Sunday, 24 October 2021

West Yorkshire Pension Fund and Divestment - Some progress but painfully slow!

There was some welcome news from Labour Cabinet Member Paul Davis when I asked a question regarding fossil fuel divestment from West Yorkshire Pension Funds. I'd been prompted to ask the question as Calderdale and Wakefield Councils had already indicated that they would back divestment  so I wondered what Kirklees were doing. A Green Party motion by our Bradford Councillors on Divestment from the West Yorkshire Pension Fund had failed only days before but that was probably more about the fact that it didn't come from the Labour Party rather than the rights and wrongs of the issue. So that just leaves Leeds to give an indication of where it stands. During the Mayoral Election campaign Labour's Tracy Brabin gave an equivocal response to divestment saying she supported it but that had to be balanced with 

Tracy seems to be pushing on divestment now as a possible 'Win' coming up to COP26 but the Mayor has no direct influence over the Pension Fund but certainly has influence through Labour Councillors who sit on the Investment Panel.

The really irritating thing is that a Green Party motion calling for divestment from the fund was passed in 2015 by Kirklees Council. It said,

"Kirklees will ask our representatives on the West Yorkshire Pension Fund - Investment Advisory Panel to call on all Pension Trustees to exercise their fiduciary duty and to call for a review of WYPF fossil fuel investments in the light of climate risk posed by fossil fuel equities".

Over the next week or so we will see if there is any movement on this at all and WYPF does divest from fossil fuels. If it did however that could not be the end of the story because the fund also invests in AMP Capital, the Australian company that owns Leeds Bradford Airport. It has an investment with them worth £1.3 million. Leeds Bradford Airport expansion plans would if realised result in a huge increase in emissions completely demolishing any chance of West Yorkshire achieving it's zero carbon economy by 2038 target. The problem for Labour is that West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin has at best been equivocal in her stance on Leeds Bradford Airport and avoided discussing it during the Mayoral campaign. I witnessed this first hand when she refused to answer a yes/no question on Airport expansion during the  recording of the BBC's Mayoral debate. It was never aired unfortunately. 

In the Mayor's West Yorkshire Climate Action Plan there's a lot of good stuff including the statement,

"We will use influence as a significant investor to start the process of developing options for West Yorkshire Pension Fund divestment from fossil fuel companies and other environmentally damaging activities".

The Plan then goes on to call for annual progress reports from WYPF. Given that Airport Expansion in an environmentally damaging activity will they include AMP Capital in their Annual Report? They should do.

So now Labour have discovered after many years a renewed interest in divestment will they extend their divestment enthusiasm to AMP Capital? Well perhaps we shouldn't expect too much on that one.

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