COP26: Pension fund used by Leeds City Council invested £504m in fossil fuels, despite climate emergency pledge

The pension fund used by Leeds City Council has invested nearly £504m in fossil fuels, new figures show - despite the authority being among those to have declared a climate emergency.

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 4:45 am

Research by environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Platform has estimated the West Yorkshire Pension Fund to have invested a total of £174m in coal industries and just over £329m in oil and gas industries as of April 2020.

The totals make up 3.81 per cent of the Fund’s entire £13bn investments and rank it fourth out of all UK council funding pots for most valuable investments in fossil fuels.

The West Yorkshire Pension Fund holds and invests pension monies for all public sector workers in the region’s five local authorities, and Leeds City Council is its biggest contributor.

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West Yorkshire Pension Fund has invested nearly £504m in fossil fuels, new figures show. Picture: Shutterstock

The Fund is administered by Bradford Council, leaving Leeds with no direct decision-making powers but the issue of its investment in fossil fuels has been an ongoing point of contention for the city’s councillors - being at odds with their announcement of a climate emergency in early 2019, which saw Leeds commit to a net zero carbon economy by 2030.

Last month, Leeds City Council’s executive board approved recommendations made in a report by its climate emergency advisory committee (CEAC) calling on the Fund to stop investing in fossil fuels.

The Yorkshire Evening Post understands that since then, a letter has been sent to the Fund actioning the recommendations - asking them to be transparent about known climate risks, to outline their strategy for managing these risks in line with the region’s net zero strategy, and commit to reporting annually on such a strategy.

A debate over the issue of the Fund’s fossil fuels investment was held at Bradford Council earlier this month - while members of the local branch of environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion held a protest outside.

A local newspaper report of that meeting said council bosses had argued pulling out of all fossil fuel investments was beyond the remit of the council - but members supported a motion to “wind down” its holdings in such industries.

Across the UK, the research shows local authorities have invested nearly £10bn between them in fossil fuels through their pension funds last year.

Campaigners are now calling for these funds to divest from oil, gas and coal industries ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November.

Robert Noyes, an energy economist at campaign group Platform and a coordinator of pressure group UK Divest said: “As we approach the UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, local councils have a simple choice.

“They can pay polluters to wreck the planet or they can play their part in the global climate effort by ending their fossil fuel investments.

“While their net-zero adverts are appealing, not a single fossil fuel company has implemented measures to comply with the 2015 UN Paris Agreement, while in 2020, on average these companies spent just one per cent of their annual capital expenditure on clean energy.”

The Yorkshire Evening Post has approached the West Yorkshire Pension Fund for a comment.

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