"This isn't about ethics, or climate change or the environment, this is about primary fiduciary duty."
Me, a week or two back, in pensions committee, arguing that we should instruct our fund managers to support the BP and Shell Shareholder motions going to their AGMs, which call for them to further consider and justify the economic as well as environmental grounds for investing in tar sand oils.
Tar sands (or oil sands) are among the world’s dirtiest fuels: their extraction produces on average three times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil. The pollution, deforestation and wildlife disturbance associated with tar sands developments also threaten the traditional livelihoods, health and wellbeing of indigenous communities. In addition, serious questions have been raised about the financial risks of oil sands. It's far from clear that they represent a prudent investment.
Fair Pensions is campaigning alongside a number of other organisations, including Greenpeace, to encourage pension funds to support the shareholder motions which are going to the BP and Shell AGMs in April and May. You can find out more about their campaign, and contact your pension fund to ask them to support the motions, by going to their Counting the Cost website.
As a member of Lewisham's Pension Committee, we are regularly reminded by officers that a 1% drop in pension fund value equates to having to find £1m from the Council's budget to meet its pension liabilities and that we can be held personally responsible if we go against legal advice and the fund loses money (don't think it works the other way round). And I've gradually learnt over the past few years that talking about ethics gets you nowhere with fund managers and gets lawyers very alarmed and reminding you of your primary fiduciary duty - our main responsibility is to maximise profits for the pension fund and sod the consequences. So a campaign that encourages pension fund members to challenge fund managers on their own terms, rather than 'woolly ethics' was music to my ears.
In this case, with regards to the tar sands motions, officers advised us to delay making a decision until a report on the tar sands issue has been published by the Local Authority Pension Funds Forum (LAPFF), of which Lewisham is a member. If the LAPFF recommends supporting the motions, then Lewisham is likely to do so, although the decision has ultimately been delegated to the Exective Director for Resources, as the committee won't be meeting again before the AGMs. If all the local authority pension funds that are members of the LAPFF support the shareholder motions, this will send a clear and powerful message to the management of BP and Shell.
Do take a look at the Counting the Cost website for details of how you can support the campaign.