Monday, 28 September 2015

Avon Pension Fund Committee Meeting Sept 2015

This was to be our third full APF committee meeting. We were attending specifically to see how the scoping document for the RI policy would be received, as well as to ask a couple of questions in direct response to that document. This was the first time we had put together questions for the committee as in the past just reading out a statement seemed enough . So it was hard to know what to expect. Colleagues from Transition Bath and a Green Councillor in Bath had also put forward some questions and we knew that since our last visit to this committee Holly had been to the investment committee and Bristol Unison had written a request to the chair for the fund to divest from fossil fuels. So it was beginning to feel like pressure was building on APF and it would be clear to all that we weren’t going anywhere until this matter was resolved.

This committee meeting took place in the grand council chamber of the Guild Hall with its semi circular seating layout and ornate ceilings it did indeed feel like a grand setting.

Joel and I (Richard) were there to deliver our questions and also Virginia from Transition Bath was there observing. On arrival we were given a paper copy of the answers to our questions which came as a surprise as we thought they would be answered within the meeting. The answers were not really helpful other than to clarify that the policy development and workshops would exclude fund members and the public. Our question relating to restricting climate sensitive sectors had a blanket response referring to the fund complying with any regulatory requirements that emerge before the review is complete. Again our question relating to the length (time) of the review was responded to by saying they felt it was an appropriate timeframe.  Not daunted by this I read out the intro statement and Joel summarised our questions and their answers challenging them further on a number of points.

I (Joel) asked the chair if I could seek clarification on the brief (and in our view unsatisfactory) responses we had received.  I should have asked how long I had as I then stumbled over rephrasing the questions and trying to explain to the committee, in layperson's terms, how the downside risk of staying in very climate sensitive sectors was large over the next year but the chance of strong performance from fossil fuels was limited.  It ended up as a debate between Tony and I and he felt like a year for a review was fine but had no evidence - the only clear point I made was he relied on the RI policies of their managers but yet at least two of them have no policy at all.  On reflection I felt I spent all the time I had on trying to find out as much as I could about the fund rather than focusing on the questions we were asking.

Some snippets from the members of the committee. Cherry Beath (Bath Councillor on the Committee) stressed that this was an important  issue and needed the committees close attention. The chair requested that the committee should receive a report back after the Paris COP.

The committee then moved on to discuss Lin’s (Bath Councillor) questions and dealt with these by a quick show of hands as to how many had seen the UNPRI online videos of their recent conference (3-4) and how many had read the six principles of institutional investing (10 hands).

The committee next turned to the voting records of investment managers at AGMs.  Normally investors vote with management (the logic being why own a company unless you like what management are doing!) but sometimes they vote against.  The APF votes against a bit more than average which is good. Richard Orton (unison rep on the Committee) challenged by referring to thermal coal and felt that the investment managers were in the hands of the big companies like Rio Tinto  and nothing was changing. Steve Pearce (Bristol Councillor on the Committee) also echoed concerns using fossil fuel divestment as an example.  The committee were disappointed that the presentation was just about figures rather than wider engagement by investment managers - not saying the RI annual report is brilliant but some of them hadn’t read it all as it details the engagement done on behalf of the fund.

An item detailing the Government’s proposals to encourage pooled arrangements whereby pension funds joined together to reduce overheads and make economies of scale prompted a discussion. It was agreed that APF staff could continue to explore possible options. This could potentially have an impact on our campaign in that governance/decision making could be given to another pension committee.  Although it will take at least a few years to happen so definitely not a reason to stop our campaign.

Finally we came to the presentation of the report introducing the RI scoping document. Liz explained that the £25k costs of conducting the review had not been budgeted for. When challenged whether this was enough money she responded that Mercer already had experience in this area of work and were confident that they could produce what was required within the costs. Steve commented that given this then surely they should complete well within the 12 months.

