Waltham Forest becomes first council to divest from fossil fuels

The achievement is a first among UK councils and has taken since 2016
By Waltham Forest Echo

Divest Waltham Forest campaigners outside the town hall (archive photo)
Divest Waltham Forest campaigners outside the town hall (archive photo)

Waltham Forest is officially the first council in the UK to stop investing in fossil fuels.

In 2016, after a year of urging from environmental campaigners, the council’s pension committee promised to “exclude fossil fuels from its strategy over the next five years”.

At the time the council’s pension fund was worth £735million, of which £23.9m was invested in the oil and gas industries.

While campaigners criticised the council for not moving fast enough in 2019 – when its investment in fossil fuels had actually increased – the council announced today that it has “completed the task” of divesting “directly managed” funds.

Deputy leader Clyde Loakes said: “Often when people talk about tackling the climate emergency, they are discussing the tangible actions that we can all see. Of course [these] are incredibly important but so is the behind-the-scenes work that people may not see, such as this incredible achievement divesting our pension funds.

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“Moving away from investments in oil, coal, and gas companies in favour of investing in those working on sustainable or renewable energy helps these new technologies become better, more efficient and more readily available. 

“We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to give them the chance to enjoy the opportunities from which we have benefitted and one of the ways we can achieve this is through leading the shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.

“We also want to help other local authorities and public sector bodies to do the same. We are happy to share our experiences and what we have learned with others – we are all on this journey together and I hope that sharing our success will encourage other councils to divest.”

It is estimated that UK pension funds have an estimated £128 billion invested in fossil fuel, according to research by Friends of the Earth in 2021 – equivalent to £1916 per UK citizen. Local government pension funds account for £10 billion of this figure.

Some of the council’s pension funds are invested in the London Collective Investment Vehicle (CIV). These funds are outside its direct control but the council is using its influence to encourage divestment in these pooled funds.

Cllr Johar Khan, pension committee chair, added: “The people who rely on our pension fund can be reassured that not only is it well managed, but it is also ethically managed. 

“Divestment is not only a sensible decision that helps protect the pension fund… it also underlines our determination to do all we can to tackle the challenges of the climate emergency.”

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