Climate protesters have scaled a council building calling for pension bosses to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Protesters from Extinction Rebellion climbed onto the roof of East Sussex County Council’s County Hall in Lewes demanding that East Sussex Pension Fund change their investments.

XR protester Mark Engineer, 50, said: “This is just the start.

“There’s more to come if we don’t see meaningful action. We’ll continue to take non-violent direct action against ESCC until they do the right thing and divest.

“If the council is really serious, divestment is the only serious option. If it decides to divest it would be a potential game changer.”

XR protesters on the roof of County HallXR protesters on the roof of County Hall (Image: XR)

Currently protesters from XR and Divest East Sussex say that the council’s pension fund holds over £28 million in fossil fuel investments.

The council declared a climate emergency in 2019.

This morning protesters climbed on to County Hall, set off flares and unfurled a banner reading “which side are you on? Fossil fuels or climate action?”

XR protesters campaigning in front of the videoXR protesters campaigning in front of the video (Image: XR)

The protesters also unveiled an “oil monster” puppet and chanted with placards and posters.

Divest East Sussex protester Gabriel Carlyle, 50, said: “Two years ago, I and other members of Divest East Sussex went on hunger strike over the county council’s continued refusal to divest.

“At that time, Britain was having its hottest day since records began. The mercury was touching 40 degrees. You couldn’t ask for a clearer warning sign – and yet two years later, here we are again.

“We have written to councillors. We’ve asked to meet with them. We’ve peacefully protested again and again.

“We’ve lobbied, we’ve pleaded, we’ve begged. None of it has worked. So we’ve decided to be less polite.”

The East Sussex Pension Fund, which manages public sector pensions in Brighton and Hove as well as East Sussex, is administered by the county council. It currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies invested in oil and gas companies like Shell and BP. The fund’s investments in fossil fuel companies have been the focus of campaigning for over ten years now.

A long list of organisations and individuals have called on the Fund to divest from fossil fuels, including: Bexhill Town Council, Brighton and Hove City Council, Hastings Borough Council, Lewes District and Town Councils, Peacehaven Town Council, Rother District Council and Saleshurst & Robertsbridge Parish Council.

A spokeswoman for East Sussex County Council said: "We can confirm there were protestors on the roof of County Hall yesterday, and that they came down from the roof of the building yesterday morning. Council business continued as normal.

“The protestors let off flares