Scottish councils invest millions in fossil fuel firms

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Scottish council pensions have been revealed to have more than £1.2 billion invested in fossil fuel companies – despite widespread declarations of a climate emergency.

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, says a study by environmental groups.

The pension schemes 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 Chevron.

This is despite Glasgow hosting the UN climate conference later this year and councillors in the city declaring a climate emergency in May 2019.

As fossil fuel company stocks have fallen in value in recent years, local councils have lost out. More than £190m of value was wiped off the oil and gas investments of Scottish council pensions over 2017- 20, with the Strathclyde Pension Fund alone losing £46m.

Across the UK, total fossil fuel investments in the pension funds stood at £9.9bn, an average of £1,450 per scheme member. Over half of Scotland’s universities have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies alongside local government funds in Southwark, Islington, Lambeth, Waltham Forest, and Cardiff.

A report by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Friends of the Earth England, Wales, and Northern Ireland showed the scale of the investments.

Ric Lander, Divestment Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “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 in Scotland.”

Mr Lander continued: “In 2021, Glasgow City Council must challenge their own pension fund to invest for the future.

“That means councillors seizing the moment provided by the UN climate talks to demand a decisive break from dirty investments.

“Fossil fuel companies are slowing the transition to a healthy economy and driving a climate crisis that’s harming Glasgow and the world.”

Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor of Unison Scotland, said: “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.”

Robert Noyes, report author and researcher at Platform, said:“Instead of making risky bets on fossil fuels, let’s channel the wealth in our pensions to local communities and build a better world beyond the pandemic.”

A COSLA spokesman said: “We know that administering authorities and pension funds take their responsibilities seriously and operate within both their legal and fiduciary duties.”

A spokesman for Strathclyde Pension Fund said: “Historically, the fund has felt that divestment is a blunt tool in terms of securing that transition to a low carbon economy and not on its own radical enough to have a meaningful impact on the climate emergency.

“Instead, it has preferred to be an activist investor – pushing for improvements on everything from carbon disclosure and lowering emissions, while committing hundreds of millions of pounds into a range of renewable energy projects.”

The spokesman also said the fund was “refreshing and further developing its Climate Change Strategy, including consideration of a net-zero objective”. He added: “That process will also include consideration of future investment strategy – with input from the fund’s Board and Committee.” 

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