Glasgow City Council votes to support fossil fuel divestment: why this is a big deal and what still needs to be done
By Lewis Coenen-Rowe
Glasgow City Council passed a historic divestment vote this month. Divest Strathclyde organiser Lewis Coenen-Rowe talks you through this vote and importantly, what still needs to be done.
At a meeting on Thursday 1st April, Glasgow City Council passed a motion, put forward by the Scottish Greens and supported by the SNP, with the following wording:
‘Council resolves to write to the Strathclyde Pension Fund committee, asking that it make a formal commitment to fossil fuel divestment prior to COP26, with the intention of divesting completely as quickly as possible, and no later than 2029; and that it further considers how it can reinvest our citizens’ hard-earned money to drive a green recovery for the Glasgow region.’
Why this is a big deal
This motion essentially gives Glasgow City council an explicit stance in favour of divestment. At Divest Strathclyde, we’re over the moon celebrating this result. But here’s why it was so important:
1) The support was overwhelming
The motion didn’t pass narrowly. It passed overwhelmingly, by a majority of 69 votes to 4. The fact that only 4 councillors opposed the motion demonstrates that this is not merely being led by a small group of supportive councillors, but supported by the vast majority.
2) This has been a long time coming
Campaigners have been putting forward the arguments for divesting the Strathclyde Pension Fund for over 5 years now. This vote didn’t come from nowhere but is the result of years of activism, from gathering petitions signatures to arranging meetings with councillors to staging protests. It’s notable that some councillors who spoke in favour of divestment at the meeting were the same people who had dismissed it in the past. Hearts and minds are being won over.
A big precedent for this motion was the inclusion of a point about supporting divestment throughout the city in the council’s draft ‘Climate Emergency Implementation Plan’, a result of Divest Strathclyde managing to participate in the working group that developed suggestions for this plan.
3) It’s a model for other councils to do the same
The Strathclyde Pension Fund overseen by Glasgow City Council is the largest local government investment scheme in Scotland and the second largest in the UK. With support for divestment on this scale in Glasgow, councils managing smaller schemes throughout the UK will have a clear model to follow.
Again, this vote follows on from previous actions. West Dunbartonshire and North Ayrshire councils, who participate in the scheme but don’t manage it, had both already passed votes in support of divestment. This was certainly a factor in encouraging Glasgow council to follow.
4) This is actually the strongest stance they can take on divesting the pension fund
The strange and complex relationship between the council and the pension fund means that Glasgow City Council cannot order the fund to divest. They can only make their stance clearly known to the Strathclyde Pension Fund Committee (which is in theory independent but made up of some of the same councillors who participated in this vote), who have the final say. So although just writing to the committee doesn’t sound like that strong a stance, it’s actually the strongest action they are really allowed to take and therefore carries a lot of weight.
5) They include reinvestment
The motion recognises that it’s not just about taking money out of fossil fuels. We can also reinvest the money in green alternatives that will support wellbeing throughout the region.
What still needs to be done
This is absolutely a moment that should be celebrated. It’s a big step. But there’s still a lot of good work to be done off the back of this. Here’s what we need to do next:
1) Get the Strathclyde Pension Fund Committee to act
It is the committee that makes the formal decision to divest from fossil fuels. We want to push to have this decision announced before the COP26 climate talks come to Glasgow in November. The committee has two meetings before then; two opportunities to make the decision. We will be pushing hard for this to happen.
2) Work on the timing
The motion asks for divestment ‘as quickly as possible, and no later than 2029’. We need to get this focus narrowed down. ‘As quickly as possible’ should be the aim, but 2029 is really much too late given that Glasgow has set a target to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030. A closer deadline is eminently possible and we need to encourage this more ambitious timeline.
3) Ensure it’s done properly
When divestment comes, it must be done properly. We are concerned by reports that although the Strathclyde Pension Fund dropped their direct holdings in companies identified by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as involved in activities related to the illegal occupation of Palestine, they continued to invest in them indirectly through tracker funds. Divestment from fossil fuels needs to include both direct and indirect investments, especially given that the majority of the fund’s current fossil fuel investments are indirect.
4) Make a lot of noise
Divestment is not only about removing funds from fossil fuel companies. It is about clearly demonstrating that they are ethically and financially irresponsible places to put your money, thus undermining their credibility and accelerating the move away from fossil fuels. The decision to divest needs to be public and high profile to be as effective as possible.
What can you do?
If you live outside of the Strathclyde area, let your council know about this vote by writing to your councillor or by tagging them on social media. You can also find a local divestment campaign group by visiting the Divest UK website.
If you live in Strathclyde, join us! There’s always room for more volunteers. Get in touch at email@example.com.