How to stop your pension fund from fuelling climate change and deforestation

Climate change protest by Andrew Dallos

What if there was a way to fight climate change, improve society and protect nature with no costs, no sacrifices and pretty much zero effort? Would you join in?

First, imagine spending 15 years trying to save people from cancer, only to find out that you had been funding tobacco companies for decades through your pension. That’s what happened to Australian oncologist Bronwyn King.

”She suddenly realised she’d killed more people than she’d saved in her life,” said filmmaker and activist Richard Curtis, on a recent edition of the Outrage and Optimism podcast.

Curtis credits King’s story with helping to convince him to launch a new campaign that could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change. He wants to use the invisible power of vast pensions funds to invest in sustainability instead of funding destructive industries.

The potential is huge.

The combined pension pot of people in the UK alone is £3.1 trillion, that is more than 200 times bigger than the country’s overseas aid budget. That’s £3,100,000,000,000 of our money that could be doing good.

But according to the Good Guide to Pensions, 99% of people with pensions are like Bronwyn King. They have their money invested in ‘default’ schemes that fund tobacco companies, arms manufacturers, coal and oil producers, and companies responsible for deforestation of the Amazon and other tropical forests.

Our money, the result of years of hard work, is actively working against our best interests by funding — indeed accelerating — the breakdown of the global climate and the destruction of nature.

Imagine if instead it was funding the best and most sustainable companies, investing in clean energy and alternatives to plastics, for example. Curtis has launched Make My Money Matter to encourage pension providers to make this shift, moving our money to invest in our common future.

The campaign website says “Moving your savings to sustainable funds can be 21 times as effective at reducing your carbon footprint than eating less meat, using public transport, reducing water use and flying less combined.” (That’s not to say those things aren’t important too!)

It is madness that pensions are set to make life WORSE for those hoping to use them in retirement. It is sanity to ask pension providers to move the money. “There’s no point getting a pension in a world on fire,” said Curtis. “So, you’re actually doing it for you own good”.

Investments in fossil fuels are a significant financial risk anyway. Oil pipelines are being cancelled. Coal mines are closing. Investments in fossil fuels are looking less attractive by the day. Yet 99% of UK pensions are in default schemes investing in fossils. Is yours? Probably.

The economic case is strong. In May, the International Energy Agency and Imperial College Business School reported that investments in renewable power shares displayed less volatility and offered “significantly higher” total returns compared with investments in fossil fuel companies.

And last year, the Good Guide to Pensions showed that ethical funds “strongly outperformed” the default option at the UK’s two biggest independent pension providers over one, three and five years.

But this isn’t just about money. It’s about justice. As Christiana Figueres said on the podcast I mentioned, if our money is invested in fossil fuels, “we are stealing the future from our kids, because we are saddling them with a world that they will not be able to manage, not be able thrive in.”

Joining the campaign to convince pension funds to change is a quick and easy way for most people to take action on climate change without having to spend or sacrifice anything. So, what can you do?

  1. Sign the petition.

You can find it here.

  1. Contact your employer and your pension provider.

Tell them you want a pension that helps create a world in which you would want to retire — not a planet on fire. Make My Money Matter has email templates you can copy-and-paste.

  1. Spread the word.

Pretty much everyone you know who has a pension plan will be unwittingly funding the companies that are destroying our planet and our liveable atmosphere. Help them to see the problem and how it harms their best interests.

Some pension funds are already taking responsibility. Momentum is growing. Don’t get left behind. Don’t leave your retirement money invested in an industry that belongs in the past. Don’t be an accidental investor in things you don’t believe in.

We urgently need to divert those vast pension funds into investments that secure our future. Make My Money Matter’s message is clear and its arguments have integrity. Its theory of how people power can create positive change is robust.

I’m in. Are you?

More info: Listen to Richard Curtis discuss Make My Money Matter on the Outrage and Optimism podcast

Photo credit: Andrew Dallos / Flickr (Creative Commons)

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