I’ve just come back from a great day in Leeds with Christian Aid, at a training event for campaigning, and I’m feeling inspired and energised. What was the hot topic that has got me so excited? Pensions! Yes, really!
So what is the connection between pensions and Christian Aid campaigning? Pensions are all about investing for the future. We put money aside now and hope to see a return that will provide for us in our old age. But in the meantime, our money is already hard at work. Through our pension funds, we are the shareholders of the companies on the stock exchange. It isn’t just any old money which makes the world go round, it is our money! If we add to this an ethical perspective, we might want to make some other choices about where we invest. For example, we might decide that we don’t want to invest in a company which sells weapons. It might also be rather nice if our money was working for good, perhaps for a pharmaceutical firm developing a cure for malaria.
But so far, this is going over old ground, exploring decisions lots of us have made if we’ve tried to find ethical investment funds. The real epiphany of the day was to consider how our pension is an investment in our future in more ways than the pay-out when we retire. If our money was used by that pharmaceutical company to find a cure for cancer or an effective treatment for dementia, that really would be an investment for our old age. There is almost £3trillion invested in UK pensions – this inconceivably large sum of money has huge potential, but the question is, what kind of future is it being used to build?
Climate change is the most significant challenge of our time. Humanity’s response to this challenge will determine what kind of future we and our children will face. So how can pension funds invest in and for the future? Clearly, I’d like my money to be used to fund renewable energy rather than fossil fuel. But I’d not considered the need for pensions to be invested in companies that will be resilient in the face of the degree of climate change likely to have happened by the time I retire. Also needed is investment in ways to prevent or at least adapt to climate change, like energy-efficient technology, green infrastructure, a low-carbon economy.
This is our money, and it has enormous potential for good or for ill. Today was all about unlocking that potential, and Christian Aid have teamed up with ShareAction to enable pension savers to have in say in where and how their money is invested. They have launched a new campaign called the Green Light campaign. Anyone with a pension invested in shares can follow the links on the website to email their pension fund to find out its carbon footprint. They have also prepared a report “resilient portfolios in an uncertain world” with research and recommendations for pension fund managers. The idea is to encourage funds to invest in greener businesses, but also to get funds to use their power as shareholders to direct businesses away from high-emissions activity, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic. We don’t have to be helpless bystanders in world dominated by corporate power.
I believe people have a God-given responsibility to care for this planet and its people, and not to just exploit its resources. I have bigger questions about money, power and capitalism, but I also think that sometimes we have to work with the system we’ve got. I think this could be a really effective tool in the campaigning toolkit and I’ll be contacting my pension provider. I’d encourage you to follow the link to the ShareAction campaign and contact yours! I’ll finish with words from p7 of the Green Light campaign report:
“This is a different kind of climate campaign. Its focus on pension funds will unlock the power of the trillions invested in them to fund a greener, fairer future. In doing so, we aim to protect our pensions and our planet. We hope you’ll join with us, as citizen saver or civil society organisation, as we push our pension funds to get climate-conscious.”