Burning fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) is the main driver of global warming. Just 100 fossil fuel producers – including Exxon, Shell, BP and Total – account for 71 percent of all global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
These companies – who are still actively looking for more fossil fuels to fill our atmosphere with carbon for years to come – are arguably the major obstacle preventing us from tackling climate change effectively.
Yet many schools and sixth-form colleges around the UK are, without realising it, funding fossil fuel companies through their contributions to local government pension schemes.
These schemes provide pensions for many caretakers, classroom assistants, cleaners, lunchtime supervisors, school secretaries and other non-teaching staff in schools and sixth-form colleges across the UK. (Teachers have a separate pension scheme.)
Local government pension schemes have £16bn invested in giant oil, coal and gas companies like Exxon and BP. Since 2011, a global divestment movement has been campaigning to get churches, universities and pension funds to sell the shares they own in fossil fuel companies (to ‘divest’ from fossil fuels) and to reinvest the money somewhere else.
This is a tried-and-tested method of creating social change. For example, it was successfully used as a weapon in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.
So far, over 1,000 institutions, with assets valued at over $8 trillion, have made some form of divestment commitment – causing serious headaches for the fossil fuel companies.
How to join in
If you’re a student, teacher, parent or staff member at a UK school, you can be a part of this!
- Find out how much your local government pension scheme has invested in fossil fuels: tinyurl.com/peacenews3250. For example, where I live, the East Sussex pension fund is estimated to have around £150m of local people’s pension money invested in fossil fuel companies.
- Get a list of which schools and colleges contribute to your local government pension scheme: whatdotheyknow.com. In East Sussex, a simple Freedom of Information Act request (using WhatDoTheyKnow) revealed that over 40 local schools and colleges together contribute at least £9.8 million a year to the East Sussex pension fund.
- If your school is on the list, get together with some people who feel as strongly as you do about climate change and set up a divestment campaign. A first place to start might be a petition that students, parents, teachers and staff could sign. You want your school to ask your local government pension scheme to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. Campaigners at Fossil Free UK can help and put you in contact with other divestment campaigners in your area: gofossilfree.org/uk/