Five Hastings Councillors do U-turn, as County Council rejects calls to stop funding climate change

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

FOUR HASTINGS COUNCILLORS DO U-TURN, AS COUNTY COUNCIL REJECTS CALLS TO STOP FUNDING CLIMATE CHANGE
Six Hastings Councillors vote against motion calling on County Council to stop investing in giant oil and gas companies like Exxon and BP

Six Hastings Councillors voted against a motion calling on the County Council to stop funding climate change following a debate an County Hall yesterday (15 October) [2]. Five of these Councillors (Matthew Beaver, Tania Charman, Martin Clarke, Peter Pragnell and Phil Scott) previously voted in favour of such a move when it was voted on in Hastings Borough Council in April 2016 [3]. Hastings Councillor Godfrey Daniel also voted against the motion to divest the Fund from fossil fuels [2].

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 [4].

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 [5]. 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 [6]. 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’ [7].

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 that it ditch these investments. The call to divest the Fund from fossil fuels has been backed by Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes), Hastings Borough Council, Lewes Town Council, Lewes District Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and UNISON [8]. 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 Funds [9].

Scores of members of the public from across the County packed the Council chamber to hear Tuesday’s debate. However, the motion to divest the Fund from fossil fuels was supported by only 4 Councillors, with 35 voting against and 11 Councillors abstaining [10].

Gabriel Carlyle from Fossil Free Hastings said: “It’s outrageous that five Hastings Councillors who voted in favour of divesting the East Sussex Pension Fund in April 2016 reversed their position yesterday, and that another Hastings Councillor joined them. This was a huge slap in the face for the thousands of East Sussex residents from across the political spectrum who signed the Divest East Sussex petition. The Council’s current policy of ‘engaging’ with oil and gas companies has clearly failed. 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 [11], 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.”

Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex added: “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. This was a litmus test for whether the Council is serious about tackling the climate crisis and they blew it on the day of their declaration.”

More info: 07596 483 272

NOTES

[1] https://divesteastsussex.wordpress.com
[2] See https://eastsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/448479. The motion in question, moved by Councillor Stephen Shing, stated that: “The Council’s current policy of ‘engaging’ with fossil fuel companies has been unsuccessful, and its continued investments in fossil fuels are ‘no longer aligned with the interests of the [East Sussex Pension] Fund’ and pose ‘a material financial risk’ to the Fund”. The motion therefore proposed that “in line with its Responsible Investment Policy, the East Sussex Pension Fund: (a) immediately freezes any new investment in the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies; and (b) that it divests from its existing investments in these companies within five years.” The Pension Fund’s own Responsible Investment Policy states that: ‘Ultimately the Fund will always retain the right to disinvest from certain companies or sectors in the event that all other approaches are unsuccessful and it is determined that the investment is no longer aligned with the interests of the Fund or that the issue poses a material financial risk.’ (Responsible Investment Policy, East Sussex Pension Fund, November 2018, https://www.eastsussexpensionfund.org/media/4444/investment-strategy-statement-2019.pdf)
[3] Hastings Borough Council voted unanimously in favour of divesting the East Sussex Pension Fund in April 2016 (https://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/campaigners-joy-as-hastings-council-agrees-fossil-fuel-divestment-1-7328414). For a list of those present at that meeting see: https://hastings.moderngov.co.uk/documents/g1649/Printed%20minutes%2013th-Apr-2016%2018.00%20Full%20Council.pdf?T=1
[4] 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
[5] https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc
[6] https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/oil-gas-and-mining/overexposed/
[7] https://www.ft.com/content/622de3da-66e6-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5
[8] 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/
[9] https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/commitments/ and https://www.foe.cymru/cardiff-council-makes-historic-decision-ditch-fossil-fuels
[10] See note [2] above for the text of the divestment motion. 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’ – something that Divest East Sussex has been calling for for over 2½ years. This was supported by 18 Councillors and opposed by 31 Councillors, with one abstention. In the end the Council passed a very weak Conservative 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://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/documents/s27621/Item%204%20-%20Petition%20-%20Council%20decision.pdf
[11] ‘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

* Please note that this press release was revised on 18-10-19 to reflect the fact that Hastings Councillor Tania Charman (Labour) also voted *for* divestment at the April 2016 Hastings Borough Council meeting. The original press release stated incorrectly that *four* Hastings Councillors had done a U-turn on their votes. In fact it was five!

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