When opened up to members a number of them were clearly in support of the concerns that we had raised over the year in relation to investment in fossil fuels and their impact on the climate.
·       Comments were made by Ann Beresford (independent member of the Committee), Steve Pearce , Cherry Beath and Richard Orton that fossil fuels are becoming increasingly unattractive investment saying that in 40/50 years time there will be very limited use of fossil fuels.  No one argued against the climate change being an important consideration.
·       Several of them commented that the representations that have been made should be included in the scoping document. One councillor felt that on the scoping document needed to reflect all issues not just those that shouted the loudest. After some further debate it was agreed that the need for the review to examine fossil fuel divestment issues would be covered in the minutes and not in the scoping document.
·        
     The chair said that the review should include all the comments made by the public up until this meeting. This seemed to suggest that further representations to the committee on this matter would not be considered within the time frame of the review. This has led me to reflect that although we should have representation at future committees over the next 12 months there was no need for questions/ statements relating to fossil fuel divestment.
·        In closing remarks Tony said looking at Joel and I that he was sure that we would hold the committee to account regarding inclusion of issues relating to fossil fuels.
It felt like because of our persistence and determination over the last year we had given the committee members permission to raise their concerns about fossil fuels which may well have been overlooked. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we are building a productive relationship with members of the committee and our concerns are being taken seriously.

Richard & Joel

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Meeting with representatives of the 
Avon Pension Fund

L-R: Freddie Collins, Liz Woodyard, Tony Bartlett, me (Richard Lawrence), Elaine Ashley


I had been really looking forward to this meeting. If you had asked me 3 months ago to attend a meeting with Avon Pension Fund (APF) representatives I would have been concerned that my level of knowledge of pension funds would make such a meeting very one-sided. But with the support of 350.org's and Share Action's knowledge and advice I felt confident that we had some important points to make.

So finally there we were sat round the table with representatives (Liz Woodyard, Investment Manager and Tony Bartlett, Head of Business Finance and Pensions) from APF in their Keynsham office, to talk about divestment. We had been invited to meet Liz and Tony so that they could fully understand our concerns and to inform the decision making process on the development of the scoping document for the review of their Responsible Investment (RI) policy.

They were very friendly and open in their approach to the meeting. It was clear from the outset that this meeting was as much about them informing us of APF’s investment practices and restrictions, as it was about them listening to our arguments for divestment from fossil fuels and support of the transition to a low carbon economy.

There was a definite resistance to out-and-out divestment. But they acknowledged that the time had come for the fund to consider the carbon footprint of its investments, as well as building climate change risks and opportunities into the scope of their review. I was a little blinded by investment science in their reference to increased risks. And costs of particular investments were barred and at that stage we agreed to deliver.

Tipping points were mentioned in relation to investment in renewables as well as alternative criteria for investment decisions (low carbon funds). Unfortunately in their eyes these tipping points had not yet been reached. They were concerned that to date renewables have not achieved good growth and the tools for the investment industry to use to inform low carbon investments had still to be proven.

On a positive note we learnt that Mercer, the investment consultant that APF use, is going to be involved in the review process. We gave this the thumbs up as they have just published an excellent report on conducting a climate risk assessment. Liz was also aware of Aviva’s recent publications in response to climate change, and the Environment Agency’s (EA) RI and climate change strategies. Liz felt however that the EA had only taken this approach because of the nature of their work and reputational risk so not all their practices would be used.

We exchanged information explaining about 350.org's work worldwide and the soon-to-be-launched information relating to Local Authority pension funds in the UK where the level of fossil fuel investments would be published. We told them of other pension funds, both international and UK based, who had either divested from some fossil fuels or invested in renewables.

Liz told us of their use of Jupiter who invest in industries mitigating climate change. We expressed some surprise at this and thought APF could do more to manage their image by promoting positive stories. Liz and Tony told us about some of the challenges of managing the pension fund which included the sharp rise of liabilities within the fund, government pressure to reduce cost of the scheme, paying out more than they get in and the increasing gap between fund value and liabilities.

