We the undersigned write to you as doctors, nurses and other members of the healthcare community in North Yorkshire. It is with grave concern that we note that North Yorkshire County Council, as the Administering Authority for the North Yorkshire Pension Fund, is investing millions of pounds in the fossil fuel industry.
The fossil fuel industry poses a serious threat to human health. Fossil fuel driven climate change is already impacting the health of millions and threatens to reverse the last half century of gains in global health. Expert analysis, published in the 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, warned that “a lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of the national health systems they depend on, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services”.
The fossil fuel industry has undermined climate science for many years. It has approximately 5 times more carbon in its proven fossil fuel reserves than can be used if global warming is to be limited to 2⁰C. Warming beyond this limit, indeed warming beyond 1.5 ⁰C, would have devastating impacts on human health and human civilization. Despite this, the fossil fuel industry continues to explore for even more fossil fuels. Its business models are incompatible with maintaining a planet that can support healthy, safe and stable human societies.
Fossil fuels are also a major contributor to air pollution, which kills 7 million people every year according to the World Health Organisation. This is similar to the number of deaths caused by tobacco each year. As clinicians we have a duty of care to current and future generations to limit these dangers and for that reason we are writing to you to ask you to divest from fossil fuel companies. There are immediate benefits to health from moving to a low carbon economy; a renewable powered world will not only combat climate change but will also improve the air that our communities breathe.
Motivated by these concerns, healthcare organisations are ending their investments in fossil fuels. In the UK, recent fossil fuel divestment announcements have been made by the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Faculty of Public Health and the British Psychological Society. Beyond the health sphere, investors and pension funds from all sectors of society are divesting from fossil fuels. Fossil fuel divestment commitments have been made by UK local government pension funds, UK faith organisations, trusts, charities and over 70 UK universities. Outside of the UK notable divestment commitments have been made by New York City’s $189bn pension funds, the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, Norway’s $1 tr. sovereign wealth fund, the World Council of Churches and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. To date, organisations managing over £8 trillion of funds have committed to divesting from the fossil fuel industry.
North Yorkshire County Council Pension Fund’s fossil fuel investments are becoming increasingly risky from an investment point of view. Fossil fuel divestment not only makes moral sense but is also financially prudent. Fossil fuel assets are now believed to be overvalued; creating a dangerous “carbon bubble”. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has warned that unsavvy investors could face “potentially huge” losses because a carbon budget consistent with a 2°C target would render the vast majority of reserves ‘stranded’ — oil, gas and coal that will be “literally unburnable”.
We therefore ask North Yorkshire County Council and the North Yorkshire Pension Fund Committee to:
- Immediately freeze new investment in fossil fuel companies, including those made by externally managed and pooled funds.
- Divest from the top 200 companies with the largest known carbon reserves (oil, gas and coal) as soon as possible and by 2021 at the very latest.