Three hundred MPs are calling on the trustees of the £700m Parliamentary Pension Fund to take the financial risks of the climate crisis seriously and end investments in fossil fuel companies.
The cross-party initiative, backed by the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP as well as senior Conservatives, follows Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency in May earlier this year and puts pressure on the trustees of the fund as they prepare to announce a new “Climate Change Investment Policy” in November.
The fund’s largest single holding is £11.6 million of shares in BP Plc, and it also holds £10.9 million in Royal Dutch Shell. If the trustees agree to the MPs’ demands it will be a powerful symbolic boost for the global movement to divest from fossil fuels, which has now been backed by more than 1000 funds worth over $11 trillion.
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, who has championed the initiative, said: “The climate emergency requires that we keep fossil fuels in the ground.
"I’ve been calling for fossil fuel divestment for well over five years and am encouraged by the huge number of MPs who now agree that we must move our investments away from the polluting industries of the past, and instead support policies that will bring about a clean energy future”.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, said: "Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is probably the single most urgent challenge we face if we are to avoid a really unmanageable climate crisis in the next few decades, with all the human cost this will entail.
"Parliamentarians of all parties have the opportunity to show real leadership on this question and to make our existing national commitments more of a reality. Divestment will send a positive and hopeful message to the people of this country – and to those in vulnerable communities across the globe who will be most immediately affected by climate-related disasters.’
The Divest Parliament Pledge has been signed by 300 current MPs, including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn; Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson; SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford and Conservative Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan. It has also been backed by 30 former MPs including Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
The pledge states: “Unmitigated climate change threatens to undermine our economy, shared environment and global security. Under the UK’s Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement, the UK is committed to limiting warming to well below 2C and to aim for no more than 1.5C.
"This requires leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves unburnt, creating the real possibility of fossil fuel assets becoming stranded – with profound implications for the global economy.
“We believe Members of Parliament have a responsibility to act on climate change, and a unique opportunity to show leadership on climate action, responsible investment and the management of climate risk through addressing the practices of our own pension fund.
“As MPs past and present, and members of the Parliamentary Pension Fund, we call on the Trustees to uphold their fiduciary duty and take the financial risks of climate change seriously. We ask they quantify, disclose and review the fund’s investments in carbon-intensive industries, engage in a dialogue with fund members and managers on responsible investment, and commit to phasing out fossil fuel investments over an appropriate time-scale.”
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, the Environmental Audit Committee, and major global fund managers have warned that ordinary people’s pensions are now at risk because they are exposed to overvalued carbon assets as the world moves quickly towards cheaper, greener renewables, and governments legislate for net-zero emissions.
As the global climate crisis worsens, pressure is mounting on leaders at international, national and local levels to take tangible action. If the trustees of the Parliamentary Pension Fund follow the call for divestment, the fund would join the Irish National Infrastructure Fund, the Greater London Authority’s Pension Fund, the New York City Pension fund, local authorities including Southwark and Islington, and two thirds of UK universities, who have all ended investment in fossil fuel companies.
David Warburton, Conservative MP for Somerton and Frome said: “Parliament is fully committed to our net zero emission target and to get there we must invest billions into renewable infrastructure, energy efficiency and zero carbon technology.
"Pension funds have an exciting role to play in financing the transition to a net zero future, and it is really positive to see such a large group of cross party MPs coming together to pressure our pension fund trustees to phase out carbon intensive investments, and to ramp up positive investments into a green and prosperous future.”
Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood said: “Local authorities like Southwark and Lambeth, and the Mayor of London are showing the political leadership required to tackle the climate crisis by divesting their pension funds from fossil fuels.
"Parliament must now follow suit, and bring forward policies that are compliant with net zero emissions and the scale of the climate crisis. This requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and introducing long term policies that ensure clean energy can flourish.”
Patrick Killoran, UK Organiser at 350.org, said: “While our climate begins to unravel with fatal heatwaves and devastating floods, BP and Shell continue to invest billions in fuelling this crisis. At a time of climate breakdown, it is unacceptable for political leaders to be investing in or supporting policies that promote the fossil fuel industry.
"We are encouraged that MPs from across the political spectrum are backing up the 'Climate Emergency' rhetoric with action to divest from fossil fuels. We hope the pension fund Trustees hear these loud calls for fossil fuel divestment and produce a new investment strategy that will help bring about a fossil free future”.
Marianne Brooker is content editor of The Ecologist. This article based on a press release from Divest Parliament.