Climate campaigners highlight council’s £76m of fossil fuel investments

Custodians of a local authority-run pension fund to which almost 97,000 people have contributed are being warned by climate campaigners follow neighbouring councils in stepping up divestment from fossil fuels or jeopardise what they are saving for.

Ahead of a meeting of the North Yorkshire Pension Fund Committee on March 1, Fossil Free North Yorkshire have highlighted East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s unanimous decision to halt all new fossil fuel investments and fully divest from existing fossil fuel funds within five years.

The campaigners are also pointing towards the West Yorkshire Pension Fund revealing earlier this month its plans to increase investments in sustainable projects and stop all new investments in fossil fuels.

The call follows more than three years of sustained pressure on those responsible for the North Yorkshire fund’s investments, which has seen a reduction in fossil fuel-related investments to about 1.8 per cent of the total fund, which represents nearly £76m.

The campaigners are pointing towards the council’s climate change strategy, which states “every service delivered by North Yorkshire Council will consider how it will take climate responsible actions and support the region to be net zero by 2034 and carbon negative by 2040”.

They say where such funds continue to be a part of the pension fund then the associated carbon emissions should be included in the council’s carbon footprint.

Dr Margaret Jackson, of Fossil Free North Yorkshire, said the authority had not reduced its fossil fuel investments as rapidly as many other councils that now invested less than one per cent of their total fund in fossil fuels

She added while the committee had duties to consider the long-term risks to, and consequences of, investment decisions, recent Government guidance made it clear “climate risk must be considered and that fiduciary duties need to be applied looking through a wide lens”.

Other campaigners have called on the fund to stop exposing those who have contributed to the pension fund to “the ever-growing risk of stranded assets by investment in fossil fuel companies”.

The council’s executive member for managing our environment Councillor Greg White said while the authority was determined to help tackle climate change those taking decisions over the pension fund had a primary duty to maximise returns for people’s pensions.

He said as fossil fuels would be part of the country’s energy mix for some time to come it was possible those firms would remain part of the council’s pension fund portfolio.

Coun White added: “It may well be that the right thing to do is invest in green technology because that’s what we or the professional advisers believe will increase the fund on a sustainable basis in the long-term, but ultimately it is the advisers who have to tell us what to invest in.

“What we need to do is change the world so the right thing to invest in is the sustainable stocks and shares, we can’t invest in lots of green companies and hope that they will work out to be good investments.”