UNISON UK have made clear their position on fossil fuel divestment this summer with a new policy approved by its membership.
The trade union will campaign for the divestment of fossil fuel extraction for all pension funds where they have members.
We all need a reasonable pension so we can live with dignity in our retirement, and we need to reduce carbon emission to lessen global warming. Moreover, continuing to invest in fossil fuels poses a risk to our pension funds.
Stephen Smellie, Scotland Regional Representative, “Our pensions funds consist of billions of pounds spread across many areas to ensure sustainability. We need a successful investment strategy to pay our pensions. However we do have a wider interest – good pensions might not help if the planet is frying.
“Our kids and grand kids won’t thank us if they have to deal with more extreme weather conditions, poisoned air, and a shortage of drinking water leading to millions of deaths, and a refugee crisis that will make the last few years seem like nothing.
“Public services will not cope if the temperature of the planet rises over 2˚C that the scientists tell us it must not. One example is Aberdeenshire Council, after Storm Frank, with an £8.5m bill to clean up and repair damage. Our infrastructure, coastal defences, bridges won’t cope. This week we have seen roads and rail tracks melting in the South of England.”
Stephen explained that when governments do actually honour their existing agreements to keep the temperature rise below 2˚C, limiting fossil fuel use, the value of fossil fuel reserves along with the share prices of BP, Shell and other fossil fuel companies will drop, and so will the value of our pension fund investments. He pointed out that 5% of our Scottish local Government Pension funds are invested in fossil fuels – some £1.7bn not North Sea Oil but coal in Colombia, oil fields in Indonesia, and fracking in America.
“We need to propose alternative strategies that will be more socially useful and less environmentally damaging at the same time as making the necessary return on investments. It could be renewable energy, social housing or public transport.”
“This won’t be easy, we do not yet have sufficient influence or power over our pension funds. We need to engage with our members, with the councillors who sit on the finance committees, fund managers and stress on them that their legal and fiduciary duty requires them to divest.”
Norah Adeyemo, Glasgow City, said “This motion is very relevant to our members and all of us. The rich, the powerful don’t care about our health, our lives, our homes and our communities. They don’t care about our planet and climate change. Our money that we put into our pension schemes should not be used for weapons of mass destruction that destroy our lives, our communities and our planet.
“We need to mobilise about this issue in our communities and or planet. We need to mobilise about these issues in our communities and branches.
“One issue not in this motion is fracking in Scotland Frackwatch has collected 60,000 signatures from people like us who are angry that governments and multi-national companies continue to use our hard earned money and pensions on schemes like this that devastate and destroy our communities and leave us paying the price in terms of poor health and deplorable and dangerous housing if left unchallenged these issues will continue to devastate our lives and the planet. We can’t ignore this issue but we need to be listened to.”
Scottish Councils invest £406 million in 23 fracking companies. The investments are held through the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme which provides pensions for local government and associated workers. Only Shetland’s Council pension fund, which is not invested in any company stocks, does not invest directly in fracking firms.
Opening up new frontiers of fossil fuels like fracked gas is completely irresponsible in the context of the global climate crisis. Additionally, the precautionary principle demands that given the many serious public health risks associated with onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction, this industry must not be allowed to go ahead.
Scotland has a temporary ban on fracking and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that unless it can be proven ‘beyond any doubt’ that there are no risks to health, communities or the environment, there will be no fracking in Scotland.
Local Authorities should support steps to stop fracking locally and nationally. As well as ending fracking at home, they should also stop investing in companies fracking elsewhere in the world.
The money invested by local government pensions has a major role in shaping our future. Councils must use their financial clout to oppose fracking to ensure we all have a future worth retiring for.
What’s wrong with fracking?
Fracking poses risks to the environment, public health and the climate. Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique used to exploit previously inaccessible shale gas and oil, and sometimes coalbed methane. It involves drilling multiple wells to depths of up to 3km, vertically and horizontally. Millions of litres of water, sand and toxic chemicals are pumped under high pressure into the ground to open up fractures in the rock and ease the flow of gas for extraction.
The fracking process consumes a huge amount of water and produces a huge amount of toxic waste. During its lifespan, a single shale gas well uses between 19-30 million litres of water. Multiplied by potentially thousands of wells, fracking water use can put stress on local water resources and infrastructure. Vast volumes of contaminated fracking ‘wastewater’ must be treated and safely disposed of.
Chemicals that can be highly toxic to the environment and human health are used in both drilling and fracking fluids. Communities in the US and Australia living in and around gas fields report symptoms associated with exposure to fracking and drilling chemicals, including breathing difficulties, nausea, rashes, eye and throat irritation and stress. A growing body of research points to serious potential impacts such as low birth weights, birth defects, fertility problems, respiratory disease and, in the longer term, cancers.
