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EAST Lothian Council has been accused of double standards after declaring a climate emergency whilst its own pension fund invests millions of pounds in some of Scotland’s biggest polluters.
The local authority has pledged to make the county carbon neutral within 25 years by cracking down on services and developments which are not environmentally-friendly.
However, it has been revealed that Lothian Pension Fund, which oversees the council’s pension pots, has £83million invested in five of the top 10 polluting companies operating in Scotland.
They include ExxonMobil whose chemical factory at Mossmorran has been in the headlines over the summer for a series of unplanned flarings, and was listed as the third biggest polluter in Scotland in 2017 by SEPA when it emitted 829,964 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Greens member for Lothian, hit out at the local authority’s climate pledge saying: “Councils cannot declare a climate emergency then avoid taking action.
“It requires an emergency response, and that includes switching to ethical environmental investments for a sustainable future, not ploughing our pension funds into the fossil fuel industry.”
And local climate campaigner Shena Jamieson, a former teacher from Bolton, said: “Much as I welcomed the climate emergency motion from East Lothian Council, I found it rather ironic.
“I researched the investments in the Lothian Pension Fund to find that there were investments worth approximately £83 million in five of Scotland’s top 12 polluting companies and investments worth approximately £66 million in seven of the world’s top 30 greenhouse gas emitters.
“Surely this is double standards?”
Sarah Bronsdon, whose county-based organisation Lil (Low Impact Living) is involved in organising a climate rally in East Lothian later this month, said issues with the Lothian Pension Fund’s investments have been raised in the past with the local authorities involved.
The fund oversees pensions for local government workers in Edinburgh and the Lothians, not just East Lothian Council employees.
She said: “Lil is working really hard to help change individual behaviour but every organisation, big or small, needs to look to itself to see what they can do to make a difference.
“East Lothian Council has to follow up their statement by taking action. If they do not take action we are not going to meet our targets.”
Lothian Pension Fund lists among its investments as of March 2019 more than £16million in SSE Gas and over £27.6million in ExxonMobil.
It also has investments listed in Shell, whose St Fergus gas terminal was in the SEPA 2017 top 10 list of polluters; GlaxoSmithKline, whose Irvine pharmaceuticals base made the list; and US defence firm Raytheon, whose Glenrothes factory was tenth.
East Lothian Council said it planned to bring an “updated” climate change strategy to its cabinet later this year.
A spokesperson said: “East Lothian Council pension investments are managed on our behalf and that of our neighbouring local authorities by the Lothian Pension Fund, which has a responsible investment policy.
“In taking forward our plans for the draft climate change strategy, we have recognised that a partnership approach is required to ensure that we can all play our part in the national and international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
“The draft strategy sets out a number of proposals to tackle climate change.
“We have been considering the response to the consultation and will bring forward an updated strategy to a meeting of the council cabinet later this year.”
Councillor Jane Henderson (Conservative), leader of the opposition on East Lothian Council said: “We strongly support East Lothian Council’s net zero strategy and the broader move away from fossil fuels towards clean technologies.
“We would like to see Lothian Pension Fund trustees working with fund managers to explore the impact of climate change on their investments.
“But final decisions on divestment and the wider profile of Lothian Pension Fund should rightly be taken by trustees in consultation with the council staff they represent.”
Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader, urged the council’s Labour administration, which brought the motion forward through depute council leader Norman Hampshire, to put pressure on the pension fund to look at its investments.
Mr Currie, who along with other councillors gave cross-party support to the motion, said work would now need to be done to carry it through.
He said: “It is important that the administration now follows through on the motion at council last week by making representations to the pension fund to try and ensure the companies being invested in are consistent with our commitment to the climate emergency.
“I think it is important that the depute leader, Cllr Hampshire, brings back a report to the next council letting us all know what work he is doing in this area.”
Mr Hampshire told councillors last week: “We need to take the threat of climate change seriously and we need to act now.
“If we do not, our children and grandchildren will never forgive us.”