Divestment and climate

UK councils invest billions of pounds of our pension money into companies drilling for new coal, gas and oil – making climate breakdown worse. Find out how you can help stop investment in companies fuelling the climate crisis.
  Published:  04 Jun 2018    |      Last updated:  04 Feb 2021    |      3 minute read

What is divestment?

Fossil fuel divestment means moving money out of unethical companies by getting rid of stocks, shares, bonds or investment funds that are harming people and our planet. 

What does this have to do with you? Well, every person is connected to an institution that shouldn’t be investing in the fossil fuel industry and therefore has the power to press for change. 

Just take your pension. Paying into a pension generally means handing over cash which is then invested on your behalf. But it turns out that a large number of pension funds invest in fossil fuel companies. In fact, UK Divest released new data in February 2021 (PDF) revealing that UK local authority pension funds are investing around £10 billion in the fossil fuel industry.

And it's not just pension funds that invest in these companies. Universities, councils, health institutions and parliaments have, in the past, all paid into them too.

But the tide is changing. Institutions all over the world, including entire cities, have taken the step to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry by divesting from their destructive operations. 

Why divest?

Fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell are some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies on the planet, yet they’re using their money, power and influence to block every serious attempt to stop climate breakdown.

Divestment gives people like you the chance to say "I don’t want my money invested in companies who behave like this”. 

Every time people come together to convince our institutions to divest, the reputation and power of the fossil fuel industry takes a massive hit. What's more, it signals to government where public priorities lie (ie not with businesses that are knowingly harming the planet and the safety of future generations). 

Divestment is also one of the most direct ways that people in the UK can take action to support the global south. Countries like Nigeria are some of the worst affected by exploitative oil giants and the repercussions of their immoral business plans. 

Friends of the Earth and divestment

Friends of the Earth is working in partnership with Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform as UK Divest to build local support for divestment and help Fossil Free campaigners to secure commitments from local government and other institutions to break links with the fossil fuel industry. 

A group of people listen at a talk on divestment in 2019
A group of people listen at a talk on divestment in 2019


What can you do?

Fewer than 5% of local councils have committed to fully divest their pension fund. 

Divest UK's central campaign is focused on ensuring our local leaders act now by divesting from fossil fuels and re-investing pensions in the local economy.

To support the campaign, you can:

If you’d like to receive support and resources from UK Divest or link up with other divestment campaigners across the UK, get in touch with Rianna Gargiulo. We’d love to chat to you about how to use the new figures on council investment to support your local campaigns. 

Move to a green bank

Campaign victories

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

Campaigners in Cardiff, 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, Swansea, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Hackney and Haringey, as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

It’s time for all of 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.

Read the reports

Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet: an analysis of local government investments in coal, oil and gas (2021)

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]