Boris Johnson has been told by the London assembly to pull City Hall’s £4.8bn pension fund out of coal, oil and gas investments, after assembly members voted on Wednesday on a motion in support of the fossil fuel divestment movement.
The motion calls on the mayor to publicly support the principle of divestment and to begin the process of dumping the fossil fuel portfolio of the London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA). But the vote is non-binding, meaning the mayor is bound only to consider its proposals and write a response.
The motion was proposed by the Green party’s Jenny Jones and was unanimously supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Six of the Conservative’s nine members were absent. Those who were present voted against.
Jones said she was “delighted” the motion had passed and while it had no executive value it would force Johnson to seriously consider divestment.
“It’s impossible to know what the mayor thinks on any one subject at any given hour of the day, quite honestly,” said Jones. “And I would imagine that he would think this is scaremongering. But people who know more about climate change than he does, which isn’t difficult obviously, feel that this is an urgent threat. And I think there’s a lot of people out there that think this is very timely and might even encourage the mayor to listen.”
The mayor was not present at the plenary meeting and declined to comment on his position on divestment.
A spokesperson for Johnson said: “The Mayor will consider all of the Assembly’s motions at today’s plenary. The Mayor takes climate change mitigation extremely seriously and is helping drive forward the transition to a low carbon economy.”
A spokeswoman for campaigners Divest London said the motion would force the mayor to reveal his position on fossil fuels and reinforce his intention to meet his commitment to reduce London’s carbon emissions by 60% by 2025.
“This is a really positive step forward and puts pressure on Boris to divest London from fossil fuels. He came into office making big promises on carbon emissions reductions for London and he has been very good at ignoring them. The motion forces him to make clear his position on fossil fuels, and particularly fracking, to the British public,” she said.
“The motion will add momentum to the many other municipal campaigns around the country.”
According to scientists, the vast majority of coal, oil and gas reserves cannot be burned if global emissions reduction targets are to be met. This places the companies that own these reserves at financial risk, high profile figures including the Bank of England governor have said.
The LPFA manages the pensions of City Hall employees and many other local authorities. It holds roughly £48m worth of shares in some of the companies most exposed to stranded fossil fuel reserves – Rio Tinto, Shell, BP and BHP among others. It also holds shares in several cigarette giants.
The global divestment campaign argues that institutions such as the LPFA have a financial and moral imperative to dump their shares in fossil fuel companies. The LPFA said it would not comment in the London assembly vote.
Labour’s environment spokesman Murad Qureshi called on the mayor to support the motion divesting from fossil fuels, and make London a “world leader in tackling the injustice of climate change”.
“Agreeing to divest from fossil fuels would not only boost London’s contribution to tackling climate change and secure our capital’s future prosperity, it would offer reassurance to those concerned the mayor had lost sight of [his emissions reduction] objective.”
A spokesman for Labour’s shadow energy minister, Caroline Flint, said London Labour’s position on divestment did not reflect the national party’s opinion that divestment is untenable because the UK will need to use fossil fuel energy for decades to come.
The assembly’s Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Stephen Knight said: “Moving public sector pension investments away from industries and fuels of yesterday and instead investing in growing new green industries is an important part of the vital mix of policies we must now fully adopt to end our long standing dependence on fossil fuels.”
Conservative assembly member James Cleverly said divestment was “fundamentally flawed”.
“I think there are better ways of generating social good with the pension fund,” he said. “Rather than preventing funding in certain areas, I think it is much more productive to encourage finance in places we know people can be directly helped.”
The Assembly also passed a motion urging the mayor to recognise the science of climate change, which has been confirmed by 97% of scientists, and take it into account in his policies. All assembly members voted in favour except the three Tories present.