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To: Wiltshire Council
Wiltshire Council: divest from fossil fuel
Wiltshire Council should require the Wiltshire Pension Fund to adopt a wind-down policy on fossil fuel investment. The Fund should stop all new investment in fossil fuel companies, and agree to withdraw all current direct and indirect investment in fossil fuels over a five-year period.
Why is this important?
Wiltshire Pension Fund holds a total of £1.8 billion, of which – currently - £64 million (3.5 per cent) is invested in fossil fuel – oil, coal and gas companies. This percentage may rise and fall. Wiltshire Pension Fund operates on behalf of Wiltshire Council and a further 157 employer organisations.
Investment in fossil fuel is bad news for two reasons.
Firstly, experts (1) warn these investments could become 'stranded assets' and irrecoverable, when the market for fossil fuels begin to decline in the years ahead. All local authorities, including Wiltshire Council, have a duty to act in the public interest, and to take steps to reduce risk to public money.
Secondly, fossil fuel investment is a matter of right or wrong.
More than 80 per cent of the world’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change, recent research (2) has indicated. The scientific and political consensus is that we must not allow global warming to exceed two degrees. If all known reserves are used we will exceed this limit, and tip into runaway climate change. This means extreme weather events, sea-level rise, fires and floods.
Local impacts of fossil fuel dependence
The Environment Agency and Salisbury City Council are drawing up emergency plans to protect Salisbury from ‘freak floods’, noting that the city came within 1cm of a major flood last January (3). Extreme weather events will cause severe flooding in Salisbury, and knock-on effects across Wiltshire, due to, for example, impassable roads and damage to communications systems (4).
A further direct impact of fossil fuel dependence is disease caused by air pollution from traffic emissions. Salisbury Clean Air Network reported in March 2015 that nitrogen dioxide was at illegal levels in ten out of 25 of SCAN’s samples. This was a higher and more widespread pollution level than Council findings. Government data (Public Health England, 2010) indicated that air pollution causes 28,000 excess deaths in the UK per annum.
If it’s wrong to cause these harms, then it is wrong to profit from investing in what causes them.
Wiltshire Pension Fund should sell its fossil fuel investments and Wiltshire Council should follow the example of several other local authorities who have invested in local sustainable projects such renewable energy, energy efficiency or building much needed energy-efficient social homes.
1. Unburnable Carbon – Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble? Carbon Tracker Initiative, March 2012
‘No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed.’ World Energy Outlook 2012, International Energy Agency
‘The issue of the bubble arises because the combined proven oil, gas and coal reserves currently on the books of fossil fuel companies (and governments in the case of NOCs) will produce far more than this amount of CO2 when consumed’, David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Shell 3 May 2013
‘We agree that burning all known reserves would probably cause global temperatures to rise by more than 2°C – and that addressing this issue will require the efforts of governments, industry and individuals. However, we believe that the unburnable carbon approach to assessing the impact of potential climate regulation on a company’s value oversimplifies the complexity of the issue and overstates the potential financial impact’ BP webpage on climate change, accessed 17 Oct 2015
2. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C, McGlade, C, Ekins, P, Nature 517,187–190, 8 January 2015
3. Salisbury Journal, 1 October 2015.
4. Environment Agency advice to Salisbury City Councillors and volunteer Flood Wardens, 9 November 2015.
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