From Divest Brent/Brent Friends of the Earth
For over 3 years campaign group Divest Brent have been working to persuade the Council to divest its Pension Fund from fossil fuels. On April 6 Councillor Matt Kelcher presented the 1,400-signature petition (including 1,200 Brent residents) to the Cabinet on behalf of Divest Brent.
Coming as it did immediately before the Cabinet discussed its 10-year climate strategy Councillor Kelcher’s hard-hitting presentation carried added weight. Following campaigning by Divest Brent the draft strategy, which was agreed at the meeting, included a section on the Pension Fund’s investments.
Responding to the presentation, Council Leader Muhammad Butt, Deputy Leader Margaret McLennan and Environment lead, Krupa Sheth all spoke positively and in particular Councillor McLennan looked forward to working with Divest Brent and Brent Friends of the Earth to take the agenda forward.
In 2019 the Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency and specifically agreed to redirect investments to renewable, sustainable and low carbon funds. Indeed some investments have been made in this area but the majority of the Pension Fund is still invested in funds which include fossil fuels.
Simon Erskine, Co-ordinator of Divest Brent, said “We welcome any moves by the Pension Fund to invest sustainably and to help with the transition to renewable energy – but the fact is that whatever green investments the Fund may have, while it continues to invest in fossil fuels it is part of the problem. We therefore look forward to working with the Council to develop a road-map for divestment in the short term.”
The presentation of the petition comes hot on the heels of a report entitled “Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet” which gave a comprehensive breakdown of the extent that UK Councils were invested in fossil fuels. 3% of Brent’s Pension Fund is thought to be invested in fossil fuels - £26 million. Compared to the £40 million invested in 2017 this looks like an improvement – until it is realised that much of the reduction is due to a fall in value of fossil fuel investments.
The Council has admitted that, while much of the Stock Market has suffered from Covid 19, they have lost £8 million by failing to divest from fossil fuels before the pandemic. They are not alone in this – with UK Councils having lost £2 billion altogether over the last 4 years – but £8 million is still a serious loss compared to the Pension Fund total of £800 million.
With the outlook for fossil fuels never worse as the electric vehicle revolution starts to kick in and governments look to move away from gas as a means of heating our homes, Pension Fund committee members could find themselves in breach of their duties to protect the value of the Fund if they do not start to move seriously towards divestment. Said Mr Erskine, “We look forward to Brent joining Lambeth, Southwark and Islington Councils (to name just a few) in committing to divest its pension fund from fossil fuels.”