Withington Road – Looking in the right place for a compassionate, viable economy

SHops on Withington Rd, Manchester

Click for the pdf version of this post.

Where are we most likely to find models for a viable economy? We recently discovered there are more answers than we realised without looking very far.

There is a strong economic case for vibrant local shops. It is based on how money flows around a local economy. How many times money circulates in an area is just as important as the amount of money flowing into it. The key to successful high streets is interdependent, inter-trading local businesses. 1

Withington Road First Steps is a consultation project about the shopping area on Withington Road which is in Whalley Range, Manchester. The exercise grew out of local dissatisfaction about the area. We talked to traders, including managers of local health services. There are undoubtedly many things which can be improved; and we also found that the area has many strengths on which to build.

We started the exercise with preconceived ideas about what the shops and services had to offer Withington Road and what they wished for in return. Our expectations were based largely on the look of their shop front, the shop name or personal past experiences, often from a long time ago.

We started by looking at the strengths and moved on to what traders would like in the future and how that might be achieved.

Our preconceptions of what some shops and services had to offer were challenged once we stepped inside.  Whilst the shop signs or front give potential customers a clue as to what is sold or provided inside, it is not until you speak to the people behind the counter that you see all that is on offer. 

text 1As traders shared their stories with us it became clear that the compassion, humour, diversity, time, conversation and humanity they bring to Withington Road, are a huge part of the offer and often the reason why many customers return again and again.
We left each shop door with a growing curiosity about who we’d find behind the next door and what they had to give.
We were amazed and excited to discover a more diverse range of shops than we expected (see box).
We felt incredibly privileged to talk with traders and humbled by learning more about the challenges traders were living with day in and day out, a stone’s throw from our homes.

Often their success was despite limited financial resources and based on vision and hard work.

text 2

Traders want to stay in the area if they can develop their businesses where they are. They are appreciative of their staff most of whom live in the area – so they are also likely to spend their wages in the area – the reason why local shops are so good for the local economy.


We realised that most traders saw compassion as the route to their success and recognised the enormous amount of wellbeing and social care work they and their often low paid staff do, which is unrecognised, invisible, unvalued and unpaid.


Traders believe that by having satisfied customers, positive links with the community and other traders and caring about the area makes it safer for everyone.


We fed back our findings to traders and believe that if these findings are shared widely it can contribute to a more up to date image of the shopping area. There are things that traders as well as the community are keen to improve and there are differences between individual traders and traders and people who live in the area about their aspirations for the area.

There are also broader questions being asked by local community groups about who decides what shops are developed in the area. This may concern how the interests of people making a living and others interests can be accommodated. There are big questions here. Is it possible to have a successful shopping centre which provides for the common good? In other words which does not encourage consumerism beyond the scope of planetary resources and provides decent affordable products and services for local residents and decent standards of living for traders and staff?

The time is right for more dialogue, greater shared understanding to increase everyone influencing and supporting one another. We have great hopes for our local shopping area, will use it more and have learnt loads from these golden gems in our community about growing the shoots of a viable economy in Manchester.

Eve Holt, Dave Saunders and Judith Emanuel discovered this light on the viable economy as part of the Withington Road First Steps consultation. Judith is also part of Steady State Manchester)

Manchester’s Housing Crisis




The proposed new development at Pomona


Most people know that the UK is in the midst of what has been dubbed the ‘housing crisis’. Indeed it is now part of mainstream political thinking that more house building is urgently required. Greater Manchester is no different from many other parts of the UK. The Department of Communities and Local Government has predicted that there could potentially be 1,500 more families in Greater Manchester than homes by 2026 if current trends continue.  Added to this, average rental prices have increased by more than 20% in Manchester over the past 12 months. These statistics will surprise few but it would be misleading to assume that simply building more homes is a magic bullet.

