Defending an investment in fossil fuels is like defending the slave trade, an East Lothian councillor claimed this week.
Scottish Greens councillor Shona McIntosh made the comparison as she led a motion calling on Lothian Pension Fund to divest from oil companies.
And she was backed by fellow councillor and Young Persons Champion Brooke Ritchie, who told elected members some young people saw no point in having a pension because they did not believe their would be a future to invest in.
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In the week councillors recognised the first anniversary of the death of former council leader Willie Innes, members were reminded that he wrote to the pension fund three years ago urging it to stop investing in fossil fuel firms.
Councillor McIntosh said despite the fund presenting a new investment strategy committing to managing funds "in line with the Paris agreement" it had increased its holdings in fossil fuel companies by 40% since 2021 standing at £290million.
She said: “Fossil fuel companies like Shell and Exxon are being funded by our money, our constituents money and our employees money.
"They are aggressively pursuing new oil and gas fields despite the clear messaging from scientists that we cannot afford to do this.
Referring to Mr Innes' letter she added he had pointed out that the people who would suffer the most from climate change were the ones who had done the least to cause it.
She said: “We can see this right now in Pakistan where recently a third of the country was under water causing £50billion of damages and Pakistan is responsible for just 0.5% of emissions.”
“We have done this to these people.”
And she said the pension funds argument to elected members that it was better that "ethical investors" held shares rather than if they "sold the shares to a coalmine of a Russian oligarch who might increase production" reminded her of those against the abolition of slavery in the 18th century.
She said: "At that time while British companies and British ships were classifying human beings as chattel and sending them across the Atlantic, when they were challenged on it, one of the things they often said was ‘well if we weren’t doing this the French would be doing it instead and the conditions are much worse on their ships so we should keep doing it, we are doing the world a favour’.
"This is moral relativism and it was insupportable then and is insupportable now.”
Councillor Ritchie, who took over Mr Innes' seat in May's election and is one of the council's youngest members said: "We can’t future proof our investments by investing in an industry that is not itself future proof.
“There are many young people who have chosen not to even be a member of a pension fund as they don’t see the point in investing in a future that ultimately may not exist.
“As harsh, and potentially ridiculous, as that sounds many young people feel if we do not take action on climate change there is little point in having a pension.”
Lee-Anne Menzies, on behalf of the SNP group, added: "There are workers beginning their careers this year who will reach retirement age in the 2070s and the ‘80s, our pension funds have a duty to ensure the stability they offer to retired workers now are available to retirees of the future.”
And council leader Norman Hampshire supported the motion saying: "It is not just about disinvestment, to do that we need an alternative.
"Having renewables on their own is not an alternative currently, most houses in this country are heated by gas.
“There needs to be some investment to replace what we are currently doing or all that is happening is we will continue to drill for more oil and gas."
The motion which called on Mr Hampshire to write to the pension fund asking them to divest from fossil fuels and provide annual reports detailing investments in the industry was unanimously supported.
Lothian Pension Fund (LPF) is the Local Government Pension Scheme for Edinburgh and the Lothians. LPF has £9.6bn of assets under management for workers from 66 organisations in local government or community services, and provides for over 92,250 members and their beneficiaries.
A spokesperon for the Lothian Pension Fund (LPF) said it has a transparent approach to investment management publish all investments through its website.
They said: "LPF invests according to policies approved by the Pension Committee, that includes elected members (Councillors) and representatives for members and employers in the fund.
"LPF’s policy on responsible investment is informed by fiduciary duty owed to members and employers, which is set out in law, to invest for the best returns to ensure pension benefits can be paid when they fall due.
"The fund is often challenged about its approach to responsible investment. The issues involved have been considered in great detail and the fund does not disinvest from or ‘blacklist’ companies for purely non-financial reasons, not least because this could lead to legal challenge.
"The fund has a broad range of investments and has far more invested in projects such as renewable energy or green infrastructure than in listed shares in firms deemed to be fossil fuel companies.
"The fund does, however, believe that environmental, social and governance issues can affect the financial performance of the companies in which it invests.
"Consequently, it takes these issues seriously and integrates them into the decision-making processes. It has a policy of engagement with companies and policymakers rather than a policy of exclusion or divestment.
"By engaging with the companies in which it owns shares, it strives to improve the sustainability of corporate strategy to the benefit of shareholders, and to the benefit of wider society.
"In contrast, a policy of disinvestment merely passes shares to potentially less responsible share owners, who are less likely to hold management to account."
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