A rather disappointing exchange followed on member involvement in the up and coming review and it became clear that annual member meetings or widespread consultation was not going to happen. We expressed our disappointment.

I got the impression that Liz and Tony had accepted climate change was here and needed to be responded to, but they were uncertain as to how that would unfold during the process of the review and rewriting of the responsible investment policy. My hope is that the RI policy is framed in such a way as to make it unlikely that investment managers would invest in the fossil fuel industry in future.

The meeting has given us much to think about, not least the enormous responsibility carried by pension funds and the complex set of technical rules of best practice within which they operate. The big question is are these now still fit for purpose and able to respond appropriately to climate change risks? Or is there a need for a rethink and greater intervention to steer and guide investment decisions to support a new low carbon economy? I hope that over the future years our involvement and wider member support will help encourage APF to take the long term view and divest from fossil fuels and support the transition to a low carbon economy. Today felt like another positive step along that road but there is a long way to go.

Richard Lawrence 18.08.2015


In Other News...

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has just announced that it will be the first Australian state government to divest from fossil fuels.

The announcement comes after a two year community campaign that has seen health, faith, union and environment groups call on the Barr Government to divest from coal, oil and gas companies.

Read the full story here.

Get Involved!
Sign and share our petition!  https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/p/APF

Come to our next meeting: 
When: 5pm, Tuesday 1st September
Where: Arts House Cafe, Stokes Croft (downstairs), 108A Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Fossil Free Fun in the Sun!

Team #DIVEST at Fieldview Festival


We've just come back from Field View Festival in Wiltshire, where we have been asking people "What future are YOU funding?".

The weather was lush, as you can see from these pictures.

The festival chooses a different campaign to support every year, and this year they chose DIVESTMENT! 


They let us speak to the crowd about our campaign...


We found some new supporters for both ours and for the Guardian's #KeepItInTheGround campaign...




We were joined by Fionn from Move Your Money and the Divest London Team

Fionn from Move Your Money
Charlie, Sophie and David from Divest London

The dress code was Club Tropicana. Some people took it very seriously...








This guy was on his stag do





We tagged lots of punters with #DIVEST.












And lots of people enjoyed posing with our divestment penguin...
























HUGE thanks to Fiona, Ruth, James and all the Field View Festival team for having us, and we thoroughly recommend you come along and see for yourself how great it is next year!


James showing his support with his guns


Fiona, feeling the Divestment Power











Saturday, 1 August 2015

Unanimous support from Bristol Unison!


Sometimes pictures tell the story and there seems little need for words. Although this is one such picture I feel I must reflect on it a little. It was another important step towards encouraging Avon Pension Fund (APF) to divest from fossil fuels and support a transition to a low carbon economy. Many of Avon Pension fund members are also members of Unison, so winning their support felt like an important move.

This Unison branch meeting was held in the old library building in Old Market. Elaine, a Fossil Free Bristol member, who is a Unison staff rep had done the work behind the scenes to get us on the agenda. We had put together a motion calling on Unison to write to APF supporting our call for divestment from fossil fuels and investing more in a low carbon economy. Most importantly we had also asked for Unison to circulate a letter to their members requesting them to sign our divestment petition.

The meeting was well attended with over 20 Unison officials from council and the voluntary sector. There was some doubt at the start whether we would be quorate and able to pass the motions on the agenda but that was soon met as latecomers made up the numbers. I would like to think that our agenda item was responsible for the good turnout but I suspect that a discussion on The Trade Union bill might have been the draw. From the outset there was a warm friendly atmosphere to the meeting and as agenda items were promptly dispatched it soon became our turn to present our motion. We talked about the suffering that climate change would bring to some of the poorest workers in the world and the need for climate justice.

