Climate campaigners staged a noisy protest to demand a council pension fund stops investing in oil and gas companies.
The Bang the Drum protest this morning through Lewes in East Sussex was a challenge to recent government legislation which criminalises disruptive demonstrations.
Groups across East Sussex and Brighton and Hove marched with a 20-foot model boat and a samba band to a meeting of the county council.
Gabriel Carlyle, of Divest East Sussex, said the pension fund continued to invest in oil companies like Shell and BP, despite the county council declaring a climate emergency in October 2019.
“Not only is this hypocrisy on a grand scale, but by clinging on to these investments it is also providing a fig-leaf for these companies’ ongoing attempts to block effective climate action . It’s time for East Sussex County Council to stop making excuses and divest from fossil fuels.”
He said councils in Brighton and Hove, Hastings, Bexhill Lewes and Peacehaven had called o the fund to divest.
The Pension fund committee is due to vote later this month on whether to divest from fossil fuels.
A Lewes resident, raised the issue at this morning’s council meeting. He said the climate plans of large oil and gas companies were “grossly insufficient” to meet the limit on warming of 1.5C. He also accused the chair of the pension committee, Cllr Gerard Fox, of an “ideological approach” to fossil fuel investments.
Before his microphone was turned off, Mr Simanowitz said:
“Now is the time for the pension committee and this council is to show leadership and to project the future generation not the fossil fuel industry.”
Cllr Fox said the fund’s principal role was to invest to secure the best financial return for its beneficiaries.
“It is not for the Pension Fund to carry out intensive research into the company’s climate plans as listed in this question, some of which are not within the underlying holdings of the Fund.”
He said the fund was not just him. It was also the fund’s committee members, council officers and external advisers. Its position would be no different if he were not chairman, he said. He said if his position were ideological, the fund would not have invested in climate solution funds.
The East Sussex pension fund has 82,000 scheme members and makes payments to more than 23,000 pensioners. Its website says it engages with the boards of underlying companies, the wider industry and policy makers.
At 31 March 2021, the fossil fuel exposure in the pension fund was reported to be £82.2m but this has fallen since then following recent decisions by the pension fund committee. Exposure to oil and gas majors has been estimated at less than 0.5% of the fund. The fund’s website says there is no exposure to fossil fuel companies in the equity portfolio, which represents 40% of the total investment strategy.
- The Pension Fund Committee meets at 10am on 22 July 2022 at county hall in Lewes. Link to agenda