Greater Manchester pension fund campaigners highlight fossil fuel investment with mock award ceremony protest

Protestors including green groups, divestment campaigners and trade unions ironically awarded Greater Manchester’s pension fund the title of ‘dirtiest investor’ for its massive holdings in fossil fuels.
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Greater Manchester’s public sector pension fund has been ironically congratulated for being the “dirtiest investor in the UK” for its massive holdings in fossil fuels by protestors.

Campaigners including the movement calling on pension bodies to divest from oil and gas, green groups and trade unionists staged the mock award ceremony outside the latest meeting of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) on Friday (24 March).

Protestors gathered outside the building in Droylsden in Tameside where the fund’s management panel were meeting and urged the body to withdraw its money from fossil fuels due to their contribution to climate change.

Data has previously shown the GMPF has more money in fossil fuels than any similar body in the UK, with holdings of over £1bn estimated by researchers as of April 2020.

Why did the mock award ceremony take place outside the pension fund’s meeting?

The campaign group Fossil Free Greater Manchester did the mock presentation awarding the GMPF with the unwanted title of Dirtiest UK Council Pension Fund outside Guardsman Tony Downes House in Droyslden. Around 50 people attended the event, including members of environmental campaign groups and trade unionists.

The event was part of a national day of action calling for pension funds to start moving money out of coal, oil and gas companies and begin investing in more sustainable and less environmentally-damaging industries instead.

Protestors hold a mock award ceremony outside the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s meeting. Photo: Fossil Free GMProtestors hold a mock award ceremony outside the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s meeting. Photo: Fossil Free GM
Protestors hold a mock award ceremony outside the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s meeting. Photo: Fossil Free GM

Research suggests the GMPF has more money invested in fossil fuels than any other public sector pension body. Analysis of figures collected by researchers by the NationalWorld data team found it had over £1bn ploughed into oil and gas companies as of 2020. A 2021 report also found a similar figure of just over £1bn invested in Greater Manchester.

Campaigners say the city-region’s pension fund should be looking to move money away from oil and gas due to the contribution to the climate crisis made by fossil fuels. They also suggested that as the environmental impact is felt more the shares become riskier propositions to have in the portfolio.

In March 2021 councillors from a number of local authorities wrote to the pension fund urging it to come in line with the city-region’s target of getting to net zero by 2038.

Local government trade union Unison has also been calling on public sector pension bodies to divest urgently from fossil fuels.

What has been said about the protest and the pension fund’s fossil fuel investments?

Magda Sachs, who presented the award during the protest, said: “GMPF is head and shoulders above the rest, in terms of investment in dirty fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal.

“With over £1bn invested in these fuels this fund shows how public money can be used to degrade the planet and destabilise the climate.

“Their persistent, consistent, dedicated refusal to listen to pension fund members, local authority unions and residents of GM are an inspiration and a role model to all those still clinging to investing in climate catastrophe.

“These shares are bound to crash sometime but who needs a pension when the planet has been destroyed?”

The protest was attended by trade unionists, green groups and divestment campaigns. Photo: Fossil Free GMThe protest was attended by trade unionists, green groups and divestment campaigns. Photo: Fossil Free GM
The protest was attended by trade unionists, green groups and divestment campaigns. Photo: Fossil Free GM

Maggie Walker, a fellow campaigner with Fossil Free GM, said: “Investing pensions in fossil fuel companies is financially risky as well as morally wrong and many other public and private pension funds have decided to get out of fossil fuels. Pensions are an investment for the future, but investing in fossil fuels is investing in a future of climate crisis.

“The fund and Tameside Council who manage it are not listening to other local councils. Six GM councils have called for action on this but Tameside seem determined to ignore them and local government trade unions.”

An official statement from the Fossil Free GM group read: “GM Pension Fund must take responsibility for its role in the climate crisis. Climate justice is not just the responsibility of global leaders — local leaders need to act immediately to move local funds out of fossil fuels and into sustainable investments.”

Tameside Council, which manages the GMPF, did not respond to a request for a comment on Friday’s protest. However, the fund has previously issued robust defences of its investment strategy, saying it is also putting a lot of money into renewable energy and suggesting it is better to hold on to its stakes in these companies as it believes they have a major part to play in moving towards a greener world.