Oil monster spooks council staff in Matlock about risk to pensions

A giant oil monster dropped in on County Hall, Matlock, when Derbyshire campaigners joined in a national day of action against council pension funds being invested in fossil fuels businesses.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 3:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th November 2021, 3:32 pm
One of the activists dons an oil themed outfit. Maddy Winters
One of the activists dons an oil themed outfit. Maddy Winters

The 10ft high monster puppet, modelled on the Jabberwocky, was accompanied by masked oil barons and campaigners carrying banners calling on the Derbyshire Pension Fund to clean up its act and withdraw the millions of pounds it has pumped into oil and gas corporations.

The campaign groups Divest Derbyshire and the Derbyshire Pensioners Action Group gave council staff going to work information about action they can take to ensure their pensions are invested in green technology and low carbon infrastructure rather than climate-wrecking fossil fuels.

This pension fund has around £146 million invested in fossil fuel companies. The campaigners argue it is pension fund members’ money that the fossil fuel industry spends to explore for more oil and gas.

The protest outside County Hall. Photo: Maddy Winters

The campaigners have also emailed around 200 major employers of the Derbyshire Pension Fund, including schools, colleges, district councils and the Fire and Police services. They are asking the employers to forward information about the fossil fuel investments to their employees who contribute to the pension fund.

A survey of pension fund members that the two groups carried out last year showed that there was ‘overwhelming’ support for investments to be pulled out of industries paying 'dirty dividends' such as fossil fuel companies and switched into ethical sectors including renewable energy and social housing.

Sue Owen from the Derbyshire Pensioners’ Action Group and a member of the pension fund said: “There is very little time to stop climate catastrophe. By investing in fossil fuels, our pension money is helping to create this crisis. I do not want my pension money to be invested in fossil fuels and neither do the vast majority of other members we have spoken to. Our pension money should be invested in green and sustainable developments.”

Lisa Hopkinson from Divest Derbyshire said: “As world leaders gather in Glasgow to discuss action on climate change we want our councils to show leadership. If the Derbyshire Pension Fund was to divest from fossil fuels, it could invest millions of pounds in renewable energy, social housing and fossil free funds, as many other council pension funds have already done.”

Placards being waved outside County Hall. Photo: Maddy Winters

One of the makers of the Oil Monster and member of the Derbyshire Climate Coalition said: “We hope our giant Oil Monster and the attendant Barons will communicate some of the horror that we need to avoid. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground will give us a chance to prevent a climate catastrophe.”

The national “Councils: Stop Funding Fossil Fuels Day of Action” was supported by Friends of the Earth and Platform London and is timed to coincide with discussions on finance at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the small protest outside County Hall today which was peaceful and non-disruptive to the small number of officers currently working in the building. “As the administering authority for Derbyshire Pension Fund, we have a duty to comply with statutory investment regulations which require the fund to hold a broad spread of investments in order to control risk.

“The pension fund invests in a wide range of investment assets to support the payment of pension benefits and we would like to reassure members of the fund that their pensions are guaranteed and based primarily on length of service and salary.

The protest was peaceful and non-disruptive. Photo: Maddy Winters

“Consideration is given to the issue of climate change as part of the evaluation of all investment risks associated with the fund’s diverse portfolio. The pension fund’s published climate-related disclosures report the steps being taken by the fund to manage climate-related risk.

“Over the last few years, the fund’s investment in companies involved in the production of fossil fuels has been reduced significantly to around 2.5% of the portfolio, at the same time the fund has made substantial new investments global sustainable equities and renewable energy funds.

“The pension fund’s Climate Strategy was approved last year following consultation with stakeholders which involved writing to the fund’s members asking for their views. The strategy sets out support for the Paris Agreement and includes clear targets for reducing the carbon emissions of the whole investment portfolio and for increasing investment in low carbon and sustainable investments. The fund is making good progress in achieving these targets.

“A Responsible Investment Framework was approved at the same time which sets out the fund’s approach to engaging with companies to influence their behaviour and enhance their value. Collaborative and co-ordinated engagement with other like-minded investors has the potential to drive positive changes to companies’ business models as they adapt for the transition to a low carbon economy.

Protestors hand out information

“We can confirm that the exposure (investment) to fossil fuels is still around £145m which is currently 2.4% of the portfolio.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​