What is divestment? And is your council funding climate change?

UK councils invest billions of pounds of our pension money into companies drilling for new coal, gas and oil – making climate change worse.
  Published:  04 Jun 2018    |      Last updated:  03 Sep 2018    |      4 minute read

It’s plain wrong that money we put aside for our future should be used to make that future worse.

Join people worldwide asking institutions to divest from dirty energy – pulling their investments out of climate-wrecking companies.

Let's stop our money fuelling climate change

A global climate crisis is underway – extreme weather and rising sea levels are threatening the lives of millions of people. Action is urgently needed, but our councils are still banking on the culprits.

Local government pension funds at risk

Local government Pension Funds are failing to protect themselves from the financial risk of climate with many still heavily invested in fossil fuel companies. These are the findings of a new report, Risky Business: Local government pension funds and the climate crisis (November 2018).

The report examines and ranks the performance of the 17 largest local government pension funds in England and Scotland, plus the Northern Ireland fund and the largest fund in Wales, in addressing climate risk. It also looks at each fund’s  individual performance against a number of questions and outlines investment industry best practice for addressing climate risk.

The report, produced with Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland, offers a series of questions that fund members, trustees, councillors and local people, can put to their pension fund committees. It should serve as a useful resource for fossil fuel divestment campaigners in their dealings with such committees.

UK councils are investing more than £16bn of workers’ pensions in fossil fuel companies – the very companies that are driving the climate crisis. These are among the findings of research published by Friends of the Earth and sister organisations in November 2017.

It’s time for our councils to ditch their investments in dirty energy – and you can help make this happen. Please email your local councillors asking them to support the campaign to get your local pension fund out of coal, oil and gas.

Divest fracking – ask your council to stop fuelling fracking

UK councils are investing £9 billion in fracking companies. Many have voted against fracking developments in their own areas, but council-run funds remain heavily invested in the global fracking industry.

These are the findings of our report Divest Fracking: How councils are banking on dirty gas, produced jointly with Friends of the Earth Scotland, 350.org and Platform. 

If you'd like to do more to ramp up the pressure on councils to divest from all fossil fuel companies, please contact us.

What is divestment?

Divestment means moving money out of unethical companies. This strategy is famously linked to the dismantling of apartheid by putting moral pressure on the regime in South Africa.

Pension funds and fossil fuels

Do you pay into a pension? Most of us do, these days.

We hand over our cash for it to be invested on our behalf. We do it so we can have some security in the future.

But there is a conflict in our pensions – because it turns out that large amounts of our pension cash are invested in fossil fuel companies.

How much do councils invest in fossil fuels?

UK local authority pension investments in fossil fuels are a whopping £16bn.

That’s over £200 for every man, woman and child in the UK.

Why divest from fossil fuels?

Oil giants like Shell know the scale of the threat from climate change.

They know that to keep climate change in check, most existing reserves of coal, oil and gas are unburnable. Yet they continue to explore for new sources of fossil fuels. Their actions are as morally bankrupt as the worst tobacco and arms companies.

Calling for divestment from dirty energy companies is a moral issue. It’s a way for people to say “we don’t want our money invested in companies who behave like this”.

But divestment also ramps up the pressure on oil companies and governments.

Governments do too little on climate change because the pressure from the fossil fuel companies for inaction is intense. And the public demand for action is not strong enough.

Divestment ramps up the pressure on oil companies and governments.

Every decision by every institution to divest is a reputational blow to the fossil fuel industry. It’s a visible rejection of those businesses by ordinary people concerned about their future .

It can influence more progressive government policies – as happened with divestment campaigning against apartheid South Africa. 

Divestment is successful

Worldwide, campaigns have persuaded institutions – valued at over $6 trillion – to divest from fossil fuels. This success is happening in the UK too.

Local authorities can lead divestment

Local campaigners have scored big successes in the last couple of years. 

Campaigners in Southwark, Islington, Lambeth and Waltham Forest have persuaded their local authorities to commit to full divestment from coal, oil and gas.

Other local-authority pension schemes have made partial divestment commitments – these include the Environmental Agency Pension Fund, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Hackney and Haringey.

Local authorities were at the forefront of challenging apartheid through their divestment campaigns.

We’re calling on local authorities to lead the way again, and divest again, but this time from fossil fuels.

Everyone deserves a pension that isn’t wrecking their future.

Find your local campaign

The divestment juggernaut is really starting to gain speed. Find out where the local divestment campaign is in your area, and please join in.

Find out more

The ethical and financial arguments for divestment [PDF]

A briefing for campaigners, tackling the argument that ‘engagement’ with fossil fuel companies is preferable to divestment [PDF]

This is an updated version of an article first published on 25 September 2015.