A new report by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland has revealed that the Dumfries and Galloway Council pension fund has £31,165,479 invested in climate-polluting fossil fuel companies. This is despite Dumfries and Galloway Council declaring a climate emergency in June 2019 and setting the target of net zero emissions by 2025.
The report, based on Freedom of Information requests, found that overall in Scotland, £1.2 billion was invested in fossil fuel companies by council pension funds. None of the 20 Scottish councils that have declared a climate emergency have taken action to end their investments in the coal, oil and gas firms chiefly responsible for driving this crisis.
The Dumfries and Galloway Pension Fund administers the pensions of about 16,000 local public employees of Dumfries and Galloway Council, Dumfries and Galloway College, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Local government pension funds are overseen by councillors in 11 local authorities in Scotland.
Strathclyde Pension Fund was the worst offender in Scotland after being found to have £508 million invested in companies such as Shell, BP and Exxon. This is despite Glasgow hosting the UN climate conference later this year and Councillors declaring a climate emergency in May 2019.
As fossil fuel company stocks have fallen in value in recent years, local councils have lost out. £194 million of value was wiped off the oil and gas investments of the Scottish council pensions between 2017-20 with the Strathclyde Pension Fund alone losing £46 million and the Dumfries and Galloway Council Pension Fund losing £13.5 million.
Across the UK, total fossil fuel investments in the pension funds stood at £9.9 billion – an average of £1,450 per scheme member.
Over half of Scotland’s universities have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies, including Dundee, Stirling and Edinburgh Universities, alongside local government funds in Southwark, Islington, Lambeth, Waltham Forest, and Cardiff.
Local residents and campaigners are calling on the Dumfries and Galloway Council Pension Fund to tackle the climate emergency by divesting from fossil fuels ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference.
Steven McCracken from Extinction Rebellion Dumfries and Galloway said:
“It is surprising and disappointing to hear that Dumfries and Galloway Council have investments in fossil fuels. This clearly isn’t in keeping with their commitment to net zero emissions and we call on the council to stop funding industries that are driving us towards climate catastrophe.”
Roland Chaplain, local resident and climate campaigner who established BBC Scotland’s ‘weather watchers network’ in 1984, said:
“For far too long well-meaning talk has not been seen to be matched by decisive action that demonstrates that local authorities mean what they are saying when they declare a climate emergency. In particular, here in Scotland, the eyes of the world will be on us during COP26.
“Therefore, we must show that we have thought out how to invest in renewable energy generation, storage and distribution and how to fuel large numbers of green jobs in new forms of much more circular and localised economies.
“More still, we need to invest in partnerships with communities as being the best way of giving everyone a share in future work prioritising and rewarding the creators of wellbeing for future generations.“
Ric Lander, Divestment Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, commented:
“With the world coming to Scotland this Autumn to negotiate action on the climate crisis, pension funds now have a clear deadline for addressing their polluting investments. Local councillors have the opportunity to show leadership on climate action by telling fund managers to divest from fossil fuels.
“Many local authorities have declared a climate emergency and have plans in place to bring down emissions from transport, buildings and waste. Pension fund investments are currently working against this progress by continuing to back the ageing fossil fuel economy.
“Scottish council pensions are directly invested in the continued search for new fossil fuels through their ownership of companies like Shell and BP. This drive is undermining efforts to curb the climate emergency here in Scotland and doing untold damage to vulnerable communities around the world.
“Local authorities have the power and duty to ensure local workers have a pension for their retirement, but also a future worth retiring into. Instead of stubbornly sticking with old systems of investment that worsen climate breakdown, councils should boost investment in renewable energy and social housing.”
Stephen Smellie is Deputy Convenor of UNISON Scotland, who are the largest union representing local government pension fund members. He reacted:
“It is disappointing that the people who manage the pension funds of local government workers are oblivious to the climate crisis that is facing us. Workers care deeply about a sustainable future for their children, and if pension funds consulted with the people whose money they are investing they would know that. Instead, they continue to be part of the climate crisis problem rather than being part of the solution that they could be if they increased investments in sustainable alternatives.
“The value of the fossil fuel investments is high but only a small percentage of the funds’ overall investments so there is no financial justification for maintaining investments in coal, fracking or further fossil fuel exploitation.”
“There is a moral and ethical case for divesting from polluting fossil fuels. But there is also a firm financial case to remove workers’ pension funds from investments that will lose value as the world moves to a low-carbon economy which is less dependent on fossil fuels.”