Fossil Free Bristol Statement to Avon Pension Fund Committee, March 2016
In Paris at the COP21, world leaders agreed that we need to hold global warming below 2°C. We can only achieve this if we stop burning fossil fuels - we need to leave 80% of it unburned if we are to have even a 75% chance of staying within that limit.
You know the share prices of these fossil fuel companies are based on them extracting and burning ALL of their reserves, which they simply cannot do if we are to have a liveable planet. Therefore these shares are hugely overinflated - a carbon bubble’ - and if we don’t act soon, we could be left with stranded assets. We’ve already seen oil, gas and coal prices drop dramatically, and the Bank of England has warned investors of the risks.A recent Citibank report stated that the fossil fuel industry will 'bottom out' in 2016. Your members savings are at risk if you do not divest from fossil fuels. Don’t delay the decision.
Fossil fuel share prices can only be negatively impacted by the growing world wide divestment movement and recent NASA data detailing record rises in the average global surface temperatures. (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/14/february-breaks-global-temperature-records-by-shocking-amount)
Holly: Divestment Updates
More than 500 different institutions around the world have now divested over $3.4 trillion from fossil fuels. That includes 50 pension funds. In the UK, Haringey and South Yorkshire local government pension funds have now joined the Environment Agency pension fund in making divestment commitments.
The South Yorkshire Pension Fund has acknowledged that ‘there should be a long term tilt towards a low carbon economy within its portfolios’ and ‘agreed to monitor carbon risk.’ It has also formally confirmed that it has divested from ‘pure’ coal and tar sands companies, noting that coal is the ‘most polluting’ fossil fuel.
In January, Haringey Council Pensions Committee pledged to invest £200 million of their equity funds into a Low Carbon Fund. This means that the council will no longer have any investments in coal industries anywhere in the world, and also comes with an agreement to explore making specific investment in the low carbon economy, such as renewable energy.
We have listened to your concerns that you cannot make a formal “divestment commitment” but we disagree. By selling your direct investments in coal, oil and gas extraction companies, and instead investing in the solutions to climate change you could achieve full and transparent divestment. Later this month your advisor's Mercers are releasing their research into investments that tackle climate change.
There is not just our voice behind the divestment plea; many other fund members and citizens in the Avon area support our concerns. As testament to this we can report that a petition is ongoing which calls on the fund management to
Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuels
Divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.
We would request that this statement is taken into consideration in the ongoing review of the Responsible investment policy.
If there was any hesitation from the investment managers to sell oil stocks at a time when share prices are so low, we ask the committee to consider the predictions of Ian Taylor, the CEO of Vitol Oil (the world’s largest energy trader). Mr. Taylor stated that he foresees a price band of crude oil between $40 and $60 a barrel and that he “can see that band lasting for five to ten years”*. With this in mind, it seems even more pertinent to include immediate divestment in fossil fuels in Avon Pension Fund’s Responsible Investment Policy.
Fossil Free Bristol Statement to Avon Pension Fund Committee Meeting, Sept 2015
We would like to thank Liz and Tony for taking the time to meet with us in August 2015, and for producing the scoping document for the review of the RI policy. Following that meeting we have submitted a number of further questions which we understand will be answered as part of the review process. We have now seen the scoping document, and would like to know:
- Item 5.4 says ‘the subject matter [of the review] will be discussed at a number of workshops’. Who will be invited to attend these workshops? Will members of the pension scheme be invited?
- Item 5.4 also says ‘a final report and recommendations will be presented no later than September 2016’. In light of the possibility of events impacting the portfolio before then, such as from the UN COP21 in Paris in December 2015, is APF planning immediate actions? For instance:
- Restricting new investment in highly climate sensitive sectors such as tar sands and coal. Or only allowing short term trading positions in these sectors.
- Carrying out an immediate audit of all climate sensitive investments and reviewing the situation in light of this audit.
- At our meeting it was explained by Liz and Tony that the fund is already making some renewable energy investments but your view was that a ‘tipping point’ (between fossil fuels and renewables) had not yet been reached. How will you ensure the fund is invested appropriately prior to this tipping point to ensure it avoids the under performance of fossil fuels? - we are concerned that waiting until after the tipping point will mean the fund has to sell fossil fuel shares at low prices.
