ENVIRONMENTALISTS have called on a pension fund for 98,000 people to consult its members over whether it should immediately offload its investments in fossil fuel firms, saying it is making the fund's past and present contributors complicit in funding planet-destroying industries.

While the North Yorkshire Pension Fund, which is managed by North Yorkshire and York councillors, has among the lowest proportions of its investments of any local government pension fund linked to oil, gas and coal at less than one per cent, Fossil Free North Yorkshire says it is failing to consider the wishes of its members.

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As well as past and present public sector workers, the fund receives contributions from workers at 160 firms.

Its investments have been very successful over the past three years, generating more than £1bn, leaving it funded at 124 per cent.

A Friends of the Earth report last year found despite decreases in recent years, UK local government pensions held £9.7bn of investments in fossil fuel companies in the 2019/20 financial year.

The report found North Yorkshire’s neighbouring pension funds in West Yorkshire and Teesside as being in the country’s top four for having the largest investments in fossil fuels and the largest percentage of their assets invested in fossil fuels, respectively.

Richard Tassell, of Fossil Free North Yorkshire, told a meeting of the fund’s committee at County Hall in Northallerton the UN Secretary General had stated in February the world had just 30 months to begin radical changes.

Mr Tassell, a former staff member of both York and North Yorkshire authorities, said while the fund with £4.9bn of assets had been working to invest more in renewable energy firms that was “an entirely inadequate response to the scale of the crisis we are facing”.

He told the committee: “We are asking that the council actively and urgently consider divesting from fossil fuel investments currently held by our pension fund and seek reinvestments in renewable projects.

“The Ukrainian invasion by Russia has highlighted the precarious nature of western countries’ energy supplies and when set against the developments in renewables over the past five years to a point where this technology is cheaper than coal, gas and oil.

"We must move away from those fuels at pace.”

He called for the committee to set time-specific targets to end fossil fuel investments and consult with all the pension fund’s members.

A spokesman for the committee did not respond to either of the calls, but said getting rid of investments in fossil fuel firms immediately may exacerbate climate change.

The spokesman told the meeting the fund had been reducing its fossil fuel-related holdings in recent years, so they stood at less than one per cent, which was “very low compared with just about every other local authority fund”.

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He added: “We have taken a view that we favour engagement over divestment from oil and gas companies, the reason for this is that we believe through engagement we can influence the direction of travel of these companies towards a low carbon economy.

“We also believe that if we were to sell the shares they would be more likely to be acquired by investors that would not have those responsible investment beliefs at their heart. ”

He said the committee had been quite ambitious in terms of putting more money to low carbon investments and renewable investments, but one of the challenges was the amount of viable renewable energy opportunities and the number of investors chasing those opportunities.

Councillor John Weighell, the committee’s chairman, told Mr Tassell: “I think the main difference between us may be not of the end result, but timing.

"We will get to the position that you want us to, but not as quickly as you would want us to.”


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