by Roger Aitken — Waltham Forest became the first local government pension fund in the UK to “commit to divest” from all fossil fuels following a meeting convened by its Pension Fund Committee on 22 September, with a unanimously approved recommendation that would see it “exclude fossil fuels” from its strategy over the next five years.
Rob Platts, from the local divestment campaign run by Friends of the Earth Waltham Forest, commented: “With this decision, Waltham Forest has shown true leadership. By divesting from fossil fuels, the fund is not only taking necessary action to protect fund members’ pensions from risky investments, but it is also joining hundreds of public institutions worldwide in taking a stand against an industry which is causing climate chaos and endangering our future.”
The Waltham Forest fund currently invests £23.9 million (c.$18.4m) in the oil and gas industries. And, the decision to divest comes exactly a year after data was published revealing that UK local government pension schemes invest over £14 billion (c.$10.76bn) in the fossil fuel industry.
Councillor Simon Miller, the Chair of the Pension Fund Committee, said in the wake of the announcement: “Waltham Forest Pension Fund is proud to commit to divesting from fossil fuels. Not only does this mean that the fund will not be invested in stranded assets, but will be actively investing in cleaner, greener investments to the benefit of our community, borough, and environment.”
Activists including Ellen Gibson, UK Divestment Campaigner for 350.org, remarked that the move represented “a big moment” for the divestment movement in the UK in tackling climate change.
She asserted: “Waltham Forest has demonstrated the kind of action we need all pension funds to be taking to address the urgent issue of climate change and to protect their workers’ futures. We are calling on them to join Waltham Forest and hundreds of institutions globally, and divest from fossil fuels.”
The Waltham Forest local authority now joins almost 600 institutions worth over $3.4 trillion globally - including more than 70 pension funds, 629 institutions and over 50,000 individuals - to make a divestment commitment. Institutions divesting to date include Government organizations (24%), Faith-based groups (23%), Foundations (21%), Colleges, Universities and schools (11%) and Pension funds (11%) aside from NGOs (6%) and For-profit corporations (2%).
In Britain, prominent public institutions including the British Medical Association, the Guardian Media Group and the Quakers have committed to fully divest. On top of this, three local government pension schemes - the Environment Agency, London’s Haringey and South Yorkshire - have made partial commitments to date.