Shale gas fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas extraction mean opening up new sources of climate-damaging fossil fuels at a time when we need to rapidly move towards renewable energy. Investing in fracked gas now will lock us into dangerously high greenhouse gas emissions and make it extremely difficult to meet our legally binding carbon reduction targets in 2050.
Can fracking happen in Scotland?
In January 2015 the Scottish Government announced that it would use its planning and regulatory powers to enact a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas, including shale gas fracking and coalbed methane extraction. This means that with the exception of some exploratory activities such as core sampling, fracking developments are currently blocked.
In the immediate term, vigilance from Councils in areas currently under license for onshore oil and gas extraction in identifying and refusing planning applications related to exploratory activities is needed. In the longer term we need the Scottish Government to act to ban fracking and all unconventional oil and gas extraction for good.
The Scottish Government has recently concluded a public consultation on whether fracking should be allowed to proceed in Scotland. It will make a recommendation about whether fracking should be permitted by the end of the year.
Several local Councils have moved motions against fracking:
Dumfries and Galloway Council voted against future fracking development in May 2017.
Glasgow City Council sought to amend its planning policy to rule out fracking in its local development plan in 2016, although this was overturned by the Scottish Government.
Fife Council passed a motion opposing all unconventional oil and gas extraction in 2016.
West Dunbartonshire passed a motion blocking fracking on Council-owned land in 2014.
Scotland’s local Councils bear the responsibility of looking after their workers in their retirement. To do this they invest in the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme, a £35.4 billion scheme with 505,769 members across Scotland which is administered by 11 local Councils. One in ten Scots are a member of the fund and the scheme’s advisory board estimates one in five of the population has a financial interest in the fund.
Scotland’s Councils currently invest £1,683 million in fossil fuel companies through their pension funds. Of this, £406 million is directly invested in the stocks of 23 companies that frack for unconventional gas. This figure covers every local Council area in Scotland except Shetland, whose pension fund doesn’t invest directly in any stocks and shares.
Dumfries & Galloway
Which fracking companies do Councils invest in?
10 Scottish Councils invest a total of £405,956,825 in 23 oil and gas companies engage in fracking. These companies are:
Royal Dutch Shell
Aberdeen City, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders
Aberdeen City, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Falkirk, Glasgow City, Highland
Edinburgh City, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland
Aberdeen City, Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders,
Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders
Aberdeen City, Dundee City, Falkirk, Fife, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders
Edinburgh City, Glasgow City
Glasgow City, Fife
Anadarko Petro Corp
Fife, Glasgow City, Scottish Borders
Pioneer Natural Resources
Glasgow City, Fife
Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Glasgow City
Glasgow City, Fife
Edinburgh City, Glasgow City
Cabot Oil & Gas
Fife, Glasgow City
Data shown is based on the most up to date information available and relates to investments held at the end of the 2015-16 financial year.
None of the companies that local Councils invest in are currently doing onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction in the UK. The majority are US-based and active in both conventional and unconventional oil and gas production.
The five companies shown in bold in the table above are detailed in case studies below.
Range Resources is a US company specialising in unconventional gas extraction, and has a chequered history of environmental violations and fines.
The company has been issued nearly $15m of pollution fines in the last two years:
June 2015: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced a record $8.9 million fine against Range Resources, which the agency says has failed to fix a gas well that polluted groundwater and a stream in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. The fine was the biggest ever for a shale gas drilling-related environmental violation in Pennsylvania.
September 2014: Range Resources paid a $4.15 million fine for violations at six wastewater impoundments in Washington County, Pennsylvania. This was previously the highest fracking penalty in the state.
August 2013: Two young children in Pennsylvania were banned from talking about fracking for the rest of their lives under a gag order imposed under a settlement reached by their parents with Range Resources.
In a controversial move, Ineos, the company that wants to frack the Central Belt of Scotland, has signed a 15 year deal with Range Resources to supply fracked shale gas to the Grangemouth petrochemical plant.
Glasgow City Council administers the Strathclyde Pension Fund, which invests £405,037 in Range Resources.
Cabot Oil and Gas
Cabot Oil and Gas is a petroleum and natural gas company headquartered in Houston, Texas, with a poor track record on the environment. The company has the second biggest number of (federal) environmental violations of US fracking companies in Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to a 2015 report by the National Resource Defence Council, with 494 violations between 2009-2013 in Pennsylvania alone.
In 2016, a federal jury found that Cabot Oil and Gas was responsible for contaminating water wells around Dimock, Pennsylvania. The state investigation found that Cabot had allowed gas to escape into the region’s groundwater, and at least 18 residential water wells were contaminated.