Firstly it is worth reflecting that certain areas in Greater Manchester have many empty homes. Indeed there are currently around 34,724 empty homes in Greater Manchester with places like Rochdale finding itself under the least pressure from a housing perspective. The problem then is not just scarcity of resource but also distribution with certain areas suffering from low demand. There are many long term reasons for this but it has likely been exacerbated by the bedroom tax and will potentially get much worse with onset of city regionalism with its emphasis on centralised assets and facilities.  As we have argued elsewhere a holistic approach is essential when seeking to address any social issue in Greater Manchester and the revival of and investment in all of our communities is needed if the housing pressure on the Greater Manchester region as a whole is to be eased.

Secondly house building on its own will not solve the issue of soaring rental prices, and people having to face the uncertainty of renting from a private landlord, if more social housing is not included in residential developments. Housing associations have recently been  dealt the double blow of having their rents reduced at a rate of 1 % per year until 2019 and effectively having had to opt into the extended right to buy scheme. Whilst the long term effect and practical reality of an extended right to buy scheme may not yet be clear, the 1% reduction certainly means that housing associations will have to downscale the scope of their ‘offer’ to tenants, reduce the scale of house building and retrofit programs that were in place and make large scale redundancies. All of which means that their ability to ‘place shape’ local communities in places like Rochdale is severely diminished.

With housing associations then seemingly not being in a position to act as a catalyst for a revolution in building social housing, and nothing meaningful having been done to address the steep decline in local authority building, the government’s solution seems to have been to leave it to housing developers. Yet the three largest post Devo Manc housing development plans in Greater Manchester will have no social housing included whatsoever.

At the Trinity Way, Middlewood Locks and Pomona developments an obligation to build social housing has been side stepped after successful use of the financial viability assessment. The incentivising of developers in this way clearly diminishes any positive social and economic impact on the local community and will mean heathier dividends for the shareholders of the speculators. These developments also exemplify the fact that for most developers having a large social housing element in the scheme significantly diminishes the profitability of a project and is therefore avoided where possible. Whilst private developments are undoubtedly needed to increase supply, historic trends show that UK developers tend to be cautious about over extending themselves and cannot and will not solve the housing crisis left to their own devices.

Yet there is a very real possibility that developments such as Trinity Way, Middlewood Locks and Pomona will continue to be the norm. Development such as these are seen as potentially lucrative investment opportunities, as an alternative to the London market, for foreign funds and fit in with the government’s northern powerhouse agenda. Further the government’s proposals to replace an obligation to build social housing with an obligation to build affordable housing will further lock out the majority of people from accessing a decent affordable home, whether for rent or to buy. The government’s claim that a house for sale at £250,000 is affordable is bizarre and obviously out of reach for most people.   The outcome of this will be higher earners will have an abundance of choice and the rest will have diminishing options if any at all.

The only way to address the housing crisis is to implement a viable housing building strategy which recognises the need for more social housing and at the same time aims to rejuvenate those areas with low housing demand so that housing is distributed fairly for everyone. Greater Manchester Councils need to be more robust in insisting on social housing being included in private developments and at the same time ensure that the houses that are built are as energy efficient as possible. They also should be empowered to build more houses themselves using the devolved housing fund. It is only by implementing a radical alternative that we will start to reverse the long term effects of a flawed housing strategy to date.

Robert Brown

(please note the views expressed here are my own and not necessarily the views of any organisation I work with or for)

‘How can education help to shape a Steady State culture? A Discussion Paper’

We are delighted that SSM has inspired Susan Brown to write: ‘How can education help to shape a Steady State culture? A Discussion Paper’. We highly recommend that supporters read it. Below, and in more detail in the summary at the beginning of the paper, we draw your attention to its richness and contribute to the discussion that she advocates.

Briefly Susan’s paper

  • Argues that a learning renaissance is required to achieve a Steady State culture. A transition from the current role of education ‘to ensure a workforce able to compete in a global market’ to one where people ‘ play full roles in developing sustainable local economies
  • Includes an accessible, broad, diverse, inclusive vision of a Steady State education culture which responds to the initiatives and issues of local communities. It is brought to life by descriptions of existing educational initiatives from near and far which are ‘which are changing the learning landscape in ways that can shape a Steady State Culture.’
  • Moves from a very individualistic, competitive form of current education to a collective endeavourThe paper has both developed our understanding and raised questions we want to explore further including:Is education ‘any communications and/or activity intended to have a formative effect on the way we think, feel and act.’? Would examining other areas that have demanded massive cultural change this understanding? For example, the abolition of slavery, the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, ending apartheid in S. Africa and/or reducing prevalence of smoking or encouraging wearing of seat belts?

