22 November 2018
Newcastle Green Party is asking public bodies in the city to help combat climate change by ending investment in oil, coal and gas companies. Newcastle City Council’s staff pensions are provided by the Tyne & Wear Pension Fund, which also provides for other bodies including many local schools and colleges. The fund has fossil fuel investments exceeding £400 million, according to data compiled by Fossil Free UK. Newcastle University currently has over £8 m of its investment funds in the fossil fuel industry, according to its publicly available figures last financial year. The Greens’ call on public institutions to divest from fossil fuels is being backed by local environmental groups.
“The scientific consensus on the scale of the climate emergency is both clear and alarming” said Newcastle Green Party spokesperson Dr Clare Andrews. “The latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned we have only 12 years left to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid climate breakdown – hence we urgently need to halt fossil fuel investment and switch to renewables”.
“Investing in fossil fuel companies enables them to keep on expanding their operations, which is incompatible with meeting the UK’s climate change targets under the Paris Agreement. 80% of existing oil, coil and gas reserves are unburnable if we are to limit global warming below the internationally agreed 2oC, above which the impacts will be catastrophic”.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney has expressed concerns over ‘unburnable carbon’ and significant financial risks posed by fossil fuel investments being consequently overvalued. Pension funds and other investments risk being left stranded and worthless as the world comes to grips with the climate challenge, the so-called ‘carbon bubble’. Although Tyne & Wear Pension Fund states climate change as being a financial risk, the fund was found to be one of 8 large local government pensions taking almost no action to protect its members from the financial risks posed by climate change, according to a report published this month by Platform & Friends of the Earth.
“Fossil fuel investments constitute a risk for both investors and the planet. That’s why we call on our public institutions to divest from these companies” said Newcastle Greenpeace volunteer Ruth Drake.
Figures in the Financial Times last year showed fossil fuel investments held by UK Local Authorities to be £16 billion and growing. In 2015, Bristol City Council and Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire passed motions tabled by Green Party councillors to become ‘fossil free’ in their pension funds, diversifying into renewables and energy efficiency. Sheffield Council followed in 2016, passing a Green Party motion to divest from fossil fuels. Waltham Forest in north-east London committed the pension fund for local council workers to divestment in 2016, followed by other local authorities in London and nationwide.
Newcastle City Council passed a motion in 2016 opposing Tory plans to curb powers of Councils to divest from unethical companies. “The Newcastle Green Party welcomed this defence of local democracy, but if the Council is serious about an ethical stance on its procurement and pensions then it now needs to put climate change top of that agenda. We are asking the council to follow the example set by Sheffield and help lead the way to a fossil free Northern Powerhouse” said Green Party spokesperson Alistair Ford.
The Greens also urge all Newcastle MPs to sign the ‘Divest Parliament Pledge’ to exclude fossil fuels from their own pension fund. “The pledge was first signed and championed by Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion. But only one out of the three Labour MPs in Newcastle, Catherine McKinnell, has pledged support”, said Ford. “We need our politicians and public bodies to follow the good example of the thousands of concerned citizens switching to green home energy and closing their accounts with banks that invest in fossil fuels.”
Newcastle University students staged a protest on campus yesterday to mark the National Day of Action for Divestment. Student campaign group Fossil Free Newcastle University helped to persuade the University to commit to partial divestment in 2016 after a Students’ Union motion received overwhelming support. Rebecca D’Andrea, a member of the student campaign, commented “While the University’s pledge to stop investing in coal and tar sands is a step in the right direction, it is simply not enough given the urgency and severity of the situation we face”. Another student campaigner, Joe Herbert, added that “Seventeen other UK Universities including neighbouring Durham & Edinburgh have now promised complete fossil fuel divestment. We are demanding that our University commits to fully divest by 2021.”
In a recent press release the University claimed its investments in oil and gas have reduced since 2017. The Newcastle Green Party welcomes the University’s progress thus far and their signing the Government’s Emissions Reduction Pledge 2020 for the public and higher education sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. The Greens would urge them to facilitate this commitment by promising full divestment from fossil fuels.
As with council pensions, the University’s national pension scheme for academic staff (USS) is also coming under scrutiny for its investments in the fossil industry. The national trade union of academic staff (UCU) passed a motion this month recognising the urgent threat posed by climate change and instructing their pensions working group to put pressure on the pension scheme to withdraw from ‘high carbon investments’.
“Divestment is vital to halting climate breakdown – institutions and companies should be moving away from fossil fuels for economic as well as environmental reasons” remarked June Davison, from the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley against the open cast coal extraction recently begun at Dipton in County Durham. “As we have seen locally in the Pont Valley, as well as in Lancashire and beyond, investment enables fossil fuel companies to keep on expanding their operations even at this time of climate crisis, at great cost to local communities living on the frontline of the destructive, polluting extractions and to all of us globally”.
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