In 2014, Cabot brought an injunction against an anti-fracking activist, Vera Scroggins, legally barring her from any property owned or leased by Cabot, a total of 312.5 sq miles of land in Pennsylvania. The injunction has been seen by campaigners as extreme, particularly as Scroggins had never broken any law.
Glasgow City Council’s pension fund and the Fife Council Pension Fund invest a combined £4.2 million in Cabot Oil and Gas.
BP are a supermajor, one of the world’s six largest non-state owned oil and gas companies. Fleetingly branding themselves beyond petroleum, they have shed their renewable businesses in recent years in favour of new investment in deep sea and arctic drilling, and highly polluting tar sands developments.
Lower48 is BP’s wholly-owned subsidiary that engages in unconventional oil and gas extraction in the US. BP is also focusing on shale gas developments in Argentina through its 60%-owned subsidiary Pan American Energy, amid huge controversy from local communities concerned about pollution and health risks.
Aberdeen City, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Falkirk, Glasgow City and Highland Councils invest a combined £64 million in BP.
Shell entered the shale gas market relatively recently, focusing on the fracking developments in the Permian, Haynesville and Appalachian shale basins in the US.
Shell has been involved in several high-profile environmental scandals in recent decades, paying millions of dollars of fines for its operations in Nigeria and threatening to drill in the fragile environment of the Arctic.
Aberdeen City, Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders invest a combined £129 million in Shell.
Apache is a Houston-based oil and gas company that has operations in the North Sea, Canada, Egypt and the US. Its recent fracking plans for the Alpine High region of West Texas are proving controversial among local communities and environmental groups who have serious concerns around the proposed fracking developments and their proximity to the San Solomon Springs that feeds the famous natural pool of Balmorhea near the Balmorhea State Park, and the risk that the fracking operations could pose to the surrounding environment.
According to Apache’s website, the company plans to significantly increase activity in the Permian Region in West Texas during 2017 and expects to average 15 drilling rigs in the Permian Basin and drill approximately 250 wells. There is mounting opposition to the plans from local communities and environmental groups.
Dundee City, Edinburgh City, Fife, Glasgow City, Highland, Orkney Islands, Scottish Borders invest a combined £20 million in Apache.
What can we do to stop fracking?
A total ban on fracking is needed to protect communities and the climate from this dirty, unnecessary industry.
Councils, particularly those in areas currently under licence for onshore oil and gas extraction, should oppose fracking and new fossil fuel developments and call for a legislative ban to prevent the industry going ahead.
However we believe that as well as banning fracking at home we also need to support the anti-fracking movement around the world. It’s not right that fracking is currently prohibited in Scotland and yet Councils are allowed to profit from investing in companies doing it overseas.
Councils should support a future free from fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas by investing responsibly. That means divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in projects that benefit our local communities, like green energy and much needed social housing.
Eight universities and churches in Scotland have made a commitment to divest from fossil fuels, along with five council pension funds elsewhere in the UK, including the London Borough of Waltham Forest and the University of Glasgow. Across the world 701 institutions, with total investments valued at $5.5 trillion USD, have divested.
Divestment shows companies like Apache, BP, Shell and Range Resources that we won’t put up with them undermining our future and that Scotland is pushing ahead in making a cleaner, healthier future a reality.
For more information about fossil fuel divestment visit reinvest.scot or read “Divest and Reinvest: Scottish Council pensions for a future worth living in”, March 2017.
Methodology and sources
Research for this briefing is built on earlier work carried out for “Divest and Reinvest: Scottish Council pensions for a future worth living in”, published March 2017 by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Common Weal and UNISON Scotland.
For that report the information on local Councils’ investments was obtained using Freedom of Information Requests. Data provided pertained to the end of the 2015-16 financial year and is further described under “4. Freedom of Information requests by fund” at http://reinvest.scot/sources.
52 companies listed on the Carbon Underground 200 were found. Each was then checked for evidence that the company was involved in fracking. We found evidence of 23 oil and gas companies that do fracking as follows:
The companies listing unconventional oil and gas extraction through fracking on their own websites, or references to ‘shale’, ‘unconventional’ development, ‘tight’ oil and gas and ‘coalbed methane’.
Company assets in key shale gas areas on their website, for example the Marcellus Shale and Barnett Shale basins.
Please be aware that the list only includes companies that Scottish Councils invested in. If you are interesting in using our research to create a more comprehensive list we would be very supportive! Please get in touch.
 In this briefing, fracking companies are defined as companies involved in onshore shale gas fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas extraction, for example coalbed methane. For a full methodology on fracking companies, please see the Methodology section.
On 4 May new councillors will be elected across the country. They will have the power to get councils out of polluting companies to instead invest the £35 billion local government pension scheme in a way that doesn’t drive climate change.
The following candidates have signed our petition:
Scotland’s councils continue to invest in the companies most responsible for climate change, holding a £1,683 million stake in fossil fuel companies through their pension funds.
