At a Full Council meeting last night (7 December), climate activists and campaigners called on Bristol Council to use its influence on the multi-billion pound Avon Pension Fund (APF) to divest from fossil fuel assets, citing the need for decisive climate action and a growing risk fossil fuel investments could end up being ‘stranded assets’ that plummet in value.
Representatives of the campaign delivered hundreds of signed postcards to the Labour Mayor Marvin Rees and called on him to use his influence on the pension fund to call for pulling funds out of fossil stocks and move them into green and sustainable investments. The calls were backed by unions including the National Education Union and UNISON (Bristol Council’s largest union), environmentalists such as Friends of the Earth, as well as Green Party Councillors who have been campaigning on the issue for some years.
Jackie Walkden, one of the campaigners who helped to organise the campaign, said in her statement to the meeting:
“People are very worried about climate change, and increasingly so. They have heard the weak message from COP26, and they want change. In particular, they don’t want their pension contributions, which come from public money, to fund climate chaos. We hope that seeing these cards will help the mayor hear their voices.”
Green councillors have repeatedly called on Bristol Council to join cities like London, Paris, Glasgow and New York which have committed to divest their assets and pension funds from fossil fuel companies. In 2019 Labour and Conservative councillors voted to amend a Green motion to back divestment which had the support of the Council’s largest union, rendering it ineffective. In September 2020 Bristol’s Mayor signed a declaration committing “to take all possible steps to divest city assets from fossil fuel companies” but no action to divest funds has since been taken by the Council through its place on the staff pension fund.
Green Councillor Katy Grant said:
“Both Brunel Pension Partnership and Avon Pension Fund have made recent press statements about shifts of some investments towards a Paris-aligned passive fund, but this is still not ambitious enough. In the aftermath of COP26, we all now know that the Paris 2-degree benchmark is completely out of date; and the goal of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions from the pension holding over the next ten years is not fast enough. “
“Bristol City Council should be at the forefront of urgent efforts to get Avon Pension Fund to move all fossil fuel investments into the opportunities provided by renewable energy. Why would the first city in the UK to call a climate emergency be dragging its feet on this?”
Investment in fossil fuels is seen as increasingly risky as the need for governments to act on the climate crisis requires leaving fossil fuels in the earth. Last year it was revealed that the value of oil company shares held by 56 local government retirement schemes had halved since 2017. Geoff Allan, from Bristol Friends of the Earth, said:
“With the fossil fuel age ending, and renewables stock prices growing at 20% a year, it makes no sense for pension fund managers not to divest while they still can.”
Unison, Bristol Council’s largest staff union, supported the Greens’ divestment call in 2019. Ian Watkins, Bristol Unison’s climate officer, gave a statement (4) which stated:
“Bristol Unison Branch has for a number of years been active in holding APF to account for their investment portfolio and proposed schedule to divest away from fossil fuels.
We acknowledge and welcome the progress they have made but feel that given the Climate Emergency that has been declared by Bristol City Council and other neighbouring local Authorities, much more needs to be done and at a faster timescale.
We feel that simply trying to engage with carbon intensive companies is too weak a strategy at this point in time. There should be immediate divestment from companies with no zero carbon strategy or who don’t even acknowledge Climate Change as an issue and a much faster move to full divestment by 2030 rather than 2050.
Unison sees the transition to a greener economy, with well trained, unionised and secure jobs as an essential part of the fight against climate change. Avon Pension Fund is a key part of this – our pension contributions and the funds which BCC matches them with, should be used to invest in green technologies and training, both locally and in the wider Southwest, rather than in increasingly financially risky carbon intensive and polluting sectors in far flung reaches of the world. This investment switch should start now to avoid the diminishing returns that fossil fuels will offer going forward.
There will be no jobs on a dead planet!”
The campaign is also being supported by the National Education Union, the largest education union in Europe. Tom Bolton, Bristol National Education Union (NEU) Branch Secretary and Loz Hennessy, Bristol NEU Climate Officer, said:
“All workers are entitled to a healthy, happy retirement where we can live in dignity. As education workers, we believe our families and our students deserve a future free from climate catastrophe. Fossil fuel consumption is driving this catastrophe. APS needs to disinvest now. Anything less is climate denial. Educators support divestment!”
Anne Lemon, a local teacher and member of Bristol Coalition Against Climate Change, said:
“As a teacher and recipient of what was the Avon pension fund, I am appalled to discover that the fund still has investments in the fossil fuel industry.
“What came out of COP26 in no way starts to tackle the impending climate catastrophe which is heading our way. There were no serious measures to limit the use of fossil fuels. We need to take action in every way that we can.
“A good step would be for our Mayor, Marvin Rees, to lead the campaign to make the pension scheme remove its funds from the fossil fuel industry. In particular companies like ‘BlackRock’ who are profiteering from the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest. Act Now.”