East Lothian Council in 'double standards' row over pension fund climate polluters
East Lothian Council has been accused of double standards after declaring a climate emergency while its own pension fund invests millions of pounds in some of Scotland’s biggest polluters.
The local authority has pledged to make the area carbon neutral within the next 25 years by cracking down on services and developments which are not environmentally-friendly.
However, it has been revealed that Lothian Pension Fund, which oversees the council’s pensions, has £83million invested in five of the top ten polluting companies operating in Scotland.
They include ExxonMobil whose chemical factory at Mossmorran has been in the headlines over the summer for a series of unplanned flaring, and was listed as the third biggest polluter in Scotland in 2017 by SEPA when it emitted 829, 964 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and SSE whose gas power station in Peterhead emitted 950, 296 tonnes of carbon dioxide the same year.
Scottish Greens MSP for Lothian Alison Johnstone hit out at East Lothian Council’s climate pledge saying: “Councils cannot declare a climate emergency then avoid taking action.“It requires an emergency respose, and that includes switching to ethical environmental investments for a sustainable future, not ploughing our pension funds into the fossil fuel industry.”
And local climate campaigner Shena Jamieson, a former teacher from Bolton, described the situation as “ironic”.
She said: “Much as I welcomed the climate emergency motion from East Lothian Council, I found it rather ironic.
“I researched the investments in the Lothian Pension Fund to find that there were investments worth approximately £83 million in 5 of Scotland’s top 12 polluting companies and investments worth approximately £66 million in 7 of the world’s top 30 greenhouse gas emitters.
“Surely double standards?”
Sarah Bronsdon, whose organisation Lil (Low Impact Living) is involved in organising a climate rally in East Lothian later this month, said issues with the Lothian Pension Fund’s investments have been raised in the past with local authorities involved.
The fund oversees pensions for local government workers in Edinburgh and the Lothians, not just East Lothian Council.
She said: “Lil is working really hard to help change individual behaviour but every organisation, big or small, needs to look to itself to see what they can do to make a difference.
“East Lothian Council has to follow up their statement by taking action. If they do not take action we are not going to meet our targets.”
Lothian Pension Fund lists among its investments as of March 2019 over £16million in SSE Gas and over £27.6million in ExxonMobil.
It also has investments listed in Shell, whose St Fergus plan was in the SEPA 2017 top ten of polluters, GlaxoSmithKline, whose Irvine pharmaceuticals base made the list and US defence firm Raytheon, whose Glenrothes factory was tenth.
East Lothian Council said it plans to bring an “updated” climate Change strategy to a cabinet meeting later this year.
A spokesperson said: “East Lothian Council pension investments are managed on our behalf and that of our neighbouring local authorities by the Lothian Pension Fund, which has a responsible investment policy.
“In taking forward our plans for the draft Climate Change strategy, we have recognised that a partnership approach is required to ensure that we can all play our part in the national and international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
‘The draft strategy set out a number of proposals to tackle climate change. We have been considering the response to the consultation and will bring forward an updated strategy to a meeting of the Cabinet later this year.”
Jane Henderson, Leader of the Opposition Conservative Group on East Lothian Council said: “We strongly support East Lothian Council’s net zero strategy and the broader move away from fossil fuels towards clean technologies.
“We would like to see Lothian Pension Fund trustees working with fund managers to explore the impact of climate change on their investments. But final decisions on divestment and the wider profile of Lothian Pension Fund should rightly be taken by trustees in consultation with the council staff they represent.”
And SNP Group leader Councillor Stuart Currie urged the council’s Labour administration who brought the motion forward through deputy council leader Norman Hampshire, to put pressure on the pe nsion fund to look at its investments.
Mr Currie, who along with other councillors gave cross party support to the motion said work would now need to be done to carry it through.
He said: “It is important that the Administration now follows through on the motion at council last week by making representations to the pension fund to try and ensure the companies being invested in are consistent with our commitment to the climate emergency.
“I think it is important that the Depute Leader, Cllr Hampshire, brings back a report to the next council letting us all know what work he is doing in this area.”