Protestors demonstrate against Shropshire pension investment in fossil fuels
Environmental campaigners staged a demonstration outside Shropshire Council's headquarters to protest its pension fund investments in "climate-wrecking companies".
A dozen activists gathered outside Shirehall in Shrewsbury on the day the Shropshire County Pension Fund's annual meeting was being held inside.
The protestors, who wore funeral black and red, called on the council pension fund to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and those contributing to environmental destruction.
They also highlighted its involvement with BlackRock, an American global investment firm that has been criticised for contributing to tropical rainforest destruction.
The Pension Fund said it believed influencing companies "from the inside" was the most effective approach.
“We’re here to call out the hypocrisy of Shropshire Council,” said Jo Blackman from Extinction Rebellion Shrewsbury.
“In May this year they declared a Climate Emergency. Yet they are still investing their pensions in climate-wrecking companies that are pushing our planet towards destruction.”
Several protestors waved charred tree branches to symbolise the role of investment BlackRock in the recent Amazon wildfires. Others carried placards saying "No to dirty money pensions" and "Fund solutions not pollution".
Jo said: “We’ve all watched the apocalyptic scenes from the Amazon on the news. The fires are so big you can see them from space.
"The company financing that destruction is BlackRock and in the last financial year Shropshire County Pension Fund had £266 million invested with them.
“That means our council’s pension pot – which includes contributions from all our council taxes – is being invested to burn the Amazon rainforest, its wildlife and the indigenous peoples who live there.
"While the council is trying to be green by planting a few trees in Shropshire, it’s simultaneously supporting the mass burning of the world’s most important rainforest.”
Among those attending the annual meeting on Thursday was Mike Cripps, a pension fund member from Shrewsbury. He said: “I’m paying into the pension scheme and I’m worried about it being invested in fossil fuels.
"For one, it’s unethical. But my other concern is that it’s also a risky investment.
“Big investors are already pulling out of fossil fuels. According to Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, firms who ignore climate crisis will go bankrupt.
"If Shropshire Council gets stuck with an unprofitable fund, then everyone’s council tax will have to go up to cover the losses. Do the people of Shropshire really want that to happen?”
Other UK council pension funds have already divested from fossil fuels, including Birmingham City Council and Powys County Council.
James Walton, Shropshire County Pension Fund’s scheme administrator, said: "Shropshire Council currently does not invest with BlackRock. Shropshire County Pension Fund has two separate mandates with Blackrock in their Fixed Income Global Opportunities Fund and their Fund of Hedge Fund Strategy.
“The Pension Committee has an overriding duty to consider its financial responsibilities above any other considerations but it remains committed to important issues such as Responsible Investment, ESG issues and climate change issues.
"It therefore does not restrict its investment managers in the companies in which they can invest as this is contrary to the overriding financial responsibility of the Pension Committee.
“Although the fund does not restrict its managers in the investments they make, it takes corporate governance and environmental and social responsibility seriously.
"The Pension Committee believes it is more important to influence company behaviour from the inside as a shareholder."
Mr Walton highlighted the fund's membership of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), which recognises fossil fuel extraction as an "investment risk", and said BMO Global Asset Management, which the fund employs, has "been at the forefront of raising concerns around potential asset stranding with a wide range of companies".
Mr Walton added: “In conclusion, the Fund takes seriously its obligations to pension fund members through its engagement policies and LAPFF membership but it does not restrict investment managers from investing in companies which they feel will produce the best financial returns for the Fund."