Climate change campaigners to protest at pension fund's Droylsden headquarters

Campaigners are to gather in Droylsden again on Friday, to demand that the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) join the movement to tackle climate change.

GMPF is the largest local government pension fund in the UK. According to a 2018 report over 10% of the fund is invested in oil, gas and mining companies, making it the ‘dirtiest’ pension fund in the country.

Data released in 2015 showed that the Greater Manchester Pension Fund holds £1.3bn of fossil fuel stocks- the most of any local government pension scheme in the UK. However, the GMPF has since committed to the Paris Agreement goal of 100% of their assets being compatible with the net-zero ambition by 2050.

Stuart Bowman, a member of Fossil Free Greater Manchester, said: “We need to act together to tackle climate change. GMPF is totally out of touch with the public mood and has no clear plan for urgently taking pensioners’ money out of fossil fuels.”

Local residents and environmental campaigners will congregate outside GMPF HQ, Guardsman Tony Downes House on Manchester Road, at 12.30pm this Friday, July 19.

It’s the second protest held there in less than a year; around 20 demonstrators did the same last October, armed with placards and a large cardboard dinosaur which read: “When will GM Pension Fund stop funding climate change?”

They leafleted GMPF delegates as they arrived for the Fund’s AGM, chanted slogans such as, “We said no! Stop funding fracking,” and “Hey hey, pension fund, when will you be clean?”

Stuart added: “Despite the changing public mood, GMPF is failing to act, putting pensioners’ money at risk and adding to the climate crisis. Where it was once considered a leader, GMPF is now lagging behind other pension funds in its glacial response to the climate emergency.”

There has been a global movement  to divest from fossil fuels. Local authority pension funds including South Yorkshire, Lambeth and Haringey have begun to sell their investments.

The Greater Manchester Pension Fund have issued a lengthy statement in response to the planned protest. It reads:

A GMPF spokesperson said: “The Greater Manchester Pension Fund  committed 2 years ago to being 100% carbon neutral by 2050 if not sooner, which is a higher standard than Government has set itself. 

We are the biggest local government investor in renewables and energy efficiency with £0.5 billion invested and leading investment opportunities for other funds. The pension fund’s holdings are a matter of public record and details are transparently published on our website along with our responsible investor policy -  https://www.gmpf.org.uk/documents/investments/GMPF%20RI%20Policy%202019.pdf.

The Greater Manchester Pension Fund is working hard to become carbon neutral and it has been recognised by the Environment Audit Committee as being one of the most engaged in the country in doing so.  This needs to be balanced against the Fund being top performing over 30 years and creating an additional £3.7 billion of value above that of the average LGPS pension fund.

The Fund has a fiduciary duty to demonstrate that its investment decisions do not threaten its financial performance, and the fact of the matter is over the last 3 years, we achieved over £400 million more in returns than if we had divested from equities in such companies such as BP or Centrica, formerly known as British Gas. 

Accordingly, with such clear evidence that disinvestment rushed at this stage would cause material financial detriment to the fund, we need to find a ‘Just Transition’, which ensures we do not transfer the burden of this cost to the employers and taxpayers of Greater Manchester alike, which would result in significant Council tax hikes, and importantly avoids job loses for residents across the conurbation who are employed in these industries.  

As part of a recent review of investment strategy we are currently implementing  £2.5 billion of the fund assets being divested to a low carbon approach targeting a significant reduction in carbon footprint and intensity. 

In a meeting with Fossil Free GM last week it was recognised we share same goal of a zero-carbon economy as quickly as possible although Fossil Free GM would like us to go faster. We are working  on this but we are also committed to a Just Transition ensuring interests of workers & communities are properly taken into account.”

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