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Campaigners call on Barking and Dagenham Council to stop profiting from ‘wrecking the planet’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 May 2018

Finnian Murtagh said councils risk breaking a legal duty to get the most profit for their pension holders by investing in an industry at risk of collapse. Picture: 350.ORG

Finnian Murtagh said councils risk breaking a legal duty to get the most profit for their pension holders by investing in an industry at risk of collapse. Picture: 350.ORG

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A campaign group has urged the council not to profit from wrecking the planet.

Campaigners have urged the council not to profit from fossil fuel firms which 'wreck the planet'. Picture: LBBDCampaigners have urged the council not to profit from fossil fuel firms which 'wreck the planet'. Picture: LBBD

Finnian Murtagh of Fossil Free London – which wants local authorities to stop buying shares in coal, oil and gas companies – said: “If it’s wrong to wreck the planet through climate change, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”

He called on the council to “immediately freeze” new investments in fossil fuels and get rid of existing investments.

“It’s absolutely, fundamentally urgent. Commitments should be made immediately,” he said.

For campaigners divestment – the opposite of investment – means withdrawing cash, stocks and shares in firms removing fossil fuels as energy sources and contributing to extreme weather.

In March London mayor Sadiq Khan called on councils to ditch fossil fuel investment. Pic: KEN MEARSIn March London mayor Sadiq Khan called on councils to ditch fossil fuel investment. Pic: KEN MEARS

Numbers published by the Fossil Free movement show Barking and Dagenham’s pension pot has £34,617,534 tied up in fossil fuel businesses out of a fund totalling £906,316,007.

However, the council disputes the figure saying it should be around £27m with £7.5m not related to fossil fuel investments.

Campaigners argue there are financial and moral reasons for councils to divest.

On the money side they say governments taking stronger action against climate change could slap a high price on carbon dioxide, a gas released when fossil fuels are burnt which raises the earth’s temperature.

Campaigner Finnian Murtagh pointed to the beast from the east as a climate change example. Pic: PAUL BENNETTCampaigner Finnian Murtagh pointed to the beast from the east as a climate change example. Pic: PAUL BENNETT

Under an international deal known as the Paris Agreement governments agreed to tackle climate change.

“The fossil fuel industry is in danger of going belly up assuming governments live up to those commitments,” Mr Murtagh said.

Campaigners point to comments made Bank of England boss Mark Carney, who warned fossil fuel companies cannot burn oil, gas and coal if the planet is to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Mr Murtagh added councils risk breaking a legal duty to get the most profit for their pension holders by investing in an industry campaigners say is at risk of collapse.

Governments taking action on climate change could slap a high price on carbon dioxide, campaigners argue. Picture: Nick Ansell/PAGovernments taking action on climate change could slap a high price on carbon dioxide, campaigners argue. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA

The second argument is councils that don’t divest prop up an industry posing a threat to the environment including flooding of the Thames, predicted to rise by more than a metre by the end of the century as a result of heavier rainfall and sea level rises, according to Mr Murtagh. He pointed to the ‘beast from the east’ as another climate change example.

He said pollution from diesel cars the fossil fuel industry also contribtes to poor air quality in the city, including around schools and in poorer areas.

In March London mayor Sadiq Khan called on councils to ditch fossil fuel investment.

“By working together, we will have a louder voice to convince polluting firms to change their ways to tackle climate change,” he said.

Campaigners demanded the council pledge to divest over the next four years.

“It’s the ethical thing to do,” Mr Murtagh said before urging Barking and Dagenham to join Southwark and Waltham Forest councils which have promised to divest.

But critics say plans for councils paying into the local government pension scheme to combine their pension pots into one may scupper Divest’s plans.

But not according to Mr Murtagh who said it was even more important councils divest so they can shape a London-wide fund to protect pension holders from fossil fuel investments and support a stable climate.

A council spokesman said the Barking and Dagenham pension fund is regularly reviewed and will be again in 2019.

He added: “The Barking and Dagenham pension fund uses a range of investment opportunities – managed by a third-party not the council – to deliver a good pension return.

“It is important to highlight that fossil fuels only make up a small part of the council’s wider investment portfolio, which include renewable energy sources such as wind farms and solar panels.

“While we understand some people may find this divisive, it allows those handling our funds to have a say in the way the organisations are operated and influence their behaviour.”

Undeterred, Mr Murtagh said: “It’s time Barking and Dagenham occupied a moral position in London by saying no to fossil fuels.”

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