    Public health has been wrestling with the issue of cultural change for decades. Hard, costly, time consuming lessons have been learned. Can we learn from them too? One of these is we need to start from people’s lives, not the issue.

    Does a Freirean approach have a part to play?

    Read a more detailed summary of this blog and the paper ‘How can education help to shape a Steady State culture? A Discussion Paper’.

    We welcome your contributions to the discussion. We are planning community conversations about viable economy issues in 2016. Have you a suggestion for an issue to discuss stimulated by Susan’s paper and/or this blog?

Briefing note on GMCA Climate Change Strategy Consultation

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (the nearest thing we have to a regional government) is consulting on its Climate Change Strategy for the period until 2020.

We have prepared a briefing note that can be download by clicking THIS LINK.

The Strategy sets an ambitious target of 48% reduction of carbon dioxide equivalent ( CO2e) emissions reduction by 2020, using 1990 as a baseline. By 2013 (the last year for which figures are available) the fall since 1990 had been 23%. That leaves 25% to go in 7 years, 2 of which have already passed (with unknown results). Put another way, emissions need to fall by an unprecedented 32% from the 2013 figure (i.e. by 5.15Mt CO2e, from 16.15mt to 11mt).

Our briefing sets out the main points of the Strategy and contextualises them. It then looks at the proposed actions ,commenting on their adequacy or inadequacy. To give the game away, we are underwhelmed by the Strategy which despite its ambitious headline target uses a lot of print to celebrate the minimal action to date, is very short on the kind of detail we might expect from a Strategy worthy of the name and makes some rather optimistic assumptions about some of its proposed interventions.

We also take you through the short consultation questionnaire with our commentary.

Please do contribute to the consultation, both with the online questionnaire but also by raising the issues with your elected representatives and in any other place where you have a voice.

CLICK HERE for our briefing (pdf file).

The consultation link (both download of the Strategy and the consultation survey link) is at: https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/news/article/20/consultation_launched_as_gm_sets_out_plans_to_cut_its_carbon_emissions and will be there until 11 December, 2015.

Updated with minor correction 11/11/15

GMPF and fossil fuel divestment – update

First the good news: we understand that Greater Manchester Pension Fund has agreed to update its “responsible investment policy” in line with current thinking on Trustees duties.  That is to say, it will now consider social and ethical considerations to “actively divest” so long as these do not harm the fund and its members financially (something they have already done with tobacco).  This is a good start, and one that follows campaigning by The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, ourselves Steady State Manchester, Friends of the Earth and Fossil Free Greater Manchester.

But in their response to Fossil Free Greater Manchester on divestment, the Fund is still saying that they have no plans to divest from fossil fuels in the medium term.  They quote approvingly a statement from the union Unison:

• “The first duty of the LGPS is to pay the staff their pension benefits when they retire”;
• “Divesting of carbon assets without having found adequate renewable investment returns would create huge economic uncertainty”; and
• “It would be irresponsible to begin any programme of disinvestment in fossil fuels that threatened in any way the ability of the funds to pay people’s pensions.”

Unison seem unaware of the actual demands from the divestment movement which are to,

  1. Make an immediate statement of principle adopting the principle of divesting from fossil fuels,
  2. Immediately stop new investments in the industry,
  3. Instruct its investment managers to wind down the  existing holdings in the fossil fuel industry over the next five years.

We are fully aware that switching some 10% of investments cannot be done overnight.  As we’ve already shown (in keeping with most analysts, including Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor), these investments are increasingly a white elephant, losing value all the time as the world wakes up to the unburnable carbon problem and as volatility increases as conventional fossil fuels become more difficult to extract (hence the heavy investment in unconventional sources such as fracked shale gas).  A managed programme of divestment/re-investment is not just sound environmental policy but it also makes good financial sense.

