Brent Council's Pensions Subcommittee met last night (5th October 2021) and considered the 'Roadmap' to divestment from fossil fuels. Here is Simon Erskine's statement on the decisions they came to, and the next steps that are needed.
In the struggle to achieve Net Zero (i.e. carbon emissions created from transport, power, agriculture etc. being balanced by carbon absorbed through growing trees, direct air capture of CO2 etc.) companies need to play a key role in reducing emissions from their activities. Switching investments from companies responsible for large emissions to companies with low or negative emissions encourages the transition to Net Zero.
One of the biggest classes of investors is pension funds – for example Brent Council’s Pension Fund owns investments in excess of £1 billion. For 5 years Divest Brent has been campaigning for the Council to sell its investments in (“divest from”) fossil fuel companies. Following the presentation to the Council of a divestment petition with nearly 1,400 signatures the Council agreed to draw up a roadmap to this goal.
On 5th October the Pension Fund Sub-committee considered the “Net Zero Transition Roadmap”. It was acknowledged that the Roadmap was a start – the Pension Fund needed to agree a target date for achieving Net Zero and then draw up interim targets e.g. a 2030 Net Zero target with interim targets of 40% emissions reductions by 2024 and 70% by 2027. The Paris Agreement of 2016 calls for a maximum average global temperature increase of 2 degrees Centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels, with a target of 1.5 degrees (compared to the current increase of 1.1 degrees).
According to the UN’s climate change scientific body, the IPCC, in a 2018 report, that means Net Zero by 2050 with a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. Since that report was issued the pace of climate change has dramatically increased with massive wildfires, record hurricanes and typhoons, lethal heatwaves, floods (including flooding in Brent itself) and so on. Furthermore, in declaring a Climate and Ecological Emergency in 2019, the Council agreed a Net Zero Target of 2030. Councillors at the Pension Fund Sub-committee spoke out against the Pension Fund adopting a 2050 Net Zero target and asked about the impact of a 2030 target – in line with the Council’s own position.
Officers pointed out that the London Collective Investment Vehicle, which managed many investments of London local authority pension funds, including much of Brent’s, has adopted a 2040 date and suggested it may be appropriate for Brent’s Pension Fund to follow suit.
Simon Erskine, of Divest Brent, commented: “We welcome the Roadmap as a first step towards decarbonising the Brent Pension Fund. Choosing a responsible Net Zero target date is crucial. Many people are saying that the many extreme climate events, which are already responsible for huge loss of life, homelessness and damage to property – along with species disappearing at an alarming rate (around 50% over the last 50 years) – demonstrate that we need to achieve Net Zero by 2025. The Council itself has agreed on a 2030 target and in our view that should apply to the Pension Fund too unless there is clear evidence that it would damage the Fund.”
Following approval of the report the Council will now work hard evaluating the effect of different targets, both for Net Zero and for interim emission reductions. These will be considered at the next meeting of the Pension Fund Sub-committee in February 2022.