Protestors hold a banner saying 'Act Now Divest' in George Square, Glasgow

Extinction Rebellion Glasgow and Divest Strathclyde outside Glasgow City Chambers, Monday 2 March 2020.

Campaigners and pension fund members are celebrating the announcement that Glasgow City Council has endorsed a plan to end their £500 million investment in fossil fuels.

The motion was approved by a full meeting of Glasgow City Council today by a margin of 69 votes to 4 against. It represents the first time a Scottish city has set-out clear support for fossil fuel divestment.

Glasgow City invests in fossil fuels through the Strathclyde Pension Fund, the joint largest local government fund in the UK, run on behalf of 250,000 fund members in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest driver of the climate crisis, and fossil fuel companies are currently working to increase production. Calls for divestment have come from trade unions, local officials and national politicians.

Today’s decision is not binding on the pension fund, it must be approved by the Strathclyde Pension Fund Committee. The outcome of this process is uncertain, but their deliberations will take place just months before the UN climate talks take place in Glasgow, and Committee members will be under considerable pressure to support action against climate polluters.

The campaign for divestment has been led by ‘Divest Strathclyde’, a group of local people and pension fund members in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

Louise King, Divest Strathclyde, said :

“Glasgow City Council has taken the pragmatic and moral choice to support divestment as quickly as possible. Given that fossil fuel investments make up only 2% of the fund’s investment portfolio, we believe that fast action is possible and call on the fund to make every effort to divest from fossil fuels now.

“This is a big win for the divestment movement, but this is not the end for our campaign. It’s now the turn of the councillors on the Pensions Committee to make this decision binding. Until that is done, we will keep up the pressure to hold them accountable and ensure that they divest from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Ric Lander, Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

“Glasgow City Council’s decision will be of huge encouragement to everyone who’s concerned about the climate crisis and fossil fuel pollution.

“The job isn’t done, however. All eyes will now be on the councillors on the pension committee who have the power to end this £500 million gamble on pollution. In the year of the UN climate talks, Scotland can only be a beacon for climate justice if our politicians make brave decisions.

“Congratulations to the trade unionists, pension fund members and citizens of Glasgow who are pushing our politicians to speak out for climate action. We trust other councils are watching and will follow suit. Today’s vote shows that with support from government and civil society action against polluters can win a better future for Scotland.”

Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor of UNISON Scotland, the largest union representing local government pension fund members, reacted:

“It is encouraging that Glasgow City Council is expressing support for action on the climate crisis that is facing us. Instead of continuing to be part of the problem the Strathclyde Pension Fund should increase investments in sustainable alternatives – it would have workers’ backing to do so. There is a moral, ethical and financial case to remove workers’ pension funds from investments that will lose value as the world moves to a low-carbon economy which is less dependent on fossil fuels.”

The Divest Strathclyde campaign began in 2015 and over that time members have spoken to hundreds of councillors and local people, protested at the city chambers, worked with trade unionists, gathered signatures from pension fund members, won pledges from councillors, picketed the Fund’s AGM, put on events with international speakers and met with the First Minister.

In 2019 members took part in the Glasgow City Council’s Climate Emergency Working Group which recommended the City divest.

Other councils in the former Strathclyde region have already supported a call for divestment from fossil fuels with West Dunbartonshire and North Ayrshire passing official motions.

In the last year New York State, the Welsh Parliament and the University of Edinburgh have made major announcements to divest from fossil fuels.

Cllr Kim Long, Glasgow City Council (Green) said:

“We are delighted that the motion was supported and that Glasgow City Council voted so overwhelmingly to stop investing in the fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. We know that in Glasgow, the climate crisis will impact the poorest communities the hardest – and all the money the city plans to spend on mitigating this damage is wasted if we keep pouring money into the very thing we know is making the problem worse. Local government pension funds are the single biggest public store of wealth in Scotland, so decisions like this can make a big difference.”

Cllr Collette Stevenson, Depute Provost, South Lanarkshire Council (SNP) said:

“As the Chair of Strathclyde Pension Fund Board and in support of climate leadership, I fully support this motion for divestment. With COP26 arriving on our doorstep this November, the motion supporting divestment could not have come at a better time. I now believe that Strathclyde Pension Fund can be the first Scottish local pension fund to divest. By making a formal commitment to divest before COP26, the fund will give confidence to other pension funds in the UK and around the world to do the same. This is what true climate leadership looks like.”

Cllr Jim Sharkey, Renfrewshire Council (Labour) said:

“I support divestment from fossil fuels and in view of Renfrewshire Council’s policy on the climate emergency, I am sure my colleagues will want to adopt a very similar policy in this council.”

ENDS

Contact:
Friends of the Earth Scotland
info@foe.scot

Divest Strathclyde
Louise King
louisemking1992@gmail.com

NOTES TO EDITORS

(1) IMAGES: Free to use images to accompany this story may be found at:
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/110P_7aoJEcwmzx0oae8mlp0XJiFvghfM?usp=sharing

(2) Full text of original motion tabled. The text of the amended motion has not yet been published.

By Councillor Kim Long:-

Council:

– recalls its previous support for a transformative Green New Deal to respond to the climate and ecological emergencies;

– believes that a Green New Deal for the city region will require massive investment, and that the Council’s own pension investments could play an important part in that;

– recognises that the Strathclyde Pension Fund supports low carbon initiatives through its direct investment portfolio, but is concerned that the Fund retains large holdings, worth in excess of £500 million last year, in fossil fuel industries that are driving the climate and ecological emergencies and perpetuating global inequalities;

– notes the Council’s fiduciary duty as administering authority for the Strathclyde Pension Fund must be paramount in all decision making around the pension fund. Further notes the calls made over many years from campaigners on the issue of fossil fuel divestment and notes that many other major public and private institutions have already made and acted on commitments to fossil fuel divestment, demonstrating leadership on the climate emergency at the same time as protecting the long-term interests of their individual investors;

– believes that in the year of the COP26 climate summit, when the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, the city and its institutions must show climate leadership; and therefore:

– resolves to write to the Strathclyde Pension Fund Committee, asking that it make a formal commitment to fossil fuel divestment prior to COP26, with the intention of divesting completely as quickly as possible, and no later than 2029; and that it further considers how it can reinvest the Pension Fund Members’ hard-earned money to drive a green recovery for the Glasgow region.

(3) For more information about fossil fuels and divestment read:

Divesting to Protect Our Pensions and the Planet, 2021 Report
https://foe.scot/resource/divest-councils-2021/

Big Oil Reality Check — Assessing Oil And Gas Climate Plans
http://priceofoil.org/2020/09/23/big-oil-reality-check/

List of organisations and politicians who have divested:
https://foe.scot/campaign/fossil-fuel-divestment/commitments/

(4) Divest Strathclyde is the campaign to get the Strathclyde Pension Fund to drop investments in fossil fuel companies and other big polluters, and re-invest the money in ethical and sustainable alternatives.
https://www.gcop.scot/divest-strathclyde/

Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 73 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.