The metro mayor of the West of England demands the region’s local government pension scheme cuts ties with coal, oil and gas interests, raising questions for all policymakers.
Dan Norris has called for a clean up on investments that fund the retirements of thousands of public sector staff working for councils in Bristol, South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset, by pushing to ‘divest entirely from fossil fuel stocks’.
The metro mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) is asking the Avon Pension Fund to cut ties with polluting industries and redirect investment into less damaging firms, in order to properly commit to the goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. Fossil fuels are a leading cause of climate change and air pollution in the UK and worldwide.
‘In light of the climate emergency and the West of England’s 2030 net zero target, the West of England Combined Authority calls on the Avon Pension scheme to match this ambition by committing to having a carbon neutral pension fund by 2030 or earlier; and to divest entirely from fossil fuel stocks,’ Mr Norris said in his motion. ‘If we’re going to build the sustainable society people want and deserve then divestment is vital and sometimes that means showing moral leadership.
‘I hope to see a step change as investors switch from carbon-intensive sectors and instead make long-term, regional investments that don’t harm our precious planet. I firmly believe the people are ahead of the politicians in wanting to take real, decisive action to tackle climate change,’ he continued.’
Although a Labour politician, Mr Norris’ statement and bring him more in line with the Green Party, whose members asked the Avon Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels at a Bristol City Council meeting in April, claiming that achieving net zero while engaging with fossil fuel companies was a ‘fantasy’.
In contrast, local councillors from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties have voiced concerns that ending investment in companies with fossil fuel interests could put their investment in renewables at risk, citing the sizeable proportion of renewables now paid for, and owned by firms such as Shell.
A similar view was tabled by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak as a rationale for not imposing a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies filing record profits due to spiralling fuel and energy prices, while the public struggled to meet rising consumer bills. Notably, the tax was eventually introduced, with at least one energy boss – BP’s Chief Executive, Bernard Looney – making it clear this wouldn’t put off investment in Britain or renewables.
In related news, local authorities in England are being urged to incentivise the public to give up private car ownership in favour of shared travel options to bring emissions down.
Image credit: Christopher Bill