FOSSIL fuel divestment campaigners have again been gathering in Bradford calling on the council to ditch its fossil fuel investments.

The call has come following New York City’s decision to do so and campaigners are asking Bradford Council to do likewise.

New York City is understood to have announced earlier this month that it is divesting its $191 billion pension funds of fossil fuels. Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, also announced that the city is suing the world’s largest oil and gas companies for damages caused by climate change in a two-pronged assault that he said is aimed at “standing up for future generations”.

Here in West Yorkshire, the Fossil Free West Yorkshire campaign is calling on Bradford Council, which manages the West Yorkshire Pension Fund, to follow New York’s lead and sever its ties with the fossil fuel industry.

Campaigners say the West Yorkshire Pension Fund invests £933 million in fossil fuel assets. The largest investments are in BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

Bradford divestment campaigners argue that the West Yorkshire Pension Fund is putting pensioners’ money at an unacceptable risk by continuing to invest in these, and other, fossil fuel companies.

Deirdre Duff of Fossil Free West Yorkshire said: “The fact that New York City is both divesting of fossil fuels and taking a lawsuit is very significant. Fossil fuel divestment and litigation against the fossil fuel industry have the potential to reinforce each other in generating increased market uncertainty around the future of the fossil fuel industry.

“Fossil fuel stocks have been performing badly over the last two years; this is partly due to low oil prices but is also due to the uncertainty created by climate and divestment movements and the signing of the Paris Agreement. New York City’s decision – and the precedent that it sets for other cities –could add further to this uncertainty.’’

Julie Longden of Fossil Free West Yorkshire added: “Although the WYPF took steps towards acknowledging the financial risk associated with fossil fuel investments last year, this has not been matched by action to divest of fossil fuels. Our local councils have a moral responsibility to ensure that local authority pension funds are not fuelling life threatening climate change and a duty to ensure they are safe from the financial risk of stranded assets. New York City’s decision is a catalyst to cities across the world and we hope that Bradford will follow its example as a matter of urgency”.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, says that NYC’s divestment decision could catalyze further divestment commitments and provide momentum in the shift away from fossil fuels.

He said: ‘‘Pension funds of other major US cities will follow, I think. New York is the neighbourhood of the very big money managers. It’s a powerful, personal signal to them that they cannot keep funding the sorts of projects they have in the past.”

According to the campaigners, climate change is already causing thousands of deaths per year around the world.

They say New York will be the first of the US’s largest cities to divest and is one of group of global cities that have committed to ridding themselves of fossil fuel stocks, including Paris, Berlin, Sydney and Stockholm.

A spokesman for Bradford Council, which runs the West Yorkshire Pension Fund said: “The WYPF is very aware of climate risk, as you can see if you refer to its Investment Strategy Statement published on April 1 2017.

“There are no plans to divest from fossil fuel companies, as to do so would mean losing the WYPFs right, as a shareholder, to engage on this issue in the future, and passing the ownership to an investor indifferent to climate change would have no impact.

“WYPF has had successful engagement with fossil fuel companies for many years, and the Fund will continue to engage with these companies in the future. As a result, together with the Local Authority Pension Forum (LAPFF) and other concerned investors, it was a significant contributor to obtaining management support for the resolutions requiring these companies to publish their plans for compliance with international climate agreements such as the Paris accord, and last year we saw Shell withdraw from investment in tar sands.

“There have already been several announcements from Shell on investments in clean energy in 2018, demonstrating that WYPF’s engagement strategy is making a difference.”