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! 

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