Global Divestment Day in central Edinburgh.
Global Divestment Day in central Edinburgh, 14 February 2015. Image: Colin Hattersley / FoE Scotland.

A new campaign is emerging to get the Lothian Pension Fund, one of Scotland’s largest public funds, to divest from dirty and risky fossil-fuels and invest sustainabably.  Last week the campaign made a big step forward by receiving backing from organsied Edinburgh Council staff.

The City of Edinburgh branch of UNISON, the trade union which represents the most members of the Lothian Pension Fund, voted at their annual meeting to support divestment from fossil-fuels(1).

UNISON’s motion states that the value of the Lothian Pension Fund’s fossil-fuels investments are based existing reserves.  These reserves are unburnable if we are to tackle climate change, and the resulting ‘carbon bubble’ threatens the environment as well as the financial future of the fund.  The motion concludes “that it is both immoral and irresponsible for public bodies and pension funds to invest in fossil fuel extraction companies and instead they should where possible direct investment into ‘green energy’ infrastructure.”

This position has been backed by Dave Watson, Scottish Organiser for UNISON who said in February:

Divestment has been used effectively throughout history to place social and economic pressure on an industry or government that is causing harm. By publicly withdrawing financial support, fossil fuel divestment addresses the root of the problem – the unchecked expansion of fossil fuel companies on an endless quest for profit.

Support from Lothian Pension Fund members in UNISON comes at a crucial time for the campaign.

Two days previously the City of Edinburgh Council unanimously approved a motion to investigate the feasability of divesting the Lothian Pension Fund from fossil fuels.

The Council’s motion, proposed by Greens Chas Booth and Maggie Chapman, requires a report to be delivered within three months.  The move was backed by Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat councillors.

Is a fossil-free Lothian Pension Fund in sight?  No UK public pension scheme has yet divested from fossil-fuels, so resistance to change is likely to be strong.

The challenge is now for UNISON members and local activists to work together to build support for change when the issue comes to Edinburgh Council for action later this year.

Friends of the Earth Scotland have been supporting a small but dedicated group of activists including members of Greenpeace Edinburgh, Friends of the Earth Edinburgh, and Activists Assemble.  They organised actions in the centre of Edinburgh for Global Divestment Day, when campaigners rallied in the capital with MSPs and MPs, calling for public funds to go fossil-free (pictured, above).

Across Scotland local government pensions hold billions of pounds on behalf of hundreds of thousands of council workers.

Some public pensions are moving forward on sustainable investment. In February the Strathclyde Pension Fund announced a £10 million investment in smaller-scale renewables, and back in 2014 the Falkirk fund invested £30 million in social housing. These moves show that public pension funds can investment positively in their local area.

But we still have a long way to go. Last year local government pensions in Scotland were found to be investing £1.11 billion in fossil-fuels, and there is no sign yet this amount is going down.

To support our pensions getting out of fossil-fuels Friends of the Earth Scotland will soon be launching a petition for sustainable pensions.

If you’d like to hear about it when it goes live join our Sustainable Finance mailing list for campaign updates and more.


1. UNISON Edinburgh 2015 AGM papers, see p.25 for text of motion.