We also linked the issue to the individual level and I referred to being a grandfather and wanting a safe future for my grandchildren. We confirmed that fossil fuel companies have reserved far in excess of what can be used to stay within a 2 degree temperature rise and minimise damage to the environment. We described our conversations with APF stressing our concerns over a potential carbon bubble and summarised the motion that had been put before members.

One issue was raised about whether supporting our campaign could suggest that we agreed with all other APF investments, when there were probably a number of suspect ones. We agreed and talked about APF’s ESG policies and their preferences to work with corporations to bring about change rather than pure divestment.


When the motion was put to the meeting it was unanimously carried by the 13 people eligible to vote. The chair (Mark Hubbard – Support Hub Manager at VOSCUR) thanked us after the vote for bringing an interesting issue to the branch. He said it was great to get the links between union activism and wider social issues. The branch secretary (Steve Crawshaw) had previously commented to Elaine when she first approached him 'This is a great campaign and well done for getting it in front of the committee. Happy to put it on the agenda for the next branch committee’ so we realised that we had reached a receptive audience by approaching the union.

With the meeting finishing 10 minutes early there was time for a photo before people disappeared down the pub!

The following morning whilst setting out from home I exchanged greetings with a union member from last night’s meeting who was collecting my recycling. I was in my car so not able to speak but in that brief wave of an arm I felt a connection that went beyond words; an acknowledgement that what we are doing is important and other people going about their daily work agree. This is an issue that everyone could connect to if only we had the chance to present the case to them.

A big thank you must go to the Bristol Branch of Unison for giving us the time to do just that. With all the concerns that unions currently face with the upcoming Trade Union bill they still took the time to listen and and support our campaign. We are hopeful of speaking to more union branches in the Avon area and receiving an equally receptive response.


Richard Lawrence and Elaine Ashley 

In other news...they're listening!

Image result for YES!!! meme
We're quietly very pleased

We have been invited to meet with the investment team of the APF! They are in the process of writing a draft of a review of their Responsible Investment Policy (RIP), and they have asked us to come to a meeting to discuss our concerns before they finalise the draft.

We are very excited, and take this to be a clear sign that they are listening to us. 

The meeting is on 13th August - watch this space! 

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We're q
Get Involved!
Come to our next meeting: 
When: 5pm, Tuesday 1st September
Where: Arts House Cafe, Stokes Croft (downstairs), 108A Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Help us WIN our campaign!

Next month we will be meeting again with the Avon Pension Fund to persuade them to divest their interests in fossil fuel companies. You can HELP US WIN by signing our petition (click here)!
The Avon Pension Fund is the local government pension scheme, with more than 100 employers, and over 90,000 people paying their pensions into it every month. They have a £3.3 billion endowment, a substantial amount of which is invested in coal, oil and gas companies. This will be our second meeting with the pension fund board members, and we plan to sway them with a petition of at least 1000 signatures from people who live in the area, and 10 letters from pension fund members. We currently have 178 signatures, so we REALLY NEED YOUR HELP!

If you (or someone you know) have a pension with Avon Pension Fund, then we would like to hear from you. Please email us fossilfreebristol@gmail.comDo you know any Council workers? Teachers? Social workers? Fire fighters? They may have a pension with the APF. To see the full list of employers in the scheme CLICK HERE
Do you know anyone who has a pension with the APF? Do they know their pension contributions are funding climate change? Let them know about our petition:
https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/p/APF
Do you currently work at one of these institutions? If so, we want to hear from you! Email us: fossilfreebristol@gmail.comWe are looking for people to join our photo campaign. Can you help us by taking a “selfie” showing your reason for signing? We would also be very grateful if you would ask your colleagues to sign our petition. Please let them know about our petition:
We're in the Guardian!
Our very own Richard Lawrence was in the Guardian "Money" section yesterday.

