COP26: Yorkshire's' council pension pot invested £800m in fossil fuels, despite climate emergency pledge

Pension funds used by councils across Yorkshire have invested more than £800m into fossil fuels, new figures reveal – despite authorities declaring a climate emergency.

Some 3.81 per cent of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund’s total investments were in coal, oil, and gas, research by Friends of the Earth and Platform estimated.

An investment of £174m was made in coal industries and £329m in oil and gas.

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In North Yorkshire, £51m was invested in coal and £179m in oil and gas, and in South Yorkshire £29m was invested in coal and £43m in oil and gas.

Some 3.81 per cent of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund’s total investments were in coal, oil, and gas, research by Friends of the Earth and Platform estimated.

Councils who run the pension funds have defended their investments in fossil fuels, and said their engagement means they are in a stronger position to influence companies to effect change.Coun Andrew Thornton, chairman of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund, said: ““The West Yorkshire Pension Fund recognises the risks of climate change to its investments and the concerns of those arguing for a divestment from fossil fuel companies.

“The fund is committed to achieving a net-zero portfolio for its investments and implementing this commitment with the aim of achieving real economy emissions reductions.”

Gary Fielding, treasurer of North Yorkshire Pension Fund, said: “The Pension Fund Committee recognises climate change as a significant financial risk and this is detailed in its Responsible Investment Policy.

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“The pension fund’s holdings in oil and gas companies have reduced significantly in recent years, and now account for less than one per cent of its investments.

“Rather than divesting from companies, the fund believes active engagement gives it, in collaboration with other pension funds, greater influence in effecting change within companies, such as those in the oil and gas sectors or others with heavy carbon footprints.”

But environmental campaigners have attacked the investments, and say that councils are “paying polluters to wreck the planet.”

The Local Government Pension Scheme which councils use, is one of the UK’s largest public sector pension schemes.

The scheme is administered locally through 86 regional pension funds in England and Wales, 11 in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.

Some £9.9bn was invested in fossil fuels last year through them.

Robert Noyes, an energy economist at campaign group Platform and a coordinator of pressure group UK Divest said: “As we approach the UN climate talks in Glasgow this November, local councils have a simple choice.

“They can pay polluters to wreck the planet, or they can play their part in the global climate effort by ending their fossil fuel investments.

“There is no change coming from continued engagement, there is only delay.”