Seven in Ten Major UK Pension Funds Yet To Make ‘Robust’ Net Zero Commitment, Say Campaigners

Campaign co-founder Richard Curtis said it was important “to act with urgency to make sure that the trillions in our pensions help tackle the climate crisis, not fuel the fire.”  
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Image credit: stux / 726 images (CC BY).

Nearly £2 trillion is invested in UK pension schemes that are failing to tackle climate change, campaigners have claimed.

A review of major pension funds by divestment campaign group Make My Money Matter found 71 of 100 are yet to detail concrete plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The analysis, which used a list of top funds compiled by Professional Pensions, acknowledges that significant progress on divestment from fossil fuels has been made over the past 12 months – with an estimated £800 billion worth of UK pension money now in schemes working to tackle the climate crisis.

However, campaigners say the majority of UK pension schemes – which represent a total of £2.6 trillion – continue to fall short of the Paris Agreement target to restrict global temperature rise to 1.5C. They are calling on the government to “catalyse” change by setting mandatory science-based net zero targets.

“The report shows just how far we have to go,” said Richard Curtis, filmmaker and co-founder of the campaign.

“With almost three quarters of leading pensions schemes not yet aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement, we have to act with urgency to make sure that the trillions in our pensions help tackle the climate crisis, not fuel the fire.”  

‘Robust’ Commitments

Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell and the Bank of England were among the companies with pension schemes lacking adequate net zero plans, the research claimed.

Campaigners said that progress varied among different schemes. According to the research, nearly all of the 15 largest Defined Contribution (DC) workplace pension providers – where the pension is based on how much is put in – have made concrete net zero commitments. In contrast, the majority of major Defined Benefit (DB) funds – where both the person and employer contribute to the scheme – were found to lag behind.

While a number of the companies listed have made pledges to reach net zero emissions, this was not considered sufficient in the analysis. The campaign instead defines “robust commitment” to net zero as having science-based interim targets to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2030. 

As well as calling on pension schemes to increase net zero commitments and “avoid greenwashing”, campaigners are calling on the government to “catalyse this transition by legislating for net zero, making it mandatory for schemes (and the wider finance sector) to set and implement science-based net zero targets”.

Responding to the research, Adam McGibbon, UK campaign lead at Market Forces, which coordinates groups of shareholders on climate issues, told DeSmog: “The science is crystal clear: Real climate action by pension funds means no investment in companies that are building new coal plants, coal mines or new oil and gas fields. 

“This is the bare minimum that a responsible pension fund must commit to. If your pension fund isn’t committed to this, you should be very worried about your money.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the government was opposed to the call for set targets.

“We are encouraging organisations to commit to net zero in a way that works for them, and to publish a plan for doing so,” they said.

“Pressure to comply with government-set mandatory targets would completely undermine trustees’ duty to invest in the best interests of their members, and would likely force immediate divestment from some stocks – regardless of whether the company is showing meaningful attempts to reach net zero or not.”

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