Polluting pensions: UK journalists team up to report on councils’ fossil fuel-funded pensions ahead of COP26

With world leaders preparing to gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference, journalists across the JPIMedia group have teamed up to reveal how council pension schemes up and down the UK are investing in fossil fuels.

Your local council has probably declared a climate emergency. Three-quarters of them have made the gesture so far.

But how green is the pension scheme set up for its staff?

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NationalWorld has joined up with local news titles across the JPIMedia group to examine this very issue, ahead of next month’s COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.

It has felt particularly timely, with the UN today warning of the dangers of governments continuing to extract fossil fuels to 2030.

Divestment - selling shares in oil, coal and gas companies - is a thorny issue.

Avoiding dirty investments is difficult when the same energy companies are drilling oil and building wind farms.

And debate rages over whether refusal to invest in fossil fuel companies is the most effective way to bring about change.

Here are some of the local stories uncovered by our teams of journalists right across the UK.

Every local government pension fund in the country invested in coal, oil or gas last year, according to research by Friends of the Earth and Platform.

Some pension funds robustly defended their investment decisions, saying that as shareholders they could seek to change the companies from within.

Others have committed to making sweeping changes.

It’s no surprise that the host city of the COP26 climate talks has seen lively debate around the issue of council pensions being invested into fossil fuels.

Glasgow City Council has recently passed a motion calling on Strathclyde Pension Fund to withdraw from coal, oil and gas investments and the fund says it has been making changes.

Greater Manchester Pension Fund - believed to be the biggest fossil fuel investor of any local government pension scheme - has made a robust defence of its decision to remain invested in fossil fuel companies.

Its chairwoman cited pensions minister Guy Opperman’s description of divestment as “reverse greenwashing”.

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

The Avon Pension Fund had £103 million invested in the fossil fuel industry last year, according to research by climate campaigners.

The fund, run by Bath and North East Somerset Council, is the pension scheme for more than 400 local employers, including councils in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

All four authorities have declared a climate emergency.

Lancashire County Council pension fund put £99 million into fossil fuels.

But it has a greener pension portfolio than many local authorities that have declared a climate emergency, which County Hall has not so far done.

A motion proposing such a declaration was defeated at a meeting of the full council in 2019.

A Divest West Sussex demonstration is due to march from Chichester’s Market Cross to County Hall ahead of a full council meeting on Friday.

One local campaigner said they could not “morally justify subsidising the fossil fuel companies responsible for carbon emissions that are killing life on our planet”.

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