‘Still no commitment’ to stopping West Sussex investments in fossil fuels

Campaigners marched to Chichester’s County Hall, ‘died’ on its steps and sang in the council chamber to protest against West Sussex pension money being invested in fossil fuels.

A climate protest at Chichester's Market Cross on Friday
A climate protest at Chichester's Market Cross on Friday

Groups from all over the county gathered on Friday (October 22) before a meeting of the county council to make sure their voices were heard.

And heard they certainly were, especially when a small group of them burst into song as the meeting started – much to the annoyance of some of the councillors – before being asked to leave the building.

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The pension fund is paid into by around 82,000 employees from 200 employers, including the county, district and borough councils, academies, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Office of the Chief Constable.

A protest outside of Chichester's County Hall on Friday (Credit Rob White)

It is administered by the council’s pension committee, acting as trustees on behalf of all members equally.

Emma Cameron, of Worthing Climate Action Network, said £128m of the fund was invested in fossil fuel and called on the council to divest.

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She added: “We’ve been campaigning for five years now to get them to do this and, despite three motions, three demonstrations and two petitions, they still haven’t committed.

“We want them to show leadership and say they care about their constituents, they care about the future of the planet, they care about the people that are suffering and dying now [because of] climate change.

“They need to do this. They need to do it now. There’s no time to lose.”

A notice of motion from Labour leader Caroline Baxter, calling for steps to be taken towards divestment, was submitted earlier this month but was not accepted for debate at the meeting.

Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance and property, told the meeting: “We do not invest directly in individual stocks. We invest through a fund manager, who has control of any investment choices.

“So it is not possible to pull out of individual stocks, even if we wanted to.”

But Mr Hunt updated councillors on how the fund was ‘positively moving’ towards seeking low carbon investments.

He added: “Our single biggest equity fund, worth around £2.7bn, is invested in the Baillie Gifford Global Alpha Fund.

“Baillie Gifford have created a new low carbon fund called the Paris Aligned Global Alpha Fund, which excludes companies invested directly in fossil fuels.

“As soon as the Financial Conduct Authority has approved the prospectus for the new [fund], we will be transferring into it.”

Mr Hunt acknowledged that investments in fossil fuel companies had paid ‘very high dividends’ in the past.

But he pointed out that the likes of BP were now investing billions in renewable energy.

He added: “If everybody suddenly withdrew all their money from these companies now, we’d come to a stop. There’s got to be a transition period.

“We are moving in that transition period.”