We thank you in advance for your answers to these questions.
Closing statement (after we have read out the questions):
We are pleased to see that Bristol Unison now support our campaign, as well as Transition Bath, and we continue to work to bring light to our campaign across the Avon area.
And in the global fossil fuel divestment campaign, we can report that so far more than 400 institutions and 2,000 individuals have pledged to divest from fossil fuels. Recent notable commitments include the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Norway Pension Fund, the Canadian Medical Association, the World Council of Churches, the University of California, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Thank you for your positive engagement with this important issue.
Fossil Free Bristol Statement to Avon Pension Fund Committee Meeting, June 2015
We came along to your committee meeting in March to outline our concerns, both financial and moral, about APF’s investment in fossil fuel companies. We were very pleased to hear that the chair felt this was a significant issue that the new committee should consider carefully.
We’re also very pleased to hear from Ms Woodyard that there is to be a review of APF’s Responsible Investing Policy. We understand that your intention is to consider the brief for this review in September, and that managing the risks and opportunities arising from climate change will be part of the review.
To update you on developments in the global divestment movement, since our last visit:
- Numerous major investors continue to divest from fossil fuel industries. These include the Bank of America, Credit Agricole and Axa Insurance who have all said they will no longer be financing or investing in coal.
- Most recently, the Norwegian government has said that coal investments are both a global warming and a financial risk and will be selling off over £5bn of coal-related investments from their sovereign wealth fund. This is the biggest fossil fuel divestment commitment to date.
- Closer to home the Environment Agency Pension Fund, last week moved its entire £280m passive equity portfolio into a low-carbon index tracker fund. We consider this an example of best practice which perhaps Avon Pension Fund could explore further.
- We have raised a petition calling on APF to divest from fossil fuels and have found considerable public support. We continue to seek out pension fund members, to collect signatures and raise awareness of this issue.
- The Guardian featured our campaign in an article which has boosted our public support even further.
We are here today to urge you to consider the following in your review of the RI policy:
- The complexity of climate change; we urge you to consider a separate Climate Change Policy, with climate risk assessments and an action plan, including divestments.
- The urgency of climate change; your proposal doesn’t appear fast or ambitious enough.
We would like to reiterate our appreciation for your positive response to our statement at the previous meeting, and we would welcome the opportunity to work with you on this and to assist you in any way we can.
As before we can be contacted at Fossilfreebristol@gmail.com
Fossil Free Bristol Statement to Avon Pension Fund’s Committee Meeting, March 2015
It is now a widely held view that climate change poses a significant financial risk to the investment system and UK pension fund portfolios and that continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is unsustainablei. Despite this, at the beginning of 2014, the Avon Pension Fund had more than £17.4million invested in fossil fuel industries.
We are here today to highlight the risks facing the Avon Pension Fund as a result of its continued investment in fossil fuel companies. We urge the pension fund committee to act on behalf of pension holders to reduce exposure to these risks by divesting from fossil fuel interests and instead invest in supporting the transition to a low carbon economy.
Investing in fossil fuels is environmentally unsustainable
Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, we have now reached international consensus that once we surpass two degrees of global warming we are entering into the territory of unpredictable and ‘dangerous’ climate change (ii).
According to Fossil Free’s 2015 Carbon Underground Report, the top 200 fossil fuel companies have reserves equivalent to an additional 555 Gigatons of potential CO2 emissionsiii. Pro rata with the total reserves this is almost five times more than can be emitted if we are to have an 80% chance of preventing warming from exceeding the critical two degree threshold. Furthermore, this estimate includes only those reserves already factored into the share price of corporations which continue to pump billions of shareholder dollars into the quest for deeper, more remote and longer term fossil fuel supplies. Deutsche Bank estimate that in 2014 alone, the oil industry spent $650bn on exploration and the development of new reservesiv.
Investing in fossil fuels is economically unsustainable
Aside from the obvious environmental, social, and economic implications of perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels and our relentless advancement towards ‘catastrophic’ climate change, it is increasingly clear that the fossil fuel industry is based on a fundamentally unsustainable business model. This in turn throws into question the viability of their long term investment potential.