4.8% of the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme is invested in fossil fuels – £3,300 for every scheme member. £543 million is directly invested in oil and gas and £113 million in coal. The majority of holdings, £1,046 million, were invested through intermediaries.
Councils invest in BP, who are fracking and drilling for oil in the Arctic as well as having a history of campaigning against subsidies for renewable energy, and BHP Billiton, the 12th largest extractor of coal in the world, currently mining in the centre of the Borneo rainforest and facing prosecution over Brazil’s worst ever environmental disaster. (more…)
By continuing to invest in the companies most responsible for global climate change councils are failing to protect their pension fund members’ best interests and risk losing huge sums as government action to curb climate emissions sees fossil fuel companies’ value plummet.
With these risks widely known by fund managers failure to act could leave them open to legal challenge.
What legal issues are relevant for councils considering divesting from fossil fuels and pro-actively investing in socially and environmentally beneficial projects in their local area?
The first priority of councils is their duty to act in the best interests of those who pay into and rely upon the pension fund: fund members and employers (1). This duty, known as fiduciary duty, comes first when councils approach their investment strategy: they must serve the best interests of their members.
There is a clear and strong case that council workers and other fund members have their interests best served by a pension fund which helps limit the threat of climate change and supports the development of their local community.
New Scottish legal advice published by the scheme’s advisory board (2) in 2016 has helped clarify how local councils should deal with environmental and social issues in their investments.
The advice says that funds are expected to have “long-term investment horizons”. This guidance echoes the approach given by the Law Commission of England and Wales who stated that “the primary aims of an investment strategy is therefore to secure the best realistic return over the long term, given the need to control for risks” (3). The legal direction here is clear: investing to make a quick buck, in companies with no long-term plan, is not consistent with funds’ legal duties.
Councils are expected to consider environmental and social issues at the point at which they make investments and to review such issues periodically.
Environmental and social issues may influence what they invest in as long as they don’t risk “financial detriment”. Since there is significant evidence showing that fossil fuels are of high risk and low long-term value, this enables an approach of ending fossil fuel investment.
Councils are advised that “investment options may be restricted where the investment returns to the fund may be negatively impacted by such environmental, social or governance factors.” In other words, if a financial case can be made, divestment is an option.
A recent update in the European Union rules for pension funds (4) compels funds to consider environmental and social issues when making investment decisions, and to carefully assess related risks such as the stranding of fossil fuel assets. Although Scotland is currently set to leave the EU, Scottish public bodies would do well to maintain compliance with EU law in the case of Scotland seeking re-entry.
When approaching any change to their investment policies councils should satisfy themselves that they have collected sufficient financial and legal advice to be clear that they are acting in their members’ best interests. However this is easy to achieve, and indeed has been done by those funds which have already divested from fossil fuels (5).
Where action has been limited it is attributable to funds focusing on short-term returns, failing to identify financial risks posed by the carbon bubble, and following outdated practices which do not give sufficient consideration to environmental and social issues (6).
A full appreciation of the legal framework reveals that far from being prevented from considering issues like climate change, funds are in fact required to take issues like climate change into account when making investment decisions.
The Bank of England has advised that funds may face “both regulatory and shareholder action if they fail to adequately consider, misrepresent or conceal climate change-related risk.” (7)
A 2016 legal opinion concluded that if it could be shown that climate change had financial implications for funds those funds taking no effective action would be in breach of their legal duties (8).
Funds could also face charges of intergenerational inequity: if fossil fuels are being retained due to their strong performance in the very short-term at the expense of exposing the fund to longer-term risks, this would be unfairly benefiting older members over younger members.
(1) I use members to refer to individual people who are members of pension funds, although they are sometimes referred to as ‘beneficiaries’. I refer to employers who contribute to pension funds as ’employers’, although readers should note that in other literature employers are occasionally referred to as members.
(6) A review of why pension funds are not taking fossil fuel risks into account in their investment strategies was carried out by Share Action and ClientEarth in 2016. Click here to download the report.
All this followed on the success in Waltham Forest Council, the first to commit to full divestment from fossil fuels, and South Yorkshire’s divestment from coal. It’s all happening in England!
Scottish Councils are under pressure to follow England’s lead, but no local authority here has yet made a commitment. With new Pensions Committees in place shortly after the May election there is a great opportunity to get more action north of the border.
Mercer are one of the largest financial consultancy companies in the world. Owned by the global financial firm Marsh & McLennan, they provide advice to asset owners, such as large corporations, foundations, universities and pension funds.
In 2015, Mercer published a highly influential 100 page report ‘Investing In a Time of Climate Change’. The report aims to help asset owners and investment managers, who move asset owners investments around, understand better how to consider the impact of carbon risk on their portfolios.
