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LETTER: Pension fund officials urged to divest from fossil fuels

Investing retirement savings of more than 400,000 health-care workers in fossil fuels morally wrong and financially risky, says letter-writer
Sustainability
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BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at news@barrietoday.com. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is from Gary Machan, who is the project lead with the Community Health Climate Action Initiative and president of the Canadian International Council's Simcoe County branch.
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The Community Health Climate Action Initiative is calling upon the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) to clean up its act and divest from fossil fuels. The climate crisis is a health crisis, and investing the retirement savings of over 400,000 Ontario health-care workers in fossil fuels is both morally wrong and financially risky.

As a group of health professionals and HOOPP beneficiaries, we are appalled by the extent to which HOOPP lags behind other major pension funds on this issue. The climate crisis has a particularly adverse impact on the health and well-being of people and communities that our members have a mandate to serve.

Picture seniors on fixed incomes who cannot afford air conditioning trying to get by during prolonged heat waves, kids with asthma needing to go to the hospital because of smog generated by forest fires, or low-income people whose basement apartments are flooded but have no means to clean up the mould. You start to appreciate just how badly climate change is harming our health.

The International Panel on Climate Change issued a Code Red for humanity this summer. The World Health Organization issued 10 calls for climate action to avert health catastrophe. The urgency of the situation necessitates that people, businesses and governments alike consider the best ways to take action to ward off the worst scenarios.

One powerful way health professionals can take action is by pressuring our pension fund to move its investments away from fossil fuels and into climate solutions.

The top 10 pension funds in Canada manage over two trillion dollars. Some funds, such as the Ontario Teachers’ Pension, are taking meaningful steps to cut carbon pollution from their portfolios.

Here in Canada and around the world, a growing number of pension funds are divesting from fossil fuels, including the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the third largest pension fund in the United States, and Europe’s largest pension fund.

HOOPP, however, doesn’t have climate targets. It is heavily invested in fossil fuels  to the tune of at least $800 million as of its most recent public filings.

HOOPP seems to be ignoring the financial risk that the climate crisis poses to our retirement savings: HOOPP’s assets are at risk from the physical effects of climate change, and its investments in fossil fuels are a losing bet when expert bodies such as the International Energy Agency say that we need no new investment in coal, oil, gas, or pipelines if we want a safe and livable climate.

Meanwhile, HOOPP is missing out on the financial upside of investing in climate solutions, which are a win-win for our retirement savings and for the planet.

If there is one thing I have learned during my career in health advocacy work, it’s that what really matters is what gets funding and what doesn’t. Or to borrow from the classic movie, Jerry McGuire, 'Show me the money!' We’ll know that HOOPP is serious about our secure retirement when they start aligning our money with a safe and healthy future.

Gary Machan
Oro-Medonte

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