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

Richard Lawrence