Over a year after the report’s release, we wanted to consider what relevance it held for UK councils taking action on carbon and climate change risks.
What does the report say?
In the report, Mercer states that “climate change is an environmental, social and economic risk, expected to have its greatest impact in the long term. But to address it, and avoid dangerous temperature increases, change is needed now. Investors cannot therefore assume that economic growth will continue to be heavily reliant on an energy sector powered predominantly by fossil fuels.”
The main questions addressed by the report are:
How and when will climate change affect the risk and returns of an investment portfolio?
What risks and opportunities to investments are created by climate change, and how do we manage these considerations to fit within current investment practices?
How can an investor become resilient to climate change?
The report says that the decisions investors make could result in four possible outcomes:
Transformation: a strong climate change action plan puts us on a path that keeps global warming within safe levels (defined at 2oC above pre-industrial levels this century).
Coordination: policies and actions are aligned and cohesive, limiting global warming to 3°C.
Fragmentation (Lower Damages): limited climate action and lack of coordination results in a 4°C or higher rise in the global temperature.
Fragmentation (Higher Damages): same limited climate action as the previous scenario, but assumes that relatively higher economic damages result.
Quantitatively forecasting climate risks and investment outcomes at different levels of financial systems the found that:
Annual returns from coal could fall by anywhere between 18% and 74% over the next 35 years, with effects more pronounced over the coming decade.
Conversely, the renewables sub-sector could see average annual returns increase by between 6% and 54% over a 35 years.
Diverse portfolios are best placed to protect investors from negative financial returns, especially under a 2°C scenario.
Portfolios will also need to consider greater material risks that will arise under a 2°C plus world. For example, under a 4°C, scenario, chronic weather patterns (long-term changes in temperature and precipitation) pose risks to the performance of many financial assets.
Key risks will come either from structural change during the transition to a low-carbon economy, where investors are unprepared for change (i.e. still invested in the carbon economy and unprepared for the low carbon economy), or from increased physical damage, for example from events like extreme weather.
The report’s main recommendations are:
Asset owners (such as local council pension funds) should put in place an integrated governance approach that enables them to build capacity to monitor and act on shorter-term (1–3 years) climate risk indicators as well as on longer-term (10-year plus) considerations.
This will require asset owners to develop investment policies that clearly incorporate climate risks.
Once a clear policy is in place, asset owners should develop new risk assessments, develop new ways to focus their investments (for creating new ‘mini-portfolios’ that invest in the low carbon technologies) and improved management and monitoring.
Why does the report matter?
The report was a clear acknowledgement from a well known global financial firm that climate change poses material financial risks to investment portfolios.
Moreover, Mercer states that action is needed now, and that even though climate risk is more complex and longer-term than most investment risks, uncertainty about the future should not be a barrier to action.
The findings reinforce the efforts of divestment campaigns as they clearly demonstrate that:
The prospects for investment in coal are abysmal.
The long-term outlook for renewable energy is safe and healthy.
Lack of investments in low carbon infrastructure now will amplify the material financial risks associated with climate change later.
Unprepared investors will lose the most.
Investors that diversify away from fossil fuels and invest in “alternative asset categories”, including renewable energy, low carbon infrastructure, social housing, and green bonds will be better prepared for climate change impacts than investors that do not.
Essentially, the report argues that the “transformation” scenario is possible but only if investors take an active role in realigning their investment policy with effective climate action. Otherwise, we are headed for one of the financially, socially and environmentally disastrous “fragmentation” scenarios.
This conclusion supports the case for reinvestment in the just low carbon transition. A key shortcoming of the report, however, is that the modelling does not acknowledge or account for the need for the transition (and investments) to be just and democratic. Thus, the report doesn’t go far enough but nevertheless is a useful resource that supports the case for divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment into low carbon solutions.
As recently as July 2014 BoE Governor Mark Carney expressed little concern about the financial risks associated with the carbon bubble in a letter to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee. However a few months later, as policy demands ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris took shape and global oil prices weakened, the BoE position shifted considerably.
Climate change as a serious threat
Mark Carney warned in October 2014 the “vast majority of [fossil fuel] reserves are unburnable” if climate change is to be limited to ‘safe’ levels as pledged by the world’s governments.
In March 2015, the BoE warned insurance companies which underwrite financial markets risked taking a “huge hit” if their investments in fossil fuel companies are rendered worthless by action on climate change.
Paul Fisher, deputy head of the BoE’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) supervising banks and insurers – tasked with avoiding systemic risks to the economy said in a speech to the 2015 Insurers Summit:
“Insurers, as long term investors, are also exposed to changes in public policy as this affects the investment side. One live risk right now is of insurers investing in assets that could be left ‘stranded’ by policy changes which limit the use of fossil fuels.
