Oxford City Council divests from fossil fuels

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Oxford City Council has become the first UK Council to commit to divest from fossil fuel companies after an online campaign reached almost 700 signatures.

At a meeting of the full council on July 14th 2014, a motion proposed by Green Party Councillor Craig Simmons was passed, committing the council to end direct investment in fossil fuel firms.

The motion was seconded by Councillor Ruthi Brandt. 

Campaigners waited until September 16th to announce the historic event, so that it would coincide with the lead-up to the UN climate summit in New York this week.

The action by Oxford City Council is a landmark in the rapid progress of fossil fuel divestment campaigns. A recent study by the University of Oxford found that the current campaign was growing faster than any previous one, and could cause significant damage to coal, oil and gas companies.

Miriam Wilson, from the Turl Street-based People and Planet, commented, “Oxford City Council’s decision to divest from the fossil fuel industry is a great triumph for the UK Fossil Free campaign. As the first council in the UK to divest, Oxford is leading the way forward for other institutions to follow suit. In the absence of bold action on climate change by our world leaders, it is absolutely vital that our municipal governments take significant steps to address this most pressing threat. I hope that Oxford City Council will be the first of many in the UK to do so.”

While the news was greeted enthusiastically by campaigners at Fossil Free Oxfordshire Divestment campaign, many were quick to point out that this is not the end of the road. The Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund, according to information obtained by the Oxford Mail, still invests £27.9m in fossil fuel firms.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council, told Cherwell, “The City Council’s direct investments have historically been restricted to a limited range of banks and building societies with high security ratings; equity investment has not featured.

However, Oxfordshire County Council manages the Oxfordshire Local Government Pension Fund, to which City Council employees’ contributions and the employer element of the Scheme funding are directed, and some proportion of that fund is invested in equities. The City Council has sought the Fund’s agreement to move away from investing in fossil fuel companies but that has not been accepted.”

But a spokesman from Oxford County Council insisted that the authority had no legal power to choose its investments on ethical grounds.

The news of Oxford City Council’s commitment to battling climate change comes soon after some 67 Oxford academics, including Lord Professor Robert May, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the UK Office of Science and Technology, wrote an open letter to the University asking it to end its own investments in fossil fuels, something a number of American universities, including Stanford, have already done.