A coalition of campaigners have published an open letter demanding that Surrey Pension Fund (SPF) divest millions of pounds from the fossil fuel industry.

Addressed to the Surrey Pension Fund Committee, the authors and signatories call on SPF to divest some £151 million they say the fund held in fossil fuel investments as of May 31, 2019.

The signatories of the letter include a range of interest groups, including environmental campaigners like Extinction Rebellion (XR) Surrey and Friends of the Earth, and rural affairs groups like Campaign To Protect Rural England.

"An ever-growing list of organisations, including many pension funds such as Cardiff Council, Environment Agency, London Boroughs of Hackney, Southwark and Waltham Forest have made divestment commitments," the letter reads.

"Last year the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund – Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global – made the decision to divest US$13bn from coal and oil companies.

"Surrey Pension Fund must not be left behind. As fiduciaries, the SPF Committee Members would be negligent in understating the financial risk of continuing to invest in fossil fuels."

Surrey Comet: Climate activists protest outside Surrey County Council earlier this yearClimate activists protest outside Surrey County Council earlier this year

Responding to a request from the Comet, SPF's Strategic Finance Manager Neil Mason said that the £151 million figure quoted by campaigners was out of date.

SPF data seen by the Comet showed that fossil fuel investment had fallen from £151.5 million in May 2019 to £124.6 million in December 2019, suggesting a gradual move away from fossil fuel investments.

In percentage terms, that equated to a drop from 3.53 per cent of the fund's total value in May 2019 to 2.76 per cent in December 2019.

Back in September 2018, that figure stood at 5.65 per cent.

In a publicly available SPF document entitled "Investment Strategy Statement", a spokesperson describes the fund's approach to the above intentions:

"The Fund has no specific policy on investing or divesting investments wholly with regard to ESG issues," the document reads.

"However external fund managers are expected to take into account ESG issues when assessing potential investment opportunities.

"The Fund...holds expectations of its fund managers to hold companies to account reference the highest standards of behaviour and reputational risk management which may affect long term performance, and for those issues to be part of their stock selection criteria."

Surrey Comet: SCCSCC

Meanwhile under the section titled, 'risk management' and regarding environmental, social and governmental issues, the document reads:

"The Committee wishes to have an active influence on issues of environmental, social or governance (ESG) concern with companies in which the Fund is a shareholder.

"The Committee requires the Fund Managers to take into account the implications of substantial 'extra-financial' considerations..."

The campaigners who authored the letter against the SPF directly criticize these sentiments for being insufficient when faced with the climate crisis.

"Engagement is not effective at changing the core business model of a company, as is required with oil, gas and coal companies," the open letter reads.

The authors also pointed out that Bank of England Governor Mark Carney recently suggested how "climate breakdown could render investments held by millions of people worthless".

A further Cambridge University study from 2018 referenced in the letter suggested "up to US$1-4 trillion could be lost from 'stranded' fossil fuel assets as a result of the climate crisis," campaigners said.

"We urge that funds currently invested in fossil fuels be re-directed to renewable energy and other Paris Agreement compliant investments, thereby contributing to the transition to a low-carbon economy whilst protecting its members’ future income and avoiding the need for taxpayers to top up the fund," the letter reads.

"Act now to avoid undue taxpayer costs, as you safeguard your employees’ future."

Mason said that the SPF would be "responding to the open letter from a number of climate groups in full" in the coming days.