“As the world increasingly limits carbon emissions, and moves to alternative energy sources, investments in fossil fuels and related technologies – a growing financial market in recent decades – may take a huge hit. There are already a few specific examples of this having happened.”
“Changes in sentiment and financial innovation, such as the ‘hedging’ of carbon risk or fossil fuel divestment, can impact asset values. For example, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is an extant social movement that has managed to induce changes in investor behaviour among private and public wealth owners alike, such as university endowments, public pension funds, ultra high net worth individuals, or their appointed asset managers.
“While levels of divestment appear reasonably limited at this stage, the campaign may have the potential to trigger changes in market norms. Additionally, emerging research suggests preferences can also rapidly shift due to changes in market sentiment relating to expectations around climate risk.”
The report also mentioned that those who manage funds on behalf of others (known as ‘fiduciaries’) could be challenged if they failed to take these risks seriously:
“In future, directors and officers may face both regulatory and shareholder action if they fail to adequately consider, misrepresent or conceal climate change-related risk.”
This presents a major threat to the practice of oil companies like Exxon who, it was recently uncovered, identified climate change risks to their business model and chose to conceal them instead of acting decisively.
What risks does the Bank of England recognise?
The BoE Prudential Regulatory Authority paper covers a number of ways that climate change can affect financial stability:
Physical risks: impacts insurance liabilities and the value of financial assets that arise from climate- and weather-related events, like floods and storms damaging property or trade.
Liability risks: impacts that could arise tomorrow if parties who have suffered loss or damage from the effects of climate change seek compensation from those they hold responsible. Such claims could come decades in the future, but have the potential to hit carbon extractors and emitters – and, if they have liability cover, their insurers – hardest.
Transition risks: financial risks resulting from the process of adjustment towards a low-carbon economy. Changes in policy, technology and physical risks could prompt a reassessment of the value of a range of assets as costs and opportunities become apparent.
If we are to avoid dangerously destabilising the global climate we need to keep emissions to a carbon budget. It has been estimated that at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to keep inside our global carbon budget.
According to Mark Carney, carbon budgets pose a risk to financial assets because:
“If that estimate is even approximately correct it would render the vast majority of reserves “stranded” – oil, gas and coal that will be literally unburnable without expensive carbon capture technology, which itself alters fossil fuel economics.
“The exposure of UK investors, including insurance companies, to these shifts is potentially huge.
“19% of FTSE 100 companies are in natural resource and extraction sectors; and a further 11% by value are in power utilities, chemicals, construction and industrial goods sectors. Globally, these two tiers of companies between them account for around one third of equity and fixed income assets.
“On the other hand, financing the de-carbonisation of our economy is a major opportunity for insurers as long-term investors. It implies a sweeping reallocation of resources and a technological revolution, with investment in long-term infrastructure assets at roughly quadruple the present rate.
“For this to happen, ‘green’ finance cannot conceivably remain a niche interest over the medium term. The more we invest with foresight; the less we will regret in hindsight.”
Whilst the BoE acknowledge the carbon bubble as a significant risk factor for financial markets, the carbon bubble report says it is not the Bank of England’s job to force banks, insurance and pension funds to decarbonise:
“Suggestions that banks and insurers should face new requirements to encourage low-carbon investment were “flawed”… Financial policymakers will not drive the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is not for a central banker to advocate for one policy response over another. That is for governments to decide… More properly our role can be in developing the frameworks that help the market itself to adjust efficiently.”
What should investors do?
For those who manage other people’s money, like local councils, doing nothing in the face of the overwhelming evidence of financial risks associated with climate change failure is no longer an option. The legal and financial consequences of carbon and climate risks for pension funds is increasingly clear.
Mark Carney, speaking to assembled insurers at Lloyds of London in September 2015 said:
“Climate change is the Tragedy of the Horizon. We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix. That means beyond: the business cycle; the political cycle; and the horizon of technocratic authorities, like central banks, who are bound by their mandates.
“The horizon for monetary policy extends out to 2-3 years. For financial stability it is a bit longer, but typically only to the outer boundaries of the credit cycle – about a decade.”
Mark Carney goes on to suggest:
“Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”
In other words: financiers, investors and central banks cannot use their existing toolkit to deal with climate change risks. We need to compel investors to use new methods – like divestment – to signal an end to the fossil fuel era and begin in earnest an investment approach that is consistent with a safe, healthy future.
The campaign to divest local councils from fossil fuels is making waves.
The overwhelming majority of local governments’ investments lie in their pension funds (valued at £230 billion in 2015) and by pressuring councils to invest this money sustainably divestment campaigners are bringing about a major change in how money is invested for the future.
