County Council accused of ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ over climate votes

Press Release
Divest East Sussex [1]
15 October 2019
More info: 07596 483 272

COUNTY COUNCIL ACCUSED OF ‘BREATHTAKING HYPOCRISY’ OVER CLIMATE VOTES
East Sussex County Council decides to keep funding climate change while declaring a ‘climate emergency’

Tuesday 15 October, County Hall, Lewes: East Sussex County Council has been acccused of ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ today, after it declared a ‘climate emergency’ while also rejecting calls to stop investing in the giant oil and gas companies that are driving the climate crisis.

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) currently invests £145 million of the East Sussex Pension Fund in the giant oil and gas companies that are driving our current climate crisis – companies like Exxon, Shell and BP [2]. Over the last four years these companies have spent over a billion dollars on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying, in an effort to undermine global action on climate change [3]. They are also projected to spend $4.9 trillion dollars over the next decade developing new oil and gas fields, none of which investment is compatible with capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius [4]. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned that investors in these industries – such as East Sussex County Council – face ‘potentially huge’ losses from climate change action that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas ‘literally unburnable’ [5].

The County Council was forced to hold a debate on its continued role in funding climate change after campaigners collected over 5,300 signatures on a petition demanding it ditch these investments. The call to divest the Fund from fossil fuels is backed by Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes), Hastings Borough Council, Lewes Town Council, Lewes District Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and UNISON [6]. Over 1,100 institutions around the world – which together manage over $11 trillion worth of assets – have already made divestment commitments, including Southwark and Cardiff Pension Fund [7].

Scores of members of the public from across the County packed the Council chambers to hear Tuesday’s debate. The motion to divest the Fund from fossil fuels was supported by only 4 Councillors, with 35 voting against and 11 Councillors abstaining [8].

Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex said: “It’s breathtaking hypocrisy for East Sussex County Council to declare a climate emergency while continuing to invest in the very companies that are driving the climate crisis – and a clear sign of its contempt for all those of us who’ve been demanding urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. This was a litmus test for whether the Council is serious about tackling climate change and they’ve blown it on the day of their declaration.”

Gabriel Carlyle from Fossil Free Hastings added: “The Council’s current policy of ‘engaging’ with oil and gas companies isn’t working. Indeed, despite many years of such ‘engagement’ not a single major publicly listed oil company has re-aligned its business model with a 2ºC world [9], let alone a 1.5 ºC world. These investments are a disaster for the planet and bad for local pension fund members. It’s time to divest the East Sussex Pension Fund from fossil fuels.”

More info: 07596 483 272

NOTES

[1] https://divesteastsussex.wordpress.com
[2] Response by the Chair of the Pension Committee to Frances Witt, 16 October 2018: https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/documents/b12581/Item%204%20-%20Questions%20from%20members%20of%20the%20public%2016th-Oct-2018%2010.00%20Full%20Council.pdf?T=9
[3] https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc
[4] https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/oil-gas-and-mining/overexposed/
[5] https://www.ft.com/content/622de3da-66e6-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5
[6] Maria Caulfield wrote to the County Council this July in support of divesting the Fund. ‘Campaigners’ joy as Hastings council agrees fossil fuel divestment’, 14 April 2016, Hastings Observer, http://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/local/campaigners-joy-as-hastings-council-agrees-fossil-fuel-divestment-1-7328414. ‘Lewes Town Council calls for East Sussex Pension Fund to ditch its investments in oil, coal and gas’, 7 March 2017, https://fossilfreehastings.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/lewes-town-council-calls-for-east-sussex-pension-fund-to-ditch-its-investments-in-oil-coal-and-gas. ‘Brighton Council calls for East Sussex Pension Fund to ditch fossil fuels’, 6 April 2017, https://fossilfreehastings.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/brighton-council-calls-for-east-sussex-pension-fund-to-ditch-fossil-fuels. UNISON: https://www.unison.org.uk/news/press-release/2018/01/unison-launches-campaign-divest-pensions-carbon/
[7] https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/ and https://www.foe.cymru/cardiff-council-makes-historic-decision-ditch-fossil-fuels
[8] The 4 members who voted for divestment were Councillors Ruth O’Keeffe, Daniel Shing, Stephen Shing and Trevor Webb. The 11 abstentions were Councillors (Philip) Daniel, Field, Grover, Lambert, Osborne, Rodohan, Shuttleworth, Swansborough, Tutt, Ungar and Wallis. The Liberal Democrats attempted to pass a motion requesting that the Fund instruct its investment consultants (Hymans Robertson) ‘to provide an analysis of the implications of fossil fuel divestment [and] it’s associated risks and opportunities … to allow the Fund to decide whether it can meet its long-term strategic objectives if it divest [its] current fossil fuel holdings.’ This was supported by 18 Councillors and opposed by 31 Councillors, with one abstention. In the end the Council passed a motion ‘Request[ing] that the Pension Committee asks its investment consultants to undertake a further investigation, with particular focus on the long term risks and opportunities to the Fund associated with climate change, and report back to the Committee on how, in the light of its need to fulfilits obligations to all pension scheme employers and members, it might further integrate ESG [Environmental, Social and corporate Governance] considerations including those relating to its approach to fossil fuel exposure, into its investment strategy.’ See https://eastsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/448479 and https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/documents/s27621/Item%204%20-%20Petition%20-%20Council%20decision.pdf
[9] ‘Carbon Performance Assessment in Oil and Gas: Discussion paper’, Transition Pathway Initiative, November 2018, http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/tpi/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Oil-and-gas-discussion-paper.pdf

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