We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Lib Dem action on climate crisis

September 26, 2019 8:45 AM

With the vote at the County Council today on action on reducing Co2 emissions, and demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion, it might be worth pointing to past action by the Lib Dems on the council, albeit with only a handful of members, in the face of the Tories overwhelming majority.

In 2014 Lib Dem county councillors Avril Davies and Steven Lambert asked the county council to divest from fossil fuel companies, as part of the fight against climate change. (The County Council administers the Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme on behalf of 218 public sector employers.)

The county argued that it was governed by legal obligations to get the best return for contributors to the pension fund, irrespective of environmental concerns.

In December 2017 the government announced it was preparing to relax these rules, to allow public sector pension schemes to "mirror members' ethical concerns" and "address environmental problems".

So if employees don't want their pensions invested in oil companies, helping them continue to drill, then pension fund committees will have to listen to them.

I wrote the following to the Bucks Herald, in 2017 and 2018. We are still waiting for the county to act.

Dear Editor,

Public service employees in Bucks are, without even realising it, funding fossil fuel companies out of their pension savings to drill for oil, thereby contributing to and accelerating climate change.We in the Lib Dems are calling on the County Council, which administers the Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme on behalf of 218 employers across the county, to divest these holdings in oil and gas firms, worth £107 million, and put the money into renewable energy.

Previously the county had argued that it would be better to keep these investments, and try to persuade fossil fuel companies to change their ways. We believe this is futile. The Buckinghamshire Pension Fund Committee should take advantage of a coming relaxation in investment rules and withdraw their holdings altogether.

This would bring it in line with major international players, and, in the UK, a string of public bodies, including churches, universities and local authorities, have announced they will be divesting from oil, gas and coal companies.

The Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme is administered on behalf of a range of public bodies including the County Council, Milton Keynes Council and the district councils. The £107m investment makes up a not insignificant 4% of the available pension pot. Nationally public bodies invest a total of £16.1 billion worth of pension savings in oil and gas firms.

In 2014 Lib Dem county councillors Avril Davies and Steven Lambert asked the county council to divest from fossil fuel companies, as part of the fight against climate change. The county argued that it was governed by legal obligations to get the best return for contributors to the pension fund, irrespective of environmental concerns.

In December 2017 the government announced it was preparing to relax these rules, to allow public sector pension schemes to "mirror members' ethical concerns" and "address environmental problems".

So if employees don't want their pensions invested in oil companies, helping them continue to drill, then pension fund committees will have to listen to them.

We believe that, with the extremes of weather of 2017, and already in 2018 in Australia and the USA, adding further graphic proof that climate change is with us here and now, public sector workers' money should no longer be invested in the extraction of oil and gas that further warm the planet.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible, and make a major switch to renewable energy. The county council has the opportunity to take that meaningful action.

Yours sincerely,

Gareth Davies,

Chairman

/ 2. (July 2018)

Dear Editor,

Ireland, the Church of England, the Quakers, many universities and local authorities, as well as major international players such as New York City have said they will pull their pension fund investments from oil and gas companies.

Can there be any good reason for Bucks County Council, which administers the Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme on behalf of 218 employers across the county, not to do the same?

When I wrote to you about this in January, the scheme's administrators could still forward the excuse that they were bound by legal obligations to get the best return for contributors to the pension fund, irrespective of environmental concerns. That argument no longer holds.

Nor does the argument that it would be better to keep these investments, and try to persuade fossil fuel companies to change their ways. There is no evidence that they have done so through shareholder persuasion.

In June the government published proposals designed to give managers of Britain's workplace pension schemes new powers to dump shares in oil, gas and coal companies in favour of investment in green and "social impact" holdings, if it meets their members' wishes.

The Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme is administered on behalf of employees in a range of public bodies including the County Council, Milton Keynes Council and the district councils. The scheme's £107m investment in oil and gas firms makes up a not insignificant 4% of the available pension pot.

Public service employees in Bucks are, without even realising it, funding fossil fuel companies out of their pension savings to drill for oil, thereby contributing to and accelerating climate change.

2018 has seen some big successes for the divestment movement. Ireland voted this month (July) to become the world's first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies. In the same week The Church of England said it will sell its shares in oil and gas firms that fail to meet the terms of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement by 2023.

The Bucks Pension Fund Committee should take advantage of the coming relaxation in investment rules and withdraw their holdings altogether and put the money into renewable energy.

Yours sincerely,

Gareth Davies