Councillor calls for £4.9bn climate change challenge

A Conservative-led local authority has been urged to up its environmental influence by challenging all the firms featuring in its £4.9bn pension fund to regularly report their climate change credentials.

Councillor Paul Haslam, North Yorkshire Council’s climate change champion,  told a meeting of the council’s pension fund committee that the investments they selected, just as much as the choice of companies the authority buys goods and services from, was “instrumental and could make a lot of influence” in lowering carbon emissions.

The call followed campaigners appearing before the committee to urge divestment from fossil fuel-related firms, and warning their continuing investments in non-renewable industries with uncertain futures was jeopardising thousands of peoples pensions.

The meeting heard the pension fund, which receives contributions from staff at 160 firms, plus past and present public sector workers, had seen the proportion of investments in non-renewable energy firms drop from 1.8 per cent to 1.3m, representing tens of millions of pounds less investments in fossil fuels over the last year.

However, the meeting was told this change had not been due to a policy of divestment, but rather because the pension fund’s approach was to “engage with companies to influence the transition to a low carbon economy rather than divest”.

A pension fund officer added: “We believe this is the best way to effect real change.”

He told the meeting the science behind projections of the impact on climate change on investment funds was “evolving” and those responsible for the fund would examine the latest developments when they next reviewed its investment strategy.

The officer said the campaigners’ claims that East Riding of Yorkshire Council had pushed forward a move to divest from fossil fuels was inaccurate, as the neighbouring local authority had in fact only approved “working more closely with Borders to Coast on the evolution of the approach to responsible investments”.

The meeting heard the chair of the pension board underline while it had an advisory role, decisions over investments lay with elected community representatives.

However, Coun Haslam, a Conservative councillor, told the committee as the pension fund had about £4.9bn of assets it held “a lot of sway” with firms.

He said the Paris Agreement, in which most countries approved concerted action to combat climate change, had finally been agreed to after the level of risk in insurance, pension, finance, investment and other industries and professions had become known.

Coun Haslam said : “I do think we need to think about climate change very seriously.  All directors and every single company have a responsibility to their shareholders to make that business sustainable. That means it has to have a future.

“Every time our fund engages with a company of any description… we need to at least say to them we need you to look at their carbon footprints and achieve complete transparency”.