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Four arrested at pension fund fossil fuel protest in Droylsden

Two people have been arrested as climate change campaigners rallied outside the Greater Manchester Pension Fund's headquarters this afternoon.

Around 20 or so protestors gathered outside Guardsman Tony Downes House on Manchester Road to call on the GMPF to divest from fossil fuel companies and invest more in renewable energy. 

Four campaigners chained themselves to the building, blocking the front entrance, and slogans reading 'Stop funding climate genocide' were spray painted on the building. 

Four people have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespassing, with one having another offence of criminal damage. 

Stuart Bowman, a member of Fossil Free Greater Manchester, said prior to the protest.

He said: “We need to act together to tackle climate change. GMPF is totally out of touch with the public mood and has no clear plan for urgently taking pensioners’ money out of fossil fuels.

“Despite the changing public mood, GMPF is failing to act, putting pensioners’ money at risk and adding to the climate crisis. Where it was once considered a leader, GMPF is now lagging behind other pension funds in its glacial response to the climate emergency."

Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion and the Green Party were all represented at the protest.

GMPF is the largest local government pension fund in the UK. According to a 2018 report over 10% of the fund is invested in oil, gas and mining companies, making it the ‘dirtiest’ pension fund in the country.

But the pension fund says £2.5 billion of its assets being divested to a low carbon approach targeting a significant reduction in carbon footprint and intensity. 

Lee Huntbach, Green Party councillor for Ashton Waterloo, says the fund is not doing enough. "The main message is that we shouldn’t be investing in fossil fuels when we’ve got a climate emergency," he said. "Hundreds of other councils and organisations have divested already and their portfolios are booming.

"They're not listening to us and they won’t take us seriously. There are some investments into renewables but it’s more-or-less piecemeal and it needs to be done, as they’ve done in councils like Haringey, where they’ve given them a 5-year plan. It’s a large part of the fund going into a bubble that is waiting to burst, at a time when we’re in a climate emergency. It just doesn’t make any sense."

The Greater Manchester Pension Fund have issued a lengthy statement in response to the planned protest. It reads:

A GMPF spokesperson said: “The Greater Manchester Pension Fund  committed 2 years ago to being 100% carbon neutral by 2050 if not sooner, which is a higher standard than Government has set itself. 

We are the biggest local government investor in renewables and energy efficiency with £0.5 billion invested and leading investment opportunities for other funds. The pension fund’s holdings are a matter of public record and details are transparently published on our website along with our responsible investor policy -  https://www.gmpf.org.uk/documents/investments/GMPF%20RI%20Policy%202019.pdf.

The Greater Manchester Pension Fund is working hard to become carbon neutral and it has been recognised by the Environment Audit Committee as being one of the most engaged in the country in doing so.  This needs to be balanced against the Fund being top performing over 30 years and creating an additional £3.7 billion of value above that of the average LGPS pension fund.

The Fund has a fiduciary duty to demonstrate that its investment decisions do not threaten its financial performance, and the fact of the matter is over the last 3 years, we achieved over £400 million more in returns than if we had divested from equities in such companies such as BP or Centrica, formerly known as British Gas. 

Accordingly, with such clear evidence that disinvestment rushed at this stage would cause material financial detriment to the fund, we need to find a ‘Just Transition’, which ensures we do not transfer the burden of this cost to the employers and taxpayers of Greater Manchester alike, which would result in significant Council tax hikes, and importantly avoids job loses for residents across the conurbation who are employed in these industries.  

As part of a recent review of investment strategy we are currently implementing £2.5 billion of the fund assets being divested to a low carbon approach targeting a significant reduction in carbon footprint and intensity. 

In a meeting with Fossil Free GM last week it was recognised we share same goal of a zero-carbon economy as quickly as possible although Fossil Free GM would like us to go faster. We are working  on this but we are also committed to a Just Transition ensuring interests of workers & communities are properly taken into account.”

An earlier version of this article stated that Stuart Bowman was one of the people who chained themselves to the building. This was incorrect and we apologise for the mistake. 

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