Despite a petition signed by more than 5,300 East Sussex residents, the county council has chosen not to take action to freeze and divest the £145 million invested in fossil fuel companies by the East Sussex Pension Fund.

The motion to divest the Fund from fossil fuels was supported by only 4 Councillors, with 35 voting against and 11 Councillors abstaining. Instead, councillors backed a motion to request “further investigation” into how the fund could further integrate environmental considerations into its investment strategy.

Introducing the motion at the full council meeting on 15 October, Councillor Nick Bennet, the lead member for resources, said: “These are complex issues and our duties require us, when making decisions, to have an understanding of the implications of our actions and, when we do not, to take advice. I am afraid that I don’t believe we have sufficient understanding of the consequences of requiring the immediate freezing of new investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies or divesting from these companies in the next five years.

“I do, however, believe it is proper and appropriate to go to our professional advisors on this issue and specifically on how we can further integrate environmental issues, including those related to fossil fuels, into our investment strategy.”

Climate emergency backed – but target kept at 2050
ESCC did back a separate motion to declare a climate emergency but only supporting becoming carbon neutral by 2050 – in line with existing government policy. A Liberal Democrat motion to reduce this target date to 2030 was rejected.

Julia Hilton from Divest East Sussex, the campaigning group, commented: “It’s breathtaking hypocrisy for East Sussex County Council to declare a climate emergency while continuing to invest in the very companies that are driving the climate crisis – and a clear sign of its contempt for all those of us who’ve been demanding urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. This was a litmus test for whether the Council is serious about tackling climate change and they’ve blown it on the day of their declaration.”