Campaigners are celebrating after Luton Borough Council last night unanimously passed a motion calling on the Bedfordshire Pension Fund to disinvest its holdings totalling nearly £40m in fossil fuel firms.
The local authority considered an urgent resolution on the subject which was presented by the ruling Labour group and seconded by the Liberal Democrat group leader.
It calls on the pension fund administrators to stop any investment in the 200 trading fossil fuel companies and actively seek to invest in firms that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
And it asks the administrators to undertake an assessment of the investment portfolio with a view to disinvest in institutions which are coal, oil and gas companies by 2023.
Labour Challney councillor Tom Shaw referred to the contradiction of spending millions on the council's green agenda if nothing was done about the investment of the pension fund "in the very industries causing the problems".
Councillor Shaw, who's the portfolio holder for housing, waste and climate change, said: "I hope everyone can support this and we can go forward as we've done on a lot of climate change issues as a united council."
Labour Dallow councillor Raja Ahmed explained: "We've a responsibility to show leadership on the climate emergency and ensure our pensions aren't funding climate disaster. Let us get our house in order."
Divest Luton campaigner Isaac Beevor said in a statement: "The Bedfordshire Pension Fund has around £40m invested in funding a dangerous future for me, our children and young people in the town. That's unacceptable in a climate emergency. But this is what climate leadership looks like.
"The borough council has stepped up and become the first local authority in Bedfordshire to support divestment from fossil fuels. Now we're looking for that leadership to be replicated across the county.”
Mr Beevor's statement pointed out how the Bedfordshire Pension Fund says it has a responsible development policy with environmental sustainable goals.
"This policy is focused on trying to engage fossil fuel companies to create the necessary change," according to the statement.
"One of the largest pension funds in the world ABP recently voted to divest its 15bn Euro holdings from fossil fuel companies, saying: 'We part with our investments in fossil fuel producers because we see insufficient opportunity for us as a shareholder to push for the necessary significant acceleration of the energy transition at these companies'," explained the statement.
Divest Luton supporter Brenda Slessor added: “We know that the engagement strategy has failed because fossil fuel companies are continuing to expand coal, oil and gas infrastructure.
“And these holdings are stranded assets. Fossil fuels don't have a future and tying recipients of the pension fund to a failing industry is the opposite of a responsible investment.”
Borough councillors unanimously backed the resolution in support of fossil fuel divestment, which will be forwarded to the pension fund administrators, as well as the Central Bedfordshire Council leader and the Mayor of Bedford.
The campaigners say their focus will be on whether the Bedford Borough Council Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition will support the divestment of the Bedfordshire Pension Fund from fossil fuels.
Bedfordshire Pension Fund is responsible for the pensions of Local Government employees across Bedfordshire, including employees of Bedford Borough Council, Luton Borough Council and Central Bedfordshire Council. Bedford Borough Council is the administering authority.