In September 2016 the first UK fund committed to go fossil free: Waltham Forest Pension Fund in London. A handful of funds have made public commitments to move significant portions of money out of fossil fuels and many more have increased their investments in low carbon and ethical funds. Some campaigns have successfully changed policy, won recommendations for further action, or have spurred the creation of new low-carbon investment options.
In this article we’ll set out what has been done in some councils to act on the fossil fuels investments of their pension funds.
What kind of picture do these achievements paint? Is there a single path which we need local council to travel, or must progress be achieved in different ways in different places?
Experience shows that our councils are unlikely to commit to full divestment overnight. Divestment commitments can be made without a policy for pro-active ethical investment (also known as re-investment), and vice versa. We should take care to describe change accurately and not to overstate how far we’ve come, but must also take heart in any progress towards climate-friendly local councils and, as you’ll see below, there has been a lot of progress.
Above all, we should learn from experience across the UK to help build an effective movement for change.
Divestment: Funds that have passed policy to divest from fossil fuels
These council pension funds have passed motions that publicly commit to full or partial divestment from fossil fuels.
At a pension fund committee meeting on the 22 September there was unanimous support by both Conservative and Labour councillors for the pension fund to ‘exclude fossil fuels from its strategy over the next five years’. The Fund’s Statement of Investment Principles (SIP) will be changed to enshrine this commitment. The Fund also agreed to invest more in wind energy and ‘seek to make direct commercial property investments in the borough’.
Councillor Simon Miller, chair of Waltham Forest Pension Fund said:
‘Not only does this mean that the fund will not be invested in stranded assets, but will be actively investing in cleaner, greener investments to the benefit of our community, borough and environment.’
In October 2015, the Environment Agency Pension Fund, part of the local government scheme, announced it would end most of investments in fossil fuels within the next five years.
The announcement was made with the publication of a new investment policy for the fund, which outlined a goal of ensuring the fund’s investments and processes were ‘compatible with keeping the global average temperature increase to remain below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels.’
The Fund has around 40,000 members, is valued at £2.9 billion in size and invests around £72.5 million (2.5%) in fossil fuels.
The policy included three targets to be achieved by 2020:
Invest 15% of the fund in low carbon investments.
Decarbonise the fund’s shareholdings in coal by 90% and oil and gas by 50%.
Support progress towards a transition to a low carbon economy by working with investors, fund managers, companies, researchers, and political leaders
This new approach reinforces past efforts by the fund to invest responsibly. In 2015 the fund invested £280 million in a new Legal & General fund that follows the ‘MSCI Low Carbon Index’, a list of companies that don’t invest in coal, major oil companies and other fossil fuels, reducing ‘carbon exposure’. The fund also invests £19 million in a ‘Low Carbon Workplace Fund’ which lends to energy efficiency programmes for commercial buildings.
Result: (Impressive) partial divestment
In November 2015 the South Yorkshire Pension Fund committed to low carbon investment policies that exclude ‘pure’ coal and tar sands companies. The fund is valued at £5.55 billion and invests around £317 million (5.7%) in fossil fuels.
On 17 September 2015 the investment board held a meeting where the Fund agreed that there should be ‘a long term tilt towards a low carbon economy within its portfolios’. It confirmed that there would be no direct investments in pure coal and tar sands companies.
‘Consideration will be given to reducing exposure to high-carbon intensity companies that fail to respond to engagement by not demonstrating a decrease in carbon intensity or carbon risk… Over time endeavour to manage a tilt within portfolios in favour of lower carbon assets in-line with the Paris Agreement, with a view towards progressively decreasing the Fund’s carbon exposure.’
Sheffield Climate Alliance‘s campaign for divestment of the South Yorkshire fund included colourful stunts outside the Pension Authority office, communication with the Fund Director and a long-running petition that has been steadily gathering signatures.
The following are examples of subsidiary local authorities calling on the council that runs their pension fund on their behalf, to divest from fossil fuels. These local authorities do not have direct control over whether divestment takes place as they are only one of several local councils that are part of their pension fund in question. However, divestment motions backed by fund employers can put considerable pressure on funds to act on their fossil fuel investments and invest responsibly.
Oxford City Council
In September 2016, Oxford City Council became the first local government in the UK to pass a motion on fossil fuel divestment. Oxford City Council pledged to make no direct investments in fossil fuel companies for ethical reasons.
The move was a hugely symbolic victory for the divestment movement, but the structure of Oxford’s council pensions means its effect has so far been limited. Oxford City Council is one of several local councils who are members of the Oxfordshire Pension Fund that currently invests around £42 million in fossil fuel companies. Divestment would require policy or action to be taken by the Oxfordshire Pension Fund, managed by Oxfordshire County Council.
The following council pension funds have made bold moves to invest their money in more ethical and low carbon ways, using a range of tools and strategies to make this happen.
