MPs have the profound responsibility to set the direction of travel for our country, and on no issue is this more pressing than that of climate change.
For decades, scientists have unanimously agreed and advised policymakers on the risks that we face from our changing climate. The UK’s own Committee on Climate Change has shown us that UK temperatures have increased by 1°C since the 1950s, driving severe rainfall. This makes events such as the devastating flooding in Somerset in 2013 and the record-breaking rainfall observed during Storm Desmond in 2015 more frequent.
Together these events, and others like it across the world, have caused tragic loss of life, upended communities and resulted in billions of pounds worth of damage and disruption, but they are just the start.
The only way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change: keep the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground and transform our energy system to renewables.
MPs from across the political spectrum understand the risks. So why are are they yet to personally align themselves with a sustainable future?
We have enshrined the Climate Change Act into law and ratified the Paris Agreement, but the majority of MPs have still failed to act when our own pension is undermining these commitments.
I first raised the issue of the MPs’ Pension Fund being invested in fossil fuel companies in Parliament in 2014. After years of stonewalling our requests for transparency, the trustees eventually revealed the top 20 investments being made by the fund. This included £5.59m in BP and £4.9m in Shell – both companies whose business models rely on reneging on legally binding commitments to tackle climate change.
Astonishingly, the fund also invests £5.59m in British American Tobacco and millions in companies implicated in tax avoidance, including £6.6m in a Jersey-registered property trust.
How can it be right that Jeremy Hunt, our secretary of state for health, is securing his long-term financial future by profiting from tobacco companies? Or that MPs call for a public enquiry into offshore tax havens, when we ourselves are benefitting from companies that egregiously avoid paying their fair share of tax?
MPs should be leading the way when it comes to transparency and ethical investments.
Yet, our own Pension Fund is not fit for purpose.
Our pension fund represents MPs’ own money. We should have a say in where it is invested, and we have an important role to play in using this power to address the lack of transparency and the unethical investments that continue to plague the pension sector as a whole.
In doing so, we will be listening to our citizens, who are in ever greater numbers demanding real leadership on climate change.
More than 4,000 constituents have now approached their MP on this issue, and I am glad to see that 100 cross-party MPs have now heard their call and signed the Divest Parliament Pledge, I am also delighted to welcome the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in becoming the latest MPs to add their voice.
I look forward to working with these MPs to turn this pledge into a reality, to create an exemplary fund that invests responsibly and engages with its members’ concerns.
We want to see a pension fund that takes the risks of climate change seriously, an argument that has growing legal support. We want to see our fund align with the UK government’s commitment to tackling climate change, by investing in the technologies and companies that are bringing about the transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Supporting the Divest Parliament Campaign is an important step; but it is just a step, and it is imperative that we back our words with action.
The decisions being made by the Conservative government are deeply out of step with the realities of the climate crisis. We can no longer have a government that goes against the will of the people by pushing through fracking, providing further subsidies to fossil fuels, and undermining investments in renewables.
We can no longer put the will of fossil fuel corporations – whose employees draft our energy policy and whose owners splurge hundreds of thousands on Conservative campaigning during elections – over our citizens’ cries for strong climate action.
Theresa May’s government is intent on continuing to prop up the fossil fuel industry, to the detriment of the country’s economy and the health and wellbeing of its citizens.
Instead what we urgently need is a public works program of insulation to make every home warm, investment in natural flood management and support for community owned renewables. And we must, once and for all, end subsidies to fossil fuel firms.
As MPs, our actions on climate change must speak louder than our words.