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Climate / Council responds to calls to divest from fossil fuels

Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. Photo: Pixabay

THE LOCAL branch of the Scottish Greens is calling on Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to divest from fossil fuels ahead of this year’s United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow after an investigation found that around £20 million of its £460 million pension fund is invested in fossil fuel companies.

In January last year, Shetland Islands Council, together with 20 other local authorities in Scotland, either ‘recognised’ or ‘declared’ a climate emergency.

However, no local authority has far taken any action to end their investments in coal, oil and gas, according to the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Its divestment campaigner Ric Lander said: “Many local authorities have declared a climate emergency and have plans in place to bring down emissions from transport, buildings and waste.

“Pension fund investments are currently working against this progress by continuing to back the ageing fossil fuel economy.”

The Greens’ Highlands and Islands list candidate Debra Nicolson added: “If the SIC are serious about the climate they would declare that we are in a climate emergency instead of just ‘recognising’ it and start immediately divesting away from fossil fuel companies and support a clean energy economy by investing in renewable energy delivery.”

But Shetland Islands Council responded by saying it was working with the oil and gas industry to bring down emissions while at the same time creating a new industry that would support clean and affordable energy.

SIC political leader Steven Coutts.
SIC leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

Council leader and chair of the pension board Steven Coutts said: “We have acknowledged that there needs to be a step change in the global response to climate change and we are actively engaged in the energy transition, working with the oil and gas industry to transition to net zero by electrification, utilising onshore and offshore wind.

“We are also supporting the creation of a green hydrogen export business at industrial scale on Shetland by harnessing offshore wind power.

“Together, these will sustain thousands of jobs and transform Shetland’s current dependency on fossil fuels to affordable renewable energy, that will help to address fuel poverty and improve community wealth.

“When we consider our review on pension fund investment later this year, I am sure that climate change will play a very significant part.”

The Friends of the Earth investigation found that overall in Scotland £1.2 billion was invested in fossil fuel companies by council pension funds.

“Scottish council pensions are directly invested in the continued search for new fossil fuels through their ownership of companies like Shell and BP. This drive is undermining efforts to curb the climate emergency here in Scotland and doing untold damage to vulnerable communities around the world,” Lander said.

Friends of the Earth continued by saying that investing in fossil fuels was not generating the returns of the past anymore.

As stocks have fallen in value in recent years, local councils have lost out. £194 million of value was wiped off the oil and gas investments of the Scottish council pensions between 2017-20, the group said.

The Shetland Islands Council pension fund administers the pensions of around 7,800 local public employees of bodies including the council, the Orkney & Shetland Valuation Joint Board and Lerwick Port Authority.