Meanwhile, GMPF has released an updated list of its top 20 holdings (a list that is already seven months out of date). There are some changes, with two mining companies dropping out, and the value of fossil fuel stocks lower than it was 12 months previously.  However these changes are probably less the result of divestment than of the falling quoted values of these stocks (although who knows, maybe fund managers are also waking up and switching stocks).  Likewise the amounts invested in BP and Shell are now lower, but they are still the top 2 (albeit with changed places).
UK Banks take places 3, 4, and 6 (the latter being Barclays). Al these banks have big commitment to fossil fuels (see http://moveyourmoney.org.uk/campaigns/divest/) and in Barclays case in fracking see http://www.foe.co.uk/blog/why-barclays-fracking-excuses-dont-add See our annotated listing of the 2015 top 20 GMPF investments, with comparisons to last year’s data .

On a somewhat brighter note, GMPF have announced a joint programme of investment in “renewable energy”.  The first of these is a £9M investment in a plant making biogas from food industry waste. This is broadly positive: some biogas capacity will be important for rapid response electricity generation in a renewable energy future.  But other investments to come may be more problematic, since not all biomass projects are carbon neutral: it depends on the specifics.  Indeed wood burning from old growth forest makes a large contribution to European greenhouse gas emissions.


The decoupling debate, one year on: the global picture, and Manchester.

update:  an updated and longer version of this piece now appears at degrowth.de
and was also syndicated by resilience.org and This Changes Everything

A year ago, in one of our most popular web articles, we took issue with claims from New Climate Economy (NCE) that there was no conflict between climate change mitigation and continued economic growth. NCE argued that by taking action on climate change economic growth could be boosted. While NCE have marshalled a lot of relevant information on the how of emissions reduction, emphasising the role of cities, investment in clean energy, and adopting more efficient technologies in aviation and shipping, their argument relies on the idea that economic (i.e. GDP) growth can be decoupled from the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

There are two kinds of decoupling. Relative decoupling means that the rate at which emissions increase is lower than the rate at which GDP decreases. That is not a lot of help in the climate crisis, since under relative decoupling, if there is economic growth, then GHGs continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, contributing to the already high risk of runaway global warming. Absolute decoupling on the other hand would mean that as the economy grew, emissions don’t. If it could be demonstrated, then we might want to rethink our critique of endless economic growth.

Last year, NCE made the claim that there was evidence for decoupling.

The decoupling of growth from carbon emissions in some of the best-performing economies, both in Northern Europe and in North America, demonstrates the gains that can be made in incomes, jobs, rates of innovation and profits from a low-carbon, resource-efficient model of growth.(34). (p. 18)

As we showed, there wasn’t such evidence. The only evidence was for relative decoupling, and decoupling within a territory, whereas for post-industrial Western economies a large proportion of emissions (estimates range from 34% to 50% for the UK) have been outsourced to extraction, manufacturing and distribution outside the territory.

In their most recent report, they again make the claim that,

The reduction in the CO intensity of global GDP adds to the growing body of evidence that countries can reduce GHG emissions while sustaining economic growth.” p.22

Yet two pages on they state what is actually the situation:

But the challenge is clear. Although GHG emissions are gradually being decoupled from growth rates, they are not doing so at anything like the rate required to put the world on a 2°C path.” p.24

This is all but saying that absolute decoupling is not happening.

However, a report “Turning point: Decoupling Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Economic Growth” has just been published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s North America office. This appears to provide evidence that absolute decoupling is occurring in some economies. Let’s look at this.

They substitute the terms “strong” and “weak” decoupling for the more usual “absolute” and “relative”. They actually compare four economies, Germany, USA, China and India as well as reviewing global figures. They claim that Germany alone shows strong (absolute) decoupling. The US and China demonstrate week (relative) decoupling, while India does not demonstrate any decoupling. Yet, having checked the primary source (BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2015), the claim for Germany’s strong decoupling is based on the net territorial emissions and territorial energy use and not on the country’s consumption emissions (and energy use), which will include, for example, consumer goods and components made in China and products such as steel from India. This is the same problem that we drew attention to last year, an unwarranted optimism based on looking at only part of the picture. It is like trying to assess someone’s attempts at weight loss based on the food prepared at home, mostly salads, when nearly half their diet is take-away fast food and confectionery!

