Councils' pension fund fossil fuel investments 'fly in face of Paris Agreement'

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Councils across the UK have more than £16 billion of pension funds invested in fossil fuel companies, helping to drive climate change, campaigners have claimed.

There has been no improvement in the levels of investment in companies which extract coal, oil and gas since 2015, despite pressure on councils to take climate risks into account since the world signed up to the Paris Agreement on tackling global warming.

Some £16.1 billion out of a total pension pot of £287.9 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry, with almost £7 billion almost directly invested in coal, oil and gas companies and an estimated £9.1 billion indirectly through pooled investment vehicles.

The figures from campaign groups 350.org, Platform, Energy Democracy Project and Friends of the Earth are drawn from Freedom of Information requests, pension fund annual reports and other official documents.

Compared to data from 2015, the total value of staff pensions invested in fossil fuels has risen from £14 billion, and the share of investment in the sector as a proportion of total pensions funds has declined slightly.

The campaigners said Manchester, Dumfries and Galloway, Torfaen, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Merseyside authorities were among the most exposed to fossil fuel investments.

But they also highlighted councils which were making pension fund investments into clean energy and public goods, including Falkirk Pension Fund providing £30 million for a programme of 190 new homes including council housing and Lancashire County Council investing £12 million in a community-owned solar farm.

Launching the figures as the latest UN international climate talks take place in Bonn, Germany, campaigners are calling for local authorities to "divest" or remove pension fund investments from the fossil fuel industry.

Jane Thewlis, West Yorkshire Pension Fund member and divestment campaigner, said: "Our pensions are investing in the companies responsible for the climate crisis.

"This flies in the face of the Paris Agreement, and of all the efforts being made locally to reduce emissions and combat climate change. It's time to divest."

Some councils have already committed to divest, including Waltham Forest in London.

Waltham Forest councillor Simon Miller said: "Given current pressures on local authority budgets, our pension funds have a key role to play, not only in making our economy greener and our communities healthier, but as a driver of sustainable, future focused investment in local areas."