Calls for Highland Council Pension Fund to move away from fossil fuel investments

Extinction Rebellion campaigners gathered outside Highland Council headquarters in 2019. NO F20 Extinction Rebellion Inverness protest
Extinction Rebellion campaigners gathered outside Highland Council headquarters in 2019. NO F20 Extinction Rebellion Inverness protest

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A new report has revealed the Highland Council pension fund has £46million invested in fossil fuel companies, despite the local authority declaring a climate and ecological emergency almost two years ago.

A proposed gas export scheme in Mozambique associated with increased militarisation and violence and an open-pit mine in Colombia which is the focus of investigations into alleged environmental and human rights abuses are two of the projects involving companies in which The Highland Council Pension Fund has a stake.

The report, by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, found that overall in Scotland, £1.2 billion was invested in fossil fuel companies by council pension funds.

The Highland Council pension fund administers the pensions of more than 32,000 members including those on behalf of Western Isles Council.

Campaigners are now calling on the Highland Council Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels ahead of the UN Climate Conference COP26, due to be held in Glasgow this November.

A Lochaber Environmental Group spokesperson said: ‘By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, our local councils are supporting the companies which are most responsible for making the climate crisis worse.

‘Young people deserve the chance to build a better future on a liveable planet and this will only be possible if we stop burning fossil fuels, restore our precious forest and peatland ecosystems and invest in renewable alternatives like wind and solar power.

‘With COP26 coming to Scotland, the Highland Council Pension Fund has a vital opportunity to lead the way by divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in a Just Transition to renewable energy which can help avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, protect our threatened wildlife habitats and provide green jobs in renewable energy.’

The Highland pension fund, valued at more than £2b, was found to hold direct fossil fuel investments in oil giant BP, which is continuing to explore for new oil and gas, including in Scottish waters.

BP is also a financial backer of the proposed gas export scheme in Mozambique which has led to the displacement of communities.

The pension fund also invests in the mining company BHP. Based in the UK and Australia, BHP is the part owner with Anglo American and Glencore of the Cerrejon open-pit mine in Colombia.

It has been reported the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is investigating alleged environmental and human rights abuses at the mine.

Ric Lander, Divestment Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, commented: ‘Many local authorities have declared a climate emergency and have plans in place to bring down emissions from transport, buildings and waste.

‘Pension fund investments are currently working against this progress by continuing to back the ageing fossil fuel economy. Local councillors have the opportunity to show leadership on climate action by telling fund managers to divest from fossil fuels.’

Asked for a comment, a council spokesman told the Lochaber Times: ‘The Highland Council Pension Fund is independent from Highland Council and decisions regarding investment principles are made by the Pensions Committee, membership of which includes but is not exclusive to Highland Council councillors.

‘The decision making process for the Pensions Committee is scrutinised by the Pensions Board whose membership includes employer organisation and member representatives.

‘There is an Investment Sub Committee responsible for monitoring the performance of the fund’s investments. Fund managers have been appointed to manage assets on behalf of the Highland Council Pension Fund and their performance and approach to environmental, social and governance issues is reviewed and scrutinised regularly by the Investment Sub Committee.’

Meanwhile, a coalition of groups across the Highlands has written to Highland councillors to introduce the Highland Charter for Responsible Investment.

The council pension fund is believed to be meeting later this month and the coalition is urging councillors to institute what it says would be a more ‘transparent and accountable framework for responsible investment’.