Not surprisingly, then, when the Böll report looks at the global situation, it concludes that

Between 2004 and 2014, global GDP has grown by 44%, while the consumption of conventional fuels has increased by 19%, resulting in a 22% increase of worldwide emissions. (p. 10)  and
There is little evidence for a changing relation between fossil energy consumption and growth.  (p.11)

To illustrate the problem, here is a graph from a 2012 report on Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee:

So what do we know?

Firstly, there is undoubtedly progress on switching to renewable energy in much of the world’s economy. There are also signs of a reduction in use of the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal (although we should be cautious here since this conclusion is based on what might turn out to be a 2014 blip).

Secondly, while renewables have increased their share, and expansion of fossil fuel use has slowed, as the following graph from New Climate Economy’s 2015 report shows, fossil fuel usage is still increasing.

Graph showing that fossil fuel use predicted to continue rising til at least 2030

Additions to energy capacity fossil and renewable from New Climate Economy 2015 report p.17 http://2015.newclimateeconomy.report/

Thirdly, while it is important to focus on energy generation and use, there are other factors critical to GHG transactions. De-forestation, emissions from agriculture, release of trapped polar methane, reduction of ocean capacity to store carbon dioxide, and so on. Technological optimism about energy generation should not make us forget this. For a good example of how such factors can be incorporated into a (national) net zero carbon framework, see The Zero Carbon Britain work of the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Fourthly, while there is undoubted progress being made in some places, it is the global pictue that is most important. China is to be commended for taking its emissions seriously, yet those emissions are still predicted to rise further, and it is the cumulative emissions that will kill us.

Fifthly, the hypothesis that economic growth is compatible with action on climate change remains unproven. Our best strategy is still managed degrowth to a steady state economy.

What does this mean for us in Greater Manchester?

We need to think globally and act locally – for a global impact. There are some obvious implications.

1) Continue to lobby for disinvestment from fossil fuels. Campaigns to this end in the region focus on the giant Greater Manchester Pension Fund, and on Manchester University. This disinvestment needs to be matched by a strategy of re-investment in local renewable energy production, low-carbon transport, energy conservation and stewardship of the land.

2) Continue to encourage our public bodies, GMCA, the LEPs, the Chamber of Commerce, our councils, to adopt an economic policy that rejects the endless pursuit of aggregate growth, instead focussing on real local prosperity based on conserving resources, building resilience, and investing in the replacement economy.

3) Campaign vigorously against the UK government’s disastrous policies on energy and energy conservation while supporting local initiatives for a switch to community owned and run renewable power and retrofit.

4) Campaign against fracking which will lead to an increase in GHG emissions since it will add to rather than substitute for other fossil fuels.

5) Get a grip on food and energy waste. In this, we commend Manchester City Council for its reduction in net energy use last year, although that achievement is not reflected in GHG emissions, which are calculated based on a national formula – so for example the switch to purchasing (equivalent generation of) green electricity is not reflected in the calculations for emissions. It is essential that we get better, local data on both territorial and consumption-based emissions. And there is much more to do, not least acting on the promise of building a low carbon culture in the city.

Not just ecologically, but financially unviable too: GMPF’s fossil fuel investments

Our last post was about the fossil fuel divestment campaign that is focussing on local government pension funds, and in our case Greater Manchester Pension Fund.

One argument made against the divestment campaign is that Trustees (responsible for the Fund) have to ensure that the Fund’s investments are sound, with the implication being that “ethical” investments are less reliable.

Let’s look at GMPF’s top five investments:  these graphs show their share prices over the last year.  Do you notice a common pattern?  A lot of the investment has perished, and given that they represent un-burnable carbon that must stay in the ground, assets stranded before the rise of renewables and energy efficiency, it might never be recovered, and at best these investments will continue to be very volatile.

