Hackney councillors have been labelled “grinches” for setting a current target of 50 per cent reduction in its pension fund’s exposure to fossil fuel investments by 2022.
Campaign group Divest Hackney picketed the 12 December meeting of the council’s pensions committee whilst dressed as the Dr Seuss character, claiming that by continuing to invest in fossil fuels councillors were stealing “indigenous livelihoods, a stable climate, clean air, clean water, healthy oceans, wild forests and snowy winter”.
Whilst the Town Hall has pointed out that its current strategy is in line with the 2015 Paris agreement aiming to keep global warming below a two-degree rise, campaigners are calling for the practice of fossil fuel investment to end entirely in light of recent reports of the potentially catastrophic impact of a 1.5-degree rise.
Camilla Zerr of Divest Hackney said: “In light of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the impact of 1.5 degrees of warming, the world now knows that aiming for two degrees is not enough.
“The difference between 1.5 degrees and two degrees is stark. It means life or death, safety or danger for millions of people. By moving so slowly to divest, Hackney Council remains complicit in an investment system that believes millions of lives are dispensable.”
Fellow campaigner Stine Wilhelmsen added: “The IPCC report is a clear wake-up call that we have only 12 years to stop catastrophic climate change. The impacts if we don’t will be global.
“We are already seeing the impacts of climate change right here, with summer droughts and flooding across the UK.
“Hackney Council can’t wait any longer or be satisfied with partial commitments. The people of Hackney, and the children of Hackney, are demanding the council not steal our future by investing in the past.
“We believe the councillors are sincere in their desire to address climate risk and climate change. Now we need that sincerity to translate into action.”
The IPCC have underlined the need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees to prevent negative impacts on the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, as well as on the planet’s “resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, cities, tourism and carbon removal”.
Campaigners followed their demonstration on the Town Hall steps by delivering Christmas cards in which the councillors could find a message from schoolchildren of Hackney asking them to divest, alongside a short note from Divest Hackney themselves.
The Town Hall takes the position that human-driven climate change poses one of the greatest threats to the planet.
The council also states that the primary duty in the management of its pension fund is its “fiduciary” responsibility to provide optimum investment performance for the benefit of current and future pensioners, as well as to minimise the impact of the pension fund on the council’s revenue.
The committee meeting attended by the Divest demonstrators approved a shift of 10 per cent of the over-£1 billion fund to so-called “alternative credit” investments, such as high yield bonds or commercial real estate debt, by which the Town Hall aim to see a reduction in holdings in large multinationals dealing in fossil fuels.
Another 10 per cent of the fund was transferred into BlackRock’s MSCI Low Carbon Target Index Fund earlier this year, alongside a further £180 million to the RBC GAM’s Global Sustainable Equity Strategy Fund.
However, Divest Hackney are calling for 100 per cent divestment from fossil fuel-related investments by the fund, citing Lambeth Council’s recent announcement to fully divest its entire share portfolio from carbon intensive assets.
Both Hackney MPs Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier are also calling for the Parliamentary pension fund to phase out its substantial investment in fossil fuel giants such as Shell and BP.
Cllr Robert Chapman (Lab, Homerton), chair of Hackney’s Pension Committee said: “I remain confident that our decision to set an ambitious target to reduce our exposure to carbon risk, and the action we have taken to implement it, puts us absolutely at the forefront of local government pension funds in this area.
“We have published our plans that set what we consider to be a realistically achievable, while stretching, target that is clear and measurable.
“I also believe that our commitment to tackle this issue is at least as strong as those made by other London boroughs as we work towards a fossil free pension fund, while continuing to meet our obligations to Hackney Council’s workers, past, present and future.”
Writing on social media in response to Divest Hackney’s congratulations of Lambeth’s new policy, Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville wrote: “…we’ve actually taken action last year and this to divest. We’ve also changed energy procurement and our fleet.”
Hackney is aiming to create a fleet of over 50 electric cars and vans by 2019, and recently announced a number of green measures in its sustainable procurement strategy.
Divest Hackney responded: “Great work in changing the fleet & energy procurement but it’s a shame that these accomplishments can’t be complimented with full divestment.
“Other London councils & the Mayor are setting a stronger vision, committing to 100% divestment AND starting to move money. #DivesttheRest.”