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Greater Manchester councils accused of ‘fuelling the fire’ of climate change

Greater Manchester’s local authority pension fund is ‘Fuelling the Fire’ of global climate change by heavily investing in the fossil fuel industry, claims a consortium of environmental campaigners. Describing the GM fund as being “the dirtiest in the UK” due to the £1.8 billion invested in “climate wrecking companies”, which is over 10% of its portfolio. A larger percentage than any other local authority pension fund in the UK.

Across the UK a total of £16 billion is invested by council pension funds in oil, coal and gas companies. The data released by Friends of the Earth and 350.org in a report called ‘Fuelling the Fire’, is also available online as an interactive map. The map allows the public to see every company or fund their local council invests in. Greater Manchester’s pension fund is shown to be just over £17 billion, with just over £1.7 billion invested in fossil companies, the top four being: Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Centrica.

Ellen Gibson, a campaigner with 350.org, is adamant that these investments need to stop, saying:

“With hurricanes devastating the Caribbean, wildfires ravaging southern Europe and flooding and drought destroying lives across the world – the impacts of climate change are hitting hard.

“Despite this, UK councils are still ploughing billions into companies like Exxon, Shell and BP who have spent decades fuelling the crisis, and profiting on its back.

“Climate change isn’t a problem for future generations – it’s happening now, and action has never been more urgent. Our councils, and all public institutions, must cut their ties with the fossil fuel companies responsible and divest.”

The ‘Fuelling the Fire’ report is released just in time for the UN international COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany. These talks aim to strengthen the principal agreements made in the landmark COP21 Paris talks in 2015. This was the first real global deal to tackle climate change by reducing carbon dioxide production; but lacked the regulatory teeth needed to ensure progress is made.

The UK government attending these talks, has made many promises on climate action. But the campaigners believe that the huge amounts of cash local authority pension funds are funnelling into the fossil fuel industry, sits at odds with the governments stance. Chris Smith, a campaigner with Fossil Free Greater Manchester (FFGM), says:

“It’s shocking to see our pension fund continue to invest so significantly in such a financially risky and morally bankrupt industry.

“Two years ago, our government agreed to the Paris Treaty, pledging that the UK, along with the rest of the world, would take real action to tackle climate change.

“The fact that our Greater Manchester pension fund continues to invest in the companies responsible for the crisis flies in the face of this agreement, and of all the efforts being made locally to reduce emissions and combat climate change.”

GMCA, Green City Region?

The major local effort, by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), to combat climate change is the Climate Change and Low Emissions Implementation Plan (2016-2020) (CCLEIP). The plan aims to achieve a 48% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. The plan contains a list of ten critical actions, one of which appears to fly in the face of the GM pension funds preference for investing in fossil fuel companies, it states:

“SUPPORTING CLEAN BUSINESS: Supporting our businesses to become more resource efficient, access new low carbon market opportunities and make the transition to a low carbon economy.”

The CCLEIP plan runs in conjunction and aims to complement two other initiatives, the GM Low Emisssions Strategy and the GM Air Quality Action Plan, in protecting the environment.

Fossil Free Greater Manchester member Mark Burton is concerned about the mixed messages being sent by GM local authorities environment protecting initiatives and their pension fund investments, saying:

“GM Pension Fund is the worst offender, accounting for more than 10% of all Local Government Pension Funds fossil fuel holdings. It has the largest absolute and proportional holdings. And they continue to pretend that they are concerned about climate and faff around with ineffective engagement strategies, helping these firms to greenwash their activity.”

Divestment campaign

Research estimates that 80% of the worlds coal, oil and gas reserves are un-burnable, if climate change is to be halted. This is the reason FFGM are asking for the many billions of pounds invested in the fossil fuel industry to be diverted to clean energy projects. They call on the GM Pension Fund to:

“ Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies.

“ Divest from companies involved in the exploitation of coal and unconventional oil or gas within two years and all fossil fuel companies within 5 years

“ Work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to develop and fund a low-carbon investment programme for Greater Manchester.”

Divestment campaigns aimed at other local authorities have already borne fruit. Waltham Forest and Southwark Council Pension Funds have promised to remove all fossil fuel investments from their portfolios, with another four making partial commitments.

 

Conrad Bower

Fossil fuel divestment commitment information – click here

Fuelling the Fire interactive map – click here

Petition calling on Greater Manchester to divest from fossil fuels – click here

Featured image: constructed from Fuelling the Fire interactive map

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