You may have seen news reports of an oil spill in Poole Harbour recently. 200 barrels of reservoir fluid leaked from an onshore oil field in Dorset into Europe’s largest natural harbour, 5,000 acres of which have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. To give you an idea if how much oil is in 200 barrels, it’s about 225,000 cups of tea.
The pollution of the water has had a large impact on local wildlife, particularly native seahorses, migratory fish like salmon and trout and the inhabitants of the Brownsea Island wetland and marine conservation zone. Dorset Wildlife Trust have said initial containment has not been effective and the spill will have a potentially devastating impact on the bird breeding season.
I didn’t even know there was an oil field in Poole Harbour. That it has been allowed to leak into the environment, impacting local businesses and wildlife is depressing.
It seems a good time to draw your attention to some recent developments in the investment marketplace relating to fossil fuel companies.
This incident comes hot on the heels of a decision by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) council to ask Dorset Pension Fund to move ‘all remaining energy investments in the pension fund to sustainable energy investments by the end of 2024’. In essence: divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables instead.
BCP are also applying pressure to Brunel Pension Partnership, who manage investments for Dorset and eight other local government schemes (which is an awful lot of money) as well as the Environment Agency. Brunel cannot make decisions around the funds without instruction from those they are acting on behalf of but they have made their stance clear – they prefer to remain shareholders in companies like Shell and BP. Their argument is that they will be able to apply pressure on these businesses to make the move to low-carbon energy if they have a seat at the Board table.
Engagement is a proven way to influence large company behaviour but surprisingly few asset managers put much effort into engagement, and it will only make a difference if the company concerned actually bothers to listen.
Our preferred responsible manager Sarasin is ‘famous’ for their level of engagement and being able to show demonstrable results, but that’s a post for a different day. In the end, a balance needs to be found because the major oil companies have the capital to invest in renewables should they choose to do so. Shareholder pressure can influence their decision to do so, or not.
Aviva is another asset manager that prefers engagement to disinvestment. Several years ago, they publicly said they needed the major fossil fuel companies to engage and show they are listening about the impact of their business on climate change. It is perhaps telling that last month Aviva disinvested £2.5bn from fossil fuel companies. Additionally, last October 18 University Pension Funds pledged to move £18bn worth of fossil fuel investments.
From small groups like BCP through massive pension funds to financial behemoths like Aviva, the desire to act on climate change is changing investment strategies. Engagement and disinvestment are happening right now. As are oil leaks. There will come a time when we don’t need oil from Poole Harbour, or Texas or Qatar, but until then, we have to find the balance between burning as little of the stuff as we can and investing in renewable energy instead. Hydrogen, solar, wind, tidal and small nuclear power plants are all viable alternatives to the black greasy stuff that is currently floating around Poole Harbour making the place look very messy indeed.