There has been much discussion around the ‘carbon bubble’ resulting from the over-valuation of stocks in coal, gas and oil reserves and the belief that much of this value may never be realised. In the event that an international agreement on climate change is reached, many of the fossil fuel assets currently listed on the world’s stock market could become ‘strandedv’. The Bank of England is currently undertaking an enquiry into the risk of fossil fuel companies causing a major economic crash if their coal, oil, and gas assets are rendered worthlessvi.
In this context, we must seriously question whether investment in fossil fuels is an appropriate strategy for long-term pension funds. We think not. And we are not alone in doing so. International non-profit 350’s Fossil Free campaign is putting pressure on organisations all over the world to shun unsustainable fossil fuel investments. What is more, a growing number of these organisation are responding and committing to divest from fossil fuels, realising that to do so makes economic as well as environmental sense. The Fossil Free website lists some of the many colleges, universities, cities, counties, religious and other institutions that have committed to divestment both here and around the globe. The list names the University of Bedford, University of Glasgow and Oxford City Council among othersvii2
Avon Pension Fund position on climate change and fossil fuel investment
We are grateful to Liz Woodyard for her openness in recent correspondence regarding APF’s approach to responsible investment in the face of climate change concerns. From this exchange we understand that:
* As set out in its investment strategy and responsible investment policy, APF relies on ESG policies let by investment managers to help guide responsible investments. However, these policies do not appear to take into account the impact associated with its £17.4m of fossil fuel investments.
* APF is awaiting further understanding on the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change and on the approaches to managing those risks before responding to the climate change agenda
* APF has not yet established the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio
* Investment managers have not been asked by APF to specifically consider the feasibility of allocating capital away from fossil fuels
* Alternative indices for passive investments have been considered as part of a strategic review
We urge APF to divest from fossil fuels and invest instead in supporting the shift to a low carbon economyviii. In addition to the environmental and economic reasons described above, we see APFs continued support of the fossil fuel industry as inappropriate given our region’s desire to position itself at the forefront of sustainability and low carbon innovation. As European Green Capital, Bristol City Council has already committed not to invest in fossil fuels.
Based on our correspondence with LAPFF, we understand that the preferred strategy for pension funds is to use their investments as a lever to influence the activities of fossil fuel companies rather than commit to divestment. We understand that in some cases pension fund shareholders have begun to challenge Exxon, Shell, and BP to show how their business model is compatible with two degree warming.
In this context, we call for APF to:
1. Share with us the results of their engagement with fossil fuel companies and, crucially, their escalation strategy should such engagement fail to deliver results with the urgency necessitated by the scale of the risk faced.
2. Consider the financial feasibility of divesting from fossil fuels over a period of time with a view to:
a. Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuels
b. Divest immediately from pure-play coal companies
c. Divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years
3. Take a proactive and strategic approach to supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy by:
a. Assessing what proportion of the fund’s assets are invested in industries that facilitate this transition (e.g. renewable energy, waste management etc.)
b. Requiring asset managers to present information on a range of opportunities for low-carbon investment
c. Setting a target for increased investment in the low-carbon economy
4. Contact the Environment Agency Pension Fund, a global leader in concurrently protecting financial returns and mitigating climate change
As pension holders and citizens, we have a considerable stake in the work of the APF in this area and welcome the opportunity to attend a meeting with members where our recommendations could be explored in more details. Please address any contact to FossilFreeBristol@gmail.com
ii Smith J. B., et al. 2009 Assessing dangerous climate change through an update of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘reasons for concern’ Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106 4133–4137 doi:10.1073/pnas.0812355106 (doi:10.1073/pnas.0812355106) https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
iii Fossil Free Indexing http://fossilfreeindexes.com/
iv Page 19 https://www.dbresearch.com/PROD/DBR_INTERNET_EN-PROD/PROD0000000000349119/Konzept+Issue+02.pdf
v http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/07/much-worlds-fossil-fuel-reserve- must-stay-buried-prevent-climate-change-study-says
vii http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2013/07/05/norwegian-pension-fund-divests-from-financially-worthless-fossil-fuels/ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/11114591/Rockefeller- family-sells-outof-fossil-fuels-and-into-clean-energy.html