The Greater Manchester Pension Fund, approximately £13bn in size, has made its investments more responsible by investing in joint infrastructure projects and renewable energy.
In 2014 it partnered with The Homes and Communities Agency to provide £25m in investment funding to build over 200 affordable homes in the Greater Manchester area. It is part of the Investing 4 Growth initiative, a joint project between six local government pension funds that seek ‘investments that have an economic impact as well as positive and environmental outcomes in the UK’.
It has invested £500m in an infrastructure investment partnership with the Lothian Pension Fund Authority, that funds renewable energy projects in the UK, and has a further partnership project with the London Pensions Fund Authority for infrastructure projects in Greater Manchester and London. GMPF has created a ‘special opportunities portfolio’ that enables funds to be allocated specifically to alternative investments like infrastructure.
Around 1% of its total funds to a special portfolio, called ‘Impact Portfolio’ that invests in renewable energy and through this portfolio, £10m has been allocated to UK renewable developer Albion Community Power to develop community scale energy.
Since 2009, Lancashire County Council (£5bn in size) has diversified its investments, increasing investments in infrastructure (directly with its own staff and indirectly via external fund managers) and property. The majority of the direct investments have been in renewable energy projects and companies in the UK, the US and Australia.
LCPF invested £12m in Westmill Solar Coop, the UK’s largest cooperative. This has been through ‘refinancing’ – investment made after, rather than before, the solar farm became operational making the loan less risky.
In September 2015 LCPF agreed to create a Responsible Investment Policy which will provide a more detailed long-term strategy for investing responsibly.
In July 2014, the London Borough of Croydon Pension Fund decided to switch its equity assets of around £350m to a Legal & General (L&G) global ethical investment fund to avoid exposure to tobacco, nuclear power and arms stocks.
In January 2016, Haringey Council voted to invest two-thirds of its London Borough of Haringey Pension Fund (HPF), around £220 million, in the MSCI World Low Carbon Target Index Fund (a list of companies that don’t invest in coal, major oil companies and most other fossil fuels). HPF has not fully divested from fossil fuels, and will actively ‘engage’ in persuading companies to decrease their carbon emissions.
Islington Pension Fund (IPF) recently announced that 15% of its total fund would be invested in infrastructure and social housing through a new portfolio.
The fund is relatively small in size (£971 million) which means greater financial risks compared to other pension funds, and less expertise in investing in special responsible pension funds. To overcome this issue, IPF is part of a project of London pension funds that are pooling their funds to create a Collective Investment Vehicle that will manage assets worth £24 billion. The CIV will be used primarily for infrastructure investments, and the CIV opens up possibility for individual funds to jointly invest in things like renewable energy or socially-useful infrastructure.
In 2009, the Strathclyde Pension Fund (around £14bn in size) created a ‘New Opportunities Portfolio’ (NOP) that invests in ‘alternative’ (or not so typical) types of assets like infrastructure, renewables, housing, smaller property and local regeneration. To date, NOP has invested in financing several small and medium enterprises as well as the construction of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games’ Athletes’ Village. In February 2016, it partnered with the Green Investment Bank and contributed £10m to a £60m investment in community renewable energy projects. This investment will go towards several renewable energy projects including a hydro-electric power station in Western Scotland.
Stepping stones: enabling’ policies, feasibility studies and reviews
The following local councils have passed motions that could enable divestment to take place, look in detail at the options and feasibility of divestment and reinvestment, or review their current investments. All these approaches could be useful tactics on the way to divestment, and can help show funds the different options they have to invest their money more repsonsibly.
The e-action convinced the GMPF’s Pensions Committee to change a key paragraph (8.1) in the SIP from: ‘The Fund … does not actively invest in nor permanently disinvest from companies solely or largely for social or ethical or environmental reasons.’
To the more helpful: ‘The Fund … may choose to actively invest in or disinvest from companies for social, ethical or environmental reasons, so long as that does not risk material financial detriment to the Fund.’
Feasibility studies and investment reviews
In the spring of 2015, City of Edinburgh Council and Glasgow City Council passed resolutions at full council meetings that called for a report to set out the feasibility, costs and benefits of introducing a partial or complete fossil fuel divestment strategy for the Lothian Pension Fund (£5 billion in size) and Strathclyde Pension Fund (approximately £14 billion), to be reviewed within the context of the funds’ statement of investment principles. Divest Lothian and Fossil Free Strathclyde have been two very active campaigns.
On the 20 October 2015, Bradford City Council passed a motion to review the investments of West Yorkshire Pension Fund in order to assess the necessity and feasibility of divestment, pushed by an active Fossil Free West Yorkshire Pension Fund campaign. Similarly, on the 8 October 2015 York Council agreed to review the investments and investment options of the North Yorkshire Pension Fund.