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'Why bother reducing CO2 emissions at home while investing in dirty energy abroad?' campaigners ask Hackney Council

PUBLISHED: 19:13 22 October 2019 | UPDATED: 19:39 22 October 2019

Protesters outside Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Divest Hackney

Protesters outside Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Divest Hackney

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Eco-activists are once again pressing Hackney Council to divest £67m it has channelled into fossil fuel firms, as the pensions committee reviews its investment strategy next month.

Divest Hackney has been pushing the council to channel pension funds away from "dirty energy" for four years, and follow the lead taken by Waltham Forest which went 100 per cent fossil fuel free in 2016.

But Hackney's investment in oil, coal and energy firms like Exxon Mobil jumped from £42m in 2015 to a peak of £88m the following year. The council claims it is unable to divest totally because of a "fiduciary duty" - but that's an excuse that no longer rings true, claim campaigners.

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"The science and climate impact has accelerated in a way that wasn't quite predicted and what's changed over the past six months is the climate emergency declaration, de-carbonisation targets, and the youth climate strike," said Gabriel Davalos, from Divest Hackney.

Leading climate scientists have warned only 12 years remain for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Mr Davalos questions the council's logic behind continuing to invest in the top 200 fossil fuel companies while pledging to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2040 at home in Hackney.

"What's the legitimacy of continuing trying to profit from investments in emissions that pollute elsewhere, past the date when you as a borough want to commit to decarbonise?" he asked. "How honest is your climate emergency if it doesn't include divestment? In terms of interpreting 'fiduciary duty', there's a long standing belief if you exclude investments you risk your return - but there's a consensus that's outdated and if there are fundamental risks on things like climate you should have a longer-term investment strategy including getting out of companies that are engaging in incredibly risky behaviour."

Cllr Robert Chapman, chair of the pensions committee, said: "It is our ambition to mirror the council's commitment [to reduce the council's net CO2 emissions to zero by 2040] but we need to bear in mind that fiduciary duty and have not made an absolute commitment at this stage. Over the two decades between now and 2040, the world economy will need to materially reduce its dependence on fossil fuels - for the time being we are supportive of reduction."

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