What is divestment?
Divestment is the opposite of investment: it's where an organisation gets rid of stocks, bonds, or investment funds that it holds. In this case, we're talking about divestment from fossil fuels, on the basis that we believe they are a risk for both investors and the planet. You can read more on gofossilfree.org.
Why are we supporting divestment?
Climate change is the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. The 20 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1981; 2014 and 2015 are the two hottest years yet. Higher average temperatures are directly linked to extreme weather events such as intensified heatwaves, longer and more arid droughts, wilder forest fires, stronger, more frequent storms and the resultant flooding, and increased glacier melt (which means rising sea-levels and further temperature rise as more of the suns rays are absorbed rather than reflected by the earth).
Sectors with high levels of carbon emissions, such as transport, energy, waste management and industry, are also linked to worsening levels of air pollution, which are now regarded as a major world killer. In Tower Hamlets an estimated 138 people a year die as a result of air pollution (ITV.com).
At the core of all these problems is the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists have unanimously concluded that these changes are a consequence of human activity, arising from the burning of fossil fuels (IPCC). The fossil fuel industry have taken a threefold approach to this. Firstly, they have spent significant amounts of money to create a body of disruptive disinformation campaigns that undermine climate science in the minds of the general public (fossilfreemit.org). Secondly, they have created a lobbying juggernaut to flatten any political efforts to limit global warming (guardian.com). Thirdly, they have expanded their business practice to focus on ever riskier, costlier and ultimately more disastrous extraction methods such as fracking and deep-water drilling; the latter having led to the largest marine oil spill in history (britannica.com)
Tower Hamlets Council currently has an estimated £91,764,000 invested in fossil fuel companies. This represents 8.76% of their fund. Ethically, environmentally and economically, there is no justification for such holdings. These investments directly undermine Tower Hamlets' own commitment to 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 (towerhamlets.gov.uk) as they are directly fueling ever riskier, costlier forms of extraction, which no longer represent the relatively bankable return they have been historically as the fossil fuel energy market grows ever more volatile.
If it is wrong to continue to wreck the Earth’s climate, then it follows that it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. There are also increasing indications that the profitability of the fossil fuel industry will decrease significantly in coming years. If action is taken to limit global warming and a large degree of carbon reserves are left in the ground, shares in fossil fuel companies will drop significantly in value (carbontracker.org). As such, pension funds currently investing in fossil fuels risk exposure to this 'carbon bubble', while there is already evidence that fossil fuel-free portfolios are capable of out-performing those including fossil fuel investments (msci.com).
What are we doing?
We are working as part of the Tower Hamlets Divest campaign to push for divestment from fossil fuels in Tower Hamlets. We're engaging with the Council, Councillors and local residents.
On Wed 7th December 2016 we presented to the Pensions Committee of Tower Hamlets Council on the environmental and financial case for divesting the £91 million the pension fund currently has invested in fossil fuel company stocks. This is a key first step on the journey to divestment! You can see a copy of our presentation here. The opportunity to present to the Pensions Committee followed the submission of a report in July 2016 which carefully laid out the financial risks of continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies.
We are calling on Tower Hamlets Council to:
- Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuels - specifically, in the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies with largest known carbon reserves (oil, coal and gas) (fossilfreeindexes.com) - made by Tower Hamlets Council Pension Fund or Tower Hamlets Council itself;
- Divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years;
- Pass a motion or make a public statement supporting theprinciple of divestment from fossil fuel companies, promising to move toward a fossil fuel free portfolio and advocating that the London Pension Fund and Local Government Pension Scheme members do the same; and
- Show commitment to doing the above in a timely manner by setting up a working group to report back on a strategy to move toward the goal of divestment within three months of submission of this petition.