fossil fuel companies that isn’t fit for purpose’ [3].

He also highlights the fact that Brighton & Hove employees make up more than a quarter of the Fund’s roughly 77,000 members and pay over a third of annual contributions to the Fund, yet ‘currently have no democratic means of holding the Pension Committee to account’ [4].

He argues that expanding the Pension Committee to include Councillors from Brighton and Hove would help to address these issues ‘by restoring full democratic oversight of the fund and increasing the diversity of perspectives present on the Committee to ensure the long term interests of fund members are given due consideration in light of the impending climate emergency.’ [5]

BHCC has repeatedly called on the Fund to stop investing in fossil fuels, most recently in February [6]. The Fund currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pensions invested in fossil fuels [7].

Friday will also see Brighton-based pension fund member Sarah Hazlehurst make a five minute statement to the Board, following the hand-in of 450 signatures on a petition in support of Cllr Druitt’s proposal earlier this month [8].

Brighton-based Pension Fund member Sarah Hazlehurst said: ‘We now know that the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies are quietly planning 195 “carbon bomb” oil and gas projects, each with the potential to emit over a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere [9]. If allowed to go ahead these “carbon bombs” will drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits with catastrophic global impacts. This shows that the idea of ‘constructive engagement’ with these companies is, in reality, collusion with their greenwashing efforts while they get on with expanding production.’

Despite many years of pressure from campaigners, East Sussex County Council is still investing local people’s pensions in the giant oil and gas companies, like Shell and BP, that are driving the climate crisis. By clinging on to these investments it is helping to provide a fig-leaf for these companies’ ongoing attempts to block effective climate action [10] and missing a huge opportunity to show real leadership on the climate crisis. It’s long past time for East Sussex County Council to make a public commitment to fully divest from fossil fuels.’

NOTES
[1] https://divesteastsussex.wordpress.com
[2] See https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/documents/g5157/Public%20reports%20pack%2027th-May-2022%2010.00%20Pension%20Board.pdf?T=10, Agenda Item 5
[3] See https://tinyurl.com/pensionboarddoc, page 4
[4] See https://tinyurl.com/pensionboarddoc, page 13
[5] See https://tinyurl.com/pensionboarddoc, page 5
[6] See https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2022/02/05/councillors-call-for-end-to-fossil-fuel-investments. The earlier votes took place in first in April 2017 and then in again in October 2020. See https://present.brighton-hove.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=56672 and https://present.brighton-hove.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=81285
[7] The Fund’s reported ‘fossil fuel exposure’ as at 31 March 2021 was £82.2m (see https://tinyurl.com/ffexposure, page 25). However, this figure has fallen since then, following recent decisions by the Committee. According to a recent document circulated by the Fund, its actual exposure to fossil fuel producers may now be as low as 0.5%:https://divesteastsussex.files.wordpress.com/2021/07/response-email-to-new-councillors-june-21.pdf. As at 31 December 2021 the Fund was valued at £4.741bn (see page 156 ofhttps://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/documents/g4902/Public%20reports%20pack%2024th-Feb-2022%2010.00%20Pension%20Committee.pdf?T=10). 0.5% of £4.741bn is £23.705m.
[8] https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2022/05/11/campaigners-challenge-council-pension-fund-bosses/
[9] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2022/may/11/fossil-fuel-carbon-bombs-climate-breakdown-oil-gas
[10] According to a 2019 study by InfluenceMap ‘in the three years following the Paris Agreement, the five largest publicly-traded oil and gas majors (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total) … invested over $1Bn of shareholder funds on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying. These efforts [we]re overwhelmingly in conflict with the goals of this landmark global climate accord and designed to maintain the social and legal license to operate and expand fossil fuel operations.’ https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc

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Posted 13:55 Monday, May 23, 2022 In: HOT Topics

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