Capital push to divest fossil funds

CITY of Edinburgh Council will be challenged to divest from investments in fossil fuels that help finance its multi-million investments by a powerful cross-party group of Councillors today.

Collectively, Scottish Councils invest £1.8 billion of their pension funds in fossil fuels.

The Evening News understand at least 13 councillors from the SNP, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Green parties, have come together in an extraordinary coalition and signed a pledge saying: “I call on the Lothian Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels”.

Those signing include four SNP Councillors from Edinburgh and Midlothian, all Edinburgh’s Green Councillors, and at least one Labour Councillor. The move, in the wake of Thursday’s successful Clean Air Day event, comes just days before Wednesday’s quarterly meeting of the Council Pension Committee meeting where a report on the carbon footprint of the Lothian Pension Fund – and what should be done about it – will be discussed.

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Controversially, the report backs continued investment in fossil fuels, despite repeated pledges by council chiefs to do more to clean-up Edinburgh’s reputation, and pressure is mounting for the council to shift its stance.

“Scotland is already a world leader in renewable energy and is committed to doing its part in tackling climate change,” the SNP’s Amy McNeese-Mechan said, “We need to aim for a society in which our investment decisions contribute to our goal of creating a flourishing low carbon economy.”

Green Councillor Claire Miller said she signed the pledge because: “Climate scientists tell us we cannot extract any more fossil fuels if we intend to limit man-made climate change.”

She added: “Pension fund members shouldn’t be risking their retirement income on investments that won’t stand the test of time.”

Labour’s Mandy Watt said Edinburgh risked falling behind the environmentally and morally sound example being set by some other councils. She said: “Other local councils, together with members of their community, have made a compelling case for divesting from fossil fuels. Surely, in light of this, other pension funds must consider divesting.”

The Lothian Pension Fund is administered by the City of Edinburgh Council and provides pensions for 75,913 staff and former staff of the City of Edinburgh, West Lothian, East Lothian and Midlothian councils, Scottish Water, Visit Scotland, Edinburgh Leisure, Edinburgh College, universities including Heriot-­Watt and Edinburgh Napier, and 80 other charities and public bodies in the Lothians.

The Fund was valued at £6.6 billion, last year – with at least £153 million invested in oil, gas and coal companies including ExxonMobil, Shell and BP.

The push is being driven by group Divest Lothian who published a briefing setting out the case for divestment, focusing on the financial and ethical case for action. Spokesperson Amanda Grimm said: “It’s really encouraging to see Edinburgh’s Councillors following the path laid by our Universities and MPs in calling for an end to fossil fuel investment. Fossil fuel companies’ time is up: they are not only damaging our climate, they’re also failing to plan for the future, making them a highly risky investment. This could be a pivotal moment where money and political power unite to push for a brighter future for people here in the Lothians, and around the world.”

Jude Ferguson, a Lothian Pension Fund member, said “I’m investing in my pension for a better tomorrow. Investing in fossil fuels to increase the value is not a price worth paying. .”

Ric Lander, Divestment Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “It’s great to see Lothian Councillors across party lines supporting the call for divestment from fossil fuels. Investment decisions made by pension funds will shape everyone’s future and so we all need to get involved. With this political support the Lothian Pension Fund could now take a historic opportunity to be the first council pension fund in Scotland to commit to going fossil free.”

Last month Lothian MP’s pledged to support divestment of their own pension including Labour’s Ian Murray and Danielle Rowley, SNP’s Deidre Brock, Joanna Cherry and Tommy Sheppard, and Liberal Democrat’s Christine Jardine.