To support the Campaign by DorsetAction to get Dorset Council to divest from fossil fuels and specifically to instruct its Pension Fund Manager (Brunel) to do so, DorsetCAN organised a Flood of Questions to Dorset Council. Here's the report from the Questions Team:
‘Over three-quarters of local councils have declared a climate emergency. For the majority of councils, their largest carbon emissions will come from their pension fund investments.’ (UK Divest)
This statement made a deep impression on me when I read the report published by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland, in February 2021.
In support of Dorset Action’s 21 month long Climate-Friendly Pensions Campaign, the DorsetCAN Questions Team coordinated a series of questions from concerned individuals, both pension fund members and concerned Dorset residents which were submitted to the Dorset Council Pension Fund Committee virtual meeting on June 15 at 10.00 am .
One question from a pension fund member was
‘Will you please poll Pension Fund members to see if there is a demand among us for an ethical investment option , rather than us having to continue to invest in fossil fuels when we don't want to ?’ which as far as we could see had not been asked before.
‘Brunel has made a 'net-zero by 2050' commitment.There is a clear contradiction here between Brunel’s date and Dorset Council’s own target of 2040. Surely this is a ‘direct action’ and Dorset Council should instruct Brunel to invest in order to meet their 2040 date?’ – this is also a new and fair question to ask the Pension Fund.
And there were several other pertinent questions around the committee’s accountability to their pension fund members as well as enquiries about relevant actions in progress, for example:
‘In Dorset Council’s ‘Making it happen action plan’, the Council’s Objective 1 includes the following action:
“Investigate decarbonising Dorset Council pension scheme” with the stated target:
“Investigations carried out and reported to EAP by March 2021”. #
Have those investigations been carried out and have they been reported to the EAP? If so, what did the report say?’
First of all, despite the following information to be found online: "All questions, statements and responses will be published in full within the minutes of the meeting" a couple of questions from the public which received acknowledgments were not to be found in the minutes at the time of the meeting.
Secondly, despite the following statement: "Questions will be read out by an officer of the council and a response given by the appropriate Portfolio Holder or officer at the meeting. "(my bold italics), Cllrs Andy Canning and Peter Wharf announced at the beginning of the meeting that they had decided between them (in consultation with “Member Services” (inaudible..?)) not to have any of the questions read out, but that the questions and responses would be published online and responded to individually.
The reason given was that ‘the topic’ of divestment was discussed in September 2020 and we were referred back to those minutes. This generalised reason ignores the pertinent specifics of many of the June questions and the fact that that discussion took place 9 months ago. The Chairman did then make a statement clarifying Dorset Council’s current position and affirming that they are responsible both for their pension fund members contributions and for investing that money as wisely as possible. Quote: ‘This duty overides any other considerations.’ He also mentioned that Brunel would not be reconsidering their strategies around de-carbonisation until 2022.
The lack of direct response to the questions at the committee meeting was disappointing and to date no responses have been published/given to any of the questions. I shall be following developments and shall complete this report in our next newsletter.
Thought for the Future
I read the transcript of COP26 President Alok Sharma’s speech at the first Net Zero Pensions summit, published June 1, 2021 . Here is what he said:
"Today, green investments are smart investments.
In the majority of the world, renewables are cheaper than new coal and gas.
Putting your money in fossil fuels creates the very real risk of stranded assets."
He then supports and urges financial institutions to take the following steps:
First, commit to exit coal finance.
So that, together, we make COP26 the moment we consign coal power to the past where it belongs.
Second, increase investments in climate action in developing and emerging markets.
Thirdly, protect nature.
By 2025 ensure none of your investments contribute to deforestation.
And by 2030 ensure your investments are contributing to the restoration of the natural world.
Finally, disclose your climate risk in line with the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures, or TCFD.
He also points out that this will become mandatory across most of the UK economy in 2023 and that the UK government will shortly introduce regulations on what this means for pensions, to ensure trustees take account of climate change risk in each and every decision.
There is a real advantage in getting your house in order.
And that in this vital year for climate action, the year of COP26, you are playing your part in keeping 1.5 degrees alive.
On 11th June, the Dorset Echo reported as follows:
DORSET Pension Fund is being lobbied to further reduce the carbon footprint of its investments.
Several letters have been sent from fund members and campaigners for next week’s meeting (June 15) calling for changes.
Committee members have been lobbied in the past by Extinction Rebellion campaigners and have also entertained two Dorset GPs, Drs Rebecca Smith and Ruth Arnold, who in 2019 lobbied for the committee to reduce the fund’s reliance on any investments which could cause environmental harm.
Some changes have been made to investment policy as a result but the campaigners say the fund managers should go further and act faster.
At its meeting in September 2020, the committee agreed to a strategy of decarbonisation which should result in a gradual reduction in allocations of investment to companies which are high carbon emitters.
Said Sandra Reeve from Charmouth in her letter to the committee: “BH, BP and Shell account for 40 per cent of total direct investments across all local authority pension funds in the UK.
“It is becoming clear that investing in fossil fuels is increasingly costly. It is a financial risk—with UK Public Pensions losing £2 billion on oil investments in the last 4 years. It’s also a political risk—with the UK public more concerned about climate change than ever before.”
She claims that at the current rate of a 7 per cent reduction a year it will take 15 years for the fund to divest completely from fossil fuel funds.
Fund pensioner, Pam Rosling from Hazelbury Bryan has asked the committee to poll all fund members to establish what demand there is for an ethical investment option, rather than investment in fossil fuels.
Read the full article on the Dorset Echo website
DorsetCAN supports Dorset Action with their Pensions Campaign! We are stronger together and now we have an opportunity to translate that into action!
View the full document and your invitation to take action to get Dorset Council to divest from fossil fuels. Then please come to the:
Questions Team Meeting ( bring your question for the Pension Fund Committee!)
June 2, 5.30pm -6.30 pm
Zoom Meeting link
Meeting ID: 825 7273 8654 Passcode: 605530