Brampton Council puts OMERS on notice re Climate Action

At last week’s Committee meeting, Brampton Council voted unanimously to urge AMO, to formally request that OMERS provide clear targets and timelines for eliminating its fossil fuel related investments and improve its climate risk reporting. This motion was in response to a delegation from Laura McGrath, Pension Engagement Manager for Shift: Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, a delegation from Pat Burns, a former municipal employee, OMERS beneficiary and Pension Engagement Volunteer, and a recommended motion submitted to Council from the Brampton Environment Advisory Committee that resulted from their February 11th meeting.

The AMO, (Association of Municipalities of Ontario), is a not for profit organization representing nearly all of Ontario’s 444 municipal governments. Its mandate is to support those governments in matters of federal or provincial nature that could affect municipal services and finances. Therefore, the AMO has influence over how OMERS does its job.

OMERS, (Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System), is the pension organization for the Province’s 500,000 plus active, deferred and retired employees, including 3,500 city of Brampton employees. OMERS manages $121B in assets and is one of Canada’s largest pension funds. According to Ms. McGrath, currently about 15% of OMERS assets are n the oil and gas industry.

The most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change indicates that the window of opportunity to maintain the earth’s temperature within a safe range is closing rapidly and there is an urgent need for actions that will lead to reduced emissions. Brampton Council has been taking climate action seriously. It declared a climate emergency in 2019 and set aggressive carbon reduction targets through its Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Program, (CEERP). Most recently Council approved seed funding for the Centre for Community Energy Transformation, (CCET), a new, not for profit organization to develop projects aimed at decarbonizing Brampton homes and businesses.

Pension funds manage vast asset portfolios and their investment strategy can be another form of climate action. For example, New York State Pension Fund and the Quebec Pension Plan are selling their stakes in oil and gas related industries and making climate friendly investments instead.

Divesting from fossil fuel investments is not only good for the environment, it is also a good economic decision. Ms. McGrath cited a recent analysis of ten pension funders over a ten year period that indicated higher returns had the pension funds not held oil and gas assets as part of their portfolios. In OMERS case this would have improved asset returns by more than 60% over the 10 year analysis period.

OMERS has committed to eliminating fossil fuel investments from its portfolio by 2050 but has yet to publish a credible plan for achieving that commitment. As municipalities across Ontario pressure AMO, it is likely they will in turn apply pressure on OMERS to be more aggressive and transparent in their plans.

This approved motion by Council is another example of how citizen advisory committees like the Brampton Environment Advisory Committee can impact Council decision making and positively influence public policy.

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