North Yorkshire firefighter’s father urges pension fund to end fossil fuel investments

Photo: North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The father of a firefighter who has risked his life battling blazes linked to climate change has appealed to bosses of a pension fund with 99,810 members to prioritise moving away from investing in oil and gas companies. 

Richard Tassell, of Fossil Free North Yorkshire, told a meeting of the North Yorkshire Pension Fund Committee while his son, Matt, was combatting fires in extreme heat, with “spontaneous combustion” taking place around his crew as they struggled to save lives and livelihoods their policies to tackle climate change were “misguided”.

He pointed towards recent research by independent financial think tank Carbon Tracker which revealed how local government pension schemes were taking advice from a narrow band of financial advisors who were systematically underestimating the impact of climate break down on economies and people’s wellbeing.

He highlighted how the research concluded pension funds were risking people’s retirement savings by relying on economic research that ignored “critical scientific evidence about the financial risks embedded within a warming climate”.

Mr Tassell said while Fossil Free North Yorkshire was pleased the fund, which is run on behalf of current and former council staff and workers from more than 100 other bodies and firms, reduced its exposure to fossil fuel
investments, to about  1.8 per cent.

However, he added the fund’s approach of investing in and engaging with oil and gas companies to encourage a swifter transition was “misguided”.

He said: “There is no evidence that engagement with oil and gas companies hastens the transition away from polluting fossil fuels. Indeed, there is much evidence to the contrary; witness the increased investment by BP, Shell, Aramco and others in exploiting new oil and gas fields.

Responding, a North Yorkshire Pension Fund officer read a statement on behalf of the fund saying the energy crisis had illustrated the importance of energy security.

He said: “Oil and gas production has changed in response as energy requirements cannot be met by renewables alone.”

The officer added: “The world is gradually moving away from reliance on oil and gas, but this will not happen overnight. The lack of any bidders for offshore wind licences is the most recent illustration of the difficulties faced.

“Calling for an immediate halt in the production and use of oil and gas where there is no immediate alternative is simply a denial of reality.”

Taking BP as an example of the North Yorkshire Pension Fund’s investments, the meeting heard, only three per cent of the firm’s capital expenditure was on renewables and other low carbon projects in 2019, but by last year green infrastructure comprised some 30 per cent of the firm’s investments and by 2050 it is forecast to be 50 per cent.

Officers said the fund viewed BP as having potential as a renewable energy company and were “engaging with them to encourage as swift a transition as possible”.

They told Mr Tassell: “Selling the shares we own would have no impact on the real world. It would not reduce production and it would not reduce carbon emissions. In reality, it would be likely to make the situation worse.

“The shares would be passed to investors interested in sweating oil and gas assets with no interest in influencing the transition.”

A member of the pension fund board, Whitby councillor Neil Swannick, questioned why the statement had not been subject to any discussion by the board’s members.

He added: “I don’t believe there is a consensus around the position which has just been expressed by the officer.”

The committee’s chairman, Councillor John Weighell, replied that he disagreed with Coun Swannick, but that the meeting was not the right time to be discussing the issue.