GMPF's top 5 fossil fuel companies, performance over the last year to 25/9/15: all show large declines.

GMPF’s top 5 fossil fuel companies, performance over the last year to 25/9/15  (click image for a pdf version)















Now, these investments are, paradoxically, still delivering reasonable returns, but we can’t say how long that will continue.  Governments worldwide provide huge subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, but again that situation will begin to change as the global divestment campaign grows.

Economically, as well as for the climate, we say: freeze fossil fuel investments now and begin a five year programme of divestment, reinvesting where possible directly in the viable, local economy.


Campaign on Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s investments hots up

Some months ago we reported on our attempts to encourage Greater Manchester Pension Fund to rethink its investment strategy, using explicit ethical criteria as part of its overall strategy for sound investments and returns, and in particular to move money from fossil fuel companies to the viable economy – where possible the local viable economy.  With 15% wiped off the value of mining giant Glencore in two days this week, (some £9M of GMPF’s money) and falls in other fossil fuel companies over the last year and more, GMPF’s exposure is looking like a poor financial strategy (in ensuring pensions can be funded), as well as a highly environmental practice.

Now the campaign has got a lot bigger.  Nationally, Friends of the Earth and the Fossil Free campaign have, using Freedom of Information requests, collated data on all the local authority pension funds in the country.  This shows some £14 Billion of fossil fuel investments.  And the biggest pension fund, our own Greater Manchester Pension Fund accounts for approx £1.3 Billion (nearly 10%) of that.  Indeed, it is one of the highest investors in fossil fuels in the land, with 9.8% of its money in potentially unburnable carbon.

GMPF fossil fuel investment table

Today, Steady State Manchester was pleased to be part of Manchester Friends of the Earth Action at the GMPF Headquarters.  You can sign their petition HERE.  The action made BBC North West tonight – see the coverage http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06bpsnm/north-west-tonight-24092015 It starts at 16.04 minutes in.

In the window, GMPF proclaim "Looking after the pensions of a thrid of a million members" - but given 10% could be in stranded assets, how accurate can this claim be?

In the window, GMPF proclaim “Looking after the pensions of a thrid of a million members” – but given 10% could be in stranded assets, how accurate can this claim be?

Here is a report on today’s demonstration at GMPF’s headquarters in Droylsden, from the Manchester Friends of the Earth website.

Earlier today, a giant ‘dinosaur’ visited the Greater Manchester Pension Fund office in Droylsden, Tameside to call on the pension fund to divest from risky investments in fossil fuels.

GMPF offices and fossil fuel dinosaurData released today reveals that the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) has an astonishing £1.3 billion of public money invested through their pension funds in fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP. [1]The research by 350.org, Platform, Friends of the Earth and others, shows that:

  • The Greater Manchester Pension Fund has 9.8% of its pension fund invested in fossil fuels.



  • GMPF is investing £477 per resident in fossil fuels
  • Money is invested into multinational fossil fuel companies including £269 million in BP and £261 million in Shell.
  • It has the largest amount invested in fossil fuels of any local authority pension fund in the country, and the 4th highest percentage of fossil fuel investments

Fossil fuel companies hold five times more carbon resources than they can burn if we are to meet the internationally-agreed safe limit of 2 degrees Celsius. This means fossil fuels are in fact stranded assets and must remain in the ground. Therefore, GMPF’s investment policy means Greater Manchester’s pensioners risk being left with worthless assets underpinning their retirement funds.

Spokesperson for Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Chris Smith said:“The new data released today shows that Greater Manchester Pension Fund has the greatest amount of all local authority pension funds invested in fossil fuels. These are risky investments not only for the planets future but also with the future pensions of fund members.”

Chris Smith added:  “Greater Manchester led the industrial revolution on the back of fossil fuels – and now it’s time for us to lead the world out of the fossil fuel era.“At a time when smart investors around the world are already ditching underperforming fossil fuel stocks, the fund risks becoming an investment dinosaur.”

“As local residents we’ll be calling on the Greater Manchester Pension Fund to stand on the right side of history and divest from fossil fuels.”

