UK Pension Funds Have Lost £683 Million To Failed Coal Investments

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New figures suggest that UK local council pension funds lost up to £683 million because of failed investments in coal.

According to new calculations by Platform London, and released in conjunction with, Friends of the Earth, and Community Reinvest, failed investments in coal firms caused by the recent coal crash cost UK local council pension funds up to £683 million, with Greater Manchester’s interests in coal crashing by £148 million.

Specifically, Platform London’s calculations are based on investments by 61 individual local council pension funds made into BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Glencore, and Anglo American, and amounts to an estimated £683,628,983. Calculations are based on coal holdings for 61 out of the 101 local council pension funds as of the first of April, 2014, and the loss through the following 18 months to the first of October, 2015. (Platform London’s full calculations are available here.)

Open cut coal mine Hunter Valley Image Credit: Beyond Coal and GasHowever, the loss to local council pensions hangs in the balance of original investments in fossil fuel.

The news comes after Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, raised concerns about investments in the fossil fuel industry, warning investors they face “potentially huge” losses from climate change action which he states could leave huge reserves of oil, coal, and gas “literally unburnable.”

“Carney is right about stranded assets,” said Mika Minio-Paluello, Platform London’s researcher. “But this is a problem for today, not tomorrow. Our local councils are risking pension funds by investing into coal and fossil fuels, as advised by City firms raking in millions in fees. The burden of failing coal companies will be dumped on the public and pensioners. Local government workers deserve more say over where their pensions are invested.”

“If councils had divested from coal & reinvested into public transport and social housing two years ago, then pension holders, the climate and public services would all be better off. Divest-Reinvest is a win-win-win solution.”

“There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the financial risks associated with climate change will impact investment portfolios,” added Natalie Smith, lawyer of Client Earth. “If pension fund trustees fail to properly manage these risks in their investment decision-making process, and there is a consequential decline in value of the pension pots of members, then trustees and investment managers could be sued for breaching their fiduciary duties.”

Billions Lost in California

The potential risk to pension funds was most recently highlighted in California, after a new report found that California’s two public pension funds had lost over $5 billion over the last year due to investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies.

“These freshly incurred losses starkly demonstrate coal’s financial risk, and illustrate the potential benefits of SB 185 to California pensioners.” said Will Lana, Partner at Trillium Asset Management, the authoring firm behind the report.

News came in at the same time as S.B. 185 was awaiting a vote in the California State Assembly, a bill that would force the divestment of both funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS. A fortnight later, the bill passed.

But with the potential loss of so much as a result of fossil fuel investments, it might have been a little too late for the millions of people relying on the two pension funds. Though CalSTRS at least had already been involved in assessing the possibility of divestment, speaking via email, Ricardo Duran, the spokesman for CalSTRS confirmed that “CalSTRS did not take a position on the bill.”

“We are assessing the level of thermal coal that meets the legislative definition and believe it may be approximately a $40 million holding,” Ricardo Duran continued. “CalSTRS’ preference is always that of engagement.”

“Even before passage of the bill, CalSTRS began its research to evaluate the portfolio for thermal coal holdings. The process began at the Investment Committee’s direction in April 2015. This was the first of a multi-step process to determine the impact of possible divestment. This assessment is expected to take 4 to 8 months.”

Global Pension Fund Divestment

We’ve seen pension funds divesting from fossil fuels for some time now, all around the world.

In November of 2014, Norway’s largest pension funds manager KLP announced that it was divesting from coal, equating to around NOK 500 million (~$75 million) — funds which would subsequently be invested into renewable energy companies.

“We are divesting our interests in coal companies in order to highlight the necessity of switching from fossil fuel to renewable energy,” said KLP’s CEO Sverre Thornes at the time.

A month later, two Canadian pension funds announced that they had signed an agreement with Spanish banking giant Banco Santander to jointly acquire a portfolio of renewable energy and water infrastructure assets which is valued at over $2 billion. In fact, pension funds the world over have been investing heavily in renewable energy — in South Africa, Denmark, and the UK.

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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8 thoughts on “UK Pension Funds Have Lost £683 Million To Failed Coal Investments

  • So will they also get burned on nuclear too?

    • Conceivably plenty of people / funds have lost money on uranium stocks, yes.

      • Nice link!

    • Who knows but the only way to get through the day in the UK at the moment is to have Bobby McFerrin ‘Don’t worry be happy’ on a permanent loop 🙂

      And the answer is probably yes…..

    • Worse. They’ll get positively irradiated.

  • You can see coal dying off right now – minute by minute.

    It is earlier in the process so not as obvious, but oil is going the same path. That will slow the adoption of EVs a little since it changes the cost-benefit analysis, but it is only a delay. Once EVs reach an unsubsidized tipping point it will happen even faster than coal because people change cars faster than utilities change factories.

    • I hope you are right. But there are a lot of powerful interests that could unite to at least substantially delay progress.
      I just read where a Warren Buffet owned utility has the power to keep Las Vegas resorts from buying energy directly from new solar farms. This costs them many millions of dollars per year. Without legislative changes, they are just stuck. The monopoly utility has the legal authority to prevent them from using a better, cleaner, cheaper source of electricity.

  • These pension funds are the equivalent of government subsidies to fossil fuels when the investment doesn’t pan out, though they’re subsidies at the local government level rather than national level.

    It seems every time we look around, fossil fuels receive subsidies that they pretend they don’t receive. And then there’s the article in Rolling Stone about the Koch brothers and their style of business. In essence, the article suggests the failure to follow the law on environmentally responsible corporate behavior becomes a subsidy the moment the government decides to look the other way or imposes minor penalties or doesn’t bother to have enough investigators to notice the behavior in the first place.

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