Members of West Yorkshire Pension Fund demand more information about financial risks of climate change

Members of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund (WYPF) have written to the fund to express concern that it is not providing enough information about how it manages the financial risks associated with climate change, including from investments in fossil fuel companies.

WYPF invests £671 million of its £11 billion total assets in fossil fuel companies, and a group of members wrote to the fund in March, expressing concern about risks to investments in such companies. Now, members are once again lobbying the fund, concerned that it has not provided enough information in its response. 26 members have added their names to the latest letter to the fund. They are from across West Yorkshire, including Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Leeds.

WYPF Members meeting with ShareAction July 2016: Peter Taylor, Lesley Hall, James Brass, Jane Thewlis, Jess Clark (from ShareAction) and Sam Saxby.
WYPF Members meeting with ShareAction July 2016: Peter Taylor, Lesley Hall, James Brass, Jane Thewlis, Jess Clark (from ShareAction) and Sam Saxby.

The letter says, “Whilst it is apparent … that the fund is taking some positive steps towards assessing and addressing climate risk, we nevertheless feel that not all of the questions we asked in our letter have been answered.”
The letter requests that the fund assesses the financial risks that climate change could pose to its portfolio. It says the fund could follow the lead taken by the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, which recently took the decision to engage a specialist contractor to conduct a carbon audit of its portfolio.

The campaign to raise awareness of the scheme’s investments in fossil fuels began last September. Members believe it does not make sense to invest pensions in fossil fuels which are causing climate change, which if unchecked will cause massive problems worldwide and well into the future.
There have also been numerous warnings from the financial community that investments in high-carbon industries will prove financially risky in the future, as regulation limits the amount of carbon that can be burned. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said that investors face “potentially huge” losses from climate change action that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas “literally unburnable”.

Members have been supported by responsible investment charity ShareAction, which helps pension savers get into a dialogue with their pension funds about such issues, and environmental law firm ClientEarth.

Mark Gladwin, 70, from York, who is an ex-employee of Bradford Council, said:
“As a grandad, I don’t want my pension savings financing activities which will lead towards a poorer, more dangerous world for my grandchildren to grow up in.”

Sam Saxby, 37, said:
“I live in Calderdale, a beautiful place which is at risk of flooding – risks made worse by climate change. WYPF invests heavily in companies who extract and sell the very fuels which cause climate change. It’s wrong that my pension is supporting an industry which is so damaging. As China and the US have ratified the Paris carbon reduction targets, it’s clearer than ever that fossil fuels are yesterday’s news.We should be investing in the clean technology of tomorrow, not the tail-end of the poisonous petroleum bubble.”

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