Greater Manchester Pension Fund member, Nigel Rolland said: “I am glad to be here today to tell Tameside Council and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund that I have been a pension fund member for over 25 years and I don’t want our money invested in fossil fuels. The fund claims to be investing in our future, but they are investing in the past. Fossil fuels are a dinosaur industry destroying the planet.”

This is the first time that the £231 billion of public money invested by local government pension funds has ever been broken down and released publicly, and their exposure to fossil fuels quantified.  The data shows that overall the 192 councils in the UK have £14 billion invested in fossil fuels via their pension funds.

Three quarters of these direct fossil fuel shareholdings are in only ten companies, headed by BP and Shell.A third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves need to remain in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, according to a study by University College London. [6]

Consequently, there has been growing concerns about the long-term financial risks of fossil fuel investments, a ‘carbon bubble’ that risks taxpayers being forced to bail out public pensions in the future. [7]

A recent analysis found that California’s public pension funds, CalPERS & CalSTRS, incurred a combined loss of over $5 billion in the last year alone from their holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. [8]

This data, available at www.gofossilfree.org/uk/pensions, offers the residents of Greater Manchester the information they need to ask why the Council is choosing to invest in risky coal, oil and gas.  Instead, the fund could reinvest this money into building new homes, clean renewable energy or public transport.

Oxford and Bristol City Councils have already taken a lead in making fossil free commitments, joining 40 cities internationally and larger institutions like the Norwegian Government Pension Fund. There are 389 institutions globally – including universities, faith groups, health groups and governments – that have committed to divest. [9]

Local residents who would like to join the local campaign to convince the Greater Manchester Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels can sign a petition at www.foe.co.uk/act/manchester-divestment [10]

Notes to editor

1. Data, including spreadsheets for each pension fund with a breakdown of investments, can be accessed at http://gofossilfree.org/uk/pensions/

2. The data was sourced by 350.org, Community Reinvest and Platform through Freedom of Information Act requests to the 101 administering pension funds.

3. This data is released as part of an ongoing campaign through Fossil Free UK to secure fossil free divestment commitments from local governments.  A divestment commitment is a principled commitment to wind down exposure to the Carbon Underground top 200 fossil fuel companies over a 5 year period. http://gofossilfree.org/uk/campaign-demands/

4. Fossil Free Greater Manchester is part of the Fossil Free UK grassroots network, which itself is part of a growing international movement calling on institutions to divest (sell their shares) from fossil fuels to take action against catastrophic climate change. http://gofossilfree.org/uk/about-fossil-free/

5. The Greater Manchester Pension Fund is the largest local authority pension fund in the country, with total investments of over £13 billion.  Its members work for the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester, and a whole host of other organisations such as local colleges and Citizens Advice Bureau. http://www.gmpf.org.uk/

6. See  http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0115/070115-fossil-fuels

7. See  http://www.carbontracker.org/report/carbon-bubble/
8.  http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-calpers-calstrs-energy-losses-20150813-story.html

9.  http://gofossilfree.org/commitments/

10.  The Fossil Free Greater Manchester petition will go live on Thursday 24th September at http://www.foe.co.uk/act/manchester-divestment

11. The 2014 Law Commission clarification on fiduciary duty concluded “that there is no impediment to trustees taking account of environmental, social or governance factors where there are or may be, financially material” and that environmental concerns may also be taken into account as a non-financial factor so long as there is there is no “significant impact on returns” and “trustees have a good reason to think that scheme members would share the concern.”

12. In March 2014, following a clarification from the UK Law Commission on the interpretation of fiduciary duty, the Local Government Association (LGA) (England & Wales) published a legal opinion on how fiduciary duties affected the scope for a Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), concluding that “the precise choice of investment may be influenced by wider social, ethical or environmental considerations, so long as that that does not risk material financial detriment to the fund.”

– See more at: http://www.manchesterfoe.org.uk/campaign-tells-greater-manchester-pension-fund-dont-be-a-dinosaur-move-our-money-out-of-fossil-fuels/#sthash.TOGzQnJA.dpuf