‘For our grandchildren’s futures, we can’t go on like this’. Former Bristol city council employee and grandfather Richard Lawrence freely admits he knows little about the ins and outs of pensions. Yet after witnessing the impact of climate change in Bangladesh and Nepal – and fearing the dramatic impact it will have on his grandchildren – he decided to tackle his pension fund, the giant £3.3bn Avon scheme, about its holdings in fossil fuel companies.
“I have seen some of the consequences of climate change first hand, and when I came back it just seemed like a no-brainer that fossil fuels have to be kept in the ground. I had to do something. I am a grandfather and, considering the future for my grandchildren, it is so obvious that we can’t go on like this.”...Read the full article here

More Divestment News

Church of England divests from dirtiest fossil fuels

Amazing news! The Church of England announced yesterday that it will divest its holdings of £12m in thermal coal and tar sands. This is a good step in the right direction and a huge win for the divestment campaign. A special shout-out to our faith campaigners in the UK!

350.org co-founder Bill McKibben commented: “This is the first great turnaround in the divestment fight, an institution which initially refused to move and then, in good Christian fashion, saw the light.
Much credit to the Church of England — they’re studying the signs of the times, as the Good Book says, and starting to show their concern for the poorest and most vulnerable parts of humanity and of creation!
Above all, I imagine, Desmond Tutu is pleased at this news, since the planet’s foremost Anglican was one of the foremost authors of this call to divest!“
A spokesperson said that the church feels a “moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor who are most vulnerable to climate change”.
The new investment policy bans investments in any company makes more than 10% of its revenues from thermal coal and tar sands. The church still has huge investment in oil and gas companies.
The announcement explicitly leaves the door open for complete divestment from coal, oil and gas companies. The divestment movement will continue to push the church further, in line with climate science and justice.
At the Church of England general synod in July, divestment will be on the agenda. The diocese of Oxford and Birmingham will submit motions for divestment from all fossil fuel companies.
Support the push to fully divest the Church of England from fossil fuels by signing and sharing Bright Now’s Fossil Free petition.
Get Involved!
Come to our next meeting: 
Wednesday 27th May, 19:00
at Helen's house (email us for the address: fossilfreebristol@gmail.com


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Fossil Free Bristol calls on Avon Pension Fund to divest from risky fossil fuels


Members of Fossil Free Bristol spoke at the board meeting of the Avon Pension Fund (APF) in Bath last Friday, calling on them to move their money away from risky fossil fuel investments. 

APF is the local government pension scheme into which Bristol City Council employees pay their pensions, along with Bath and North East Somerset Council, and many other schools, colleges and institutions in the area. Freddie Collins, investment manager at Bristol City Council, joined us, crucially adding Bristol City Council’s voice to the divestment call.

Members of Fossil Free Bristol with Freddie Collins (left), investment manager at Bristol City Council, delivering their call for divestment to the Avon Pension Fund board meeting in Bath. 





We met in a cafe at Bristol Temple Meads station to rehearse our five minute statement, and travelled over to Bath together. We had been granted only five minutes to state our case so we decided to present a short statement supported by a longer written document to hand out at the end.

APF have £17.4 million of their £3.3 billion endowment invested in fossil fuel companies. And we were asking for complete divestment within five years.
On arrival, we were welcomed by the chair of the board, Cllr. Paul Fox. He chatted to us informally and made us feel that it was very right that we were here, that our message was important, and that he understood that.
We took turns to read out our statement, outlining the financial risks of fossil fuel investments and calling on the pension fund to start a process of serious engagement with divestment.

When we had finished, Cllr Fox explained that he would soon be stepping down as chair, and with the approaching election in May, other board members may change too. But he agreed, along with the vice chair, that this was an important issue for the fund and would need to be taken up by the new committee.

Several board members declared a conflict of interest with their involvement in renewable energy projects. This gave us hope that the pension fund would respond positively. Two other board members spoke, one to state his fear that this was a complicated issue and that our time scale was “ambitious”. The other to say that we need to define which industries would come under the divestment umbrella.

Most importantly, Cllr Fox made the point that this issue was different to that of tobacco. The Avon Pension Fund still invests in tobacco, despite protests in the past, so we felt pleased when he made this distinction. He also said that there are long-term investment considerations that need to be to be taken into account. He suggested we should be looking at a 25 - 30 year period and declared that the value of fossil fuel assets is not clear over that period.

As you can see by the smiles on our faces, we feel we have made a good start to our engagement with Avon Pension fund on the issue of climate change and divestment. We feel very positive about how the meeting went. We didn’t do this on our own though, and our thanks go to ShareAction in particular for their support and 350.org.

Richard Lawrence



Monday, 16 February 2015

Bristol Mayor commits to keeping city money out of deadly fossil fuels


Bristol City Council has agreed not to invest funds in the fossil fuel industry, joining 30 cities globally to make the pledge.
During the last Mayoral Question Time, Mayor George Ferguson pledged to extend the council’s ethical investment policy to include a commitment not to invest in fossil fuels.
Air pollution related to the fossil fuel industry is responsible for, approximately, 5% of all deaths in the UK and nearly 200 in Bristol each year. Globally, more than 180 institutions representing over £30 billion in assets, have already committed to divest. Eighty percent of the fossil fuel industry’s oil coal and gas reserves are unburnable to limit global warming to 2C.
Mr Ferguson said: “At January’s members’ forum, I pledged to amend the Council’s ethical investment policy to include those companies whose core activities include the extraction of fossil fuels. Following discussion with relevant members of the council, I am pleased to announce that the policy has been amended to reflect this pledge.
“Ensuring the council’s policies reflect our commitment to greener, cleaner urban living is critically important, especially during our year as European Green Capital. What may appear as a minor change on paper will ensure a lasting impact on how the council does business in the future.”
At present, Bristol City Council’s funds are not directly linked to the fossil fuel industry. However, the Avon Pension Fund (APF), of which they are a member along with councils in Bath and Somerset, does have significant fossil fuel investments and so Bristol City Council would need to work with APF to freeze and withdraw those investments.
Richard Lawrence, Fossil Free Bristol campaigner and member of the Avon Pension Fund, said: “Our local council has accepted its responsibility to divest from an industry that’s destroying the planet for future generations.
“The next step is for Mr Ferguson to actively invest in clean energy and lend his full support to ongoing conversations with the Avon Pension Fund about their significant fossil fuel investments.”
Rachel Simon, a student at the university, said: “Whilst the decision by Bristol City Council is encouraging, Bristol University continues to invest in, and profit from, the activities which drive climate change through their portfolio of investments.
“Clearly, this is unethical and illogical especially when set against the university’s much publicised Cabot Institute research into the drivers of climate change. It’s time for them to listen to their students' demands and take the necessary action.”
The news comes after Global Divestment Day on Saturday 14th, which saw scores of people join a singing flashmob in Broadmead, to the tune of Frozen's "Let It Go", protesting against banks' investments in fossil fuels. Hundreds of events took place in towns and cities in 48 countries spanning six continents to put pressure on organisations to divest from oil, coal and gas industries and reinvest in clean technology. The initiative is part of the Fossil Free campaignRallies and protests also took place in major UK cities including Birmingham, Oxford, Nottingham, Swansea, York and Edinburgh.

Danielle Paffard, UK divestment campaigner at 350.org, said: "The UK divestment movement is already making a huge impact and Bristol’s decision represents a huge boost to the movement as it continues to gain momentum. In just two years, this campaign has grown from a few universities to hundreds of institutions around the world.


“We have begun to chip away at the political power of the coal, oil and gas industries in the UK and thousands of people are closing their accounts with banks that invest in fossil fuels. Through Global Divestment Day many local authorities and organisations are coming under pressure from campaigners to do the same. We need to keep the carbon in the ground and send the message to stop extracting fossil fuels. They should follow Bristol’s lead and commit to divest now."


Bristol is currently the European Green Capital for 2015, the annual award designed to promote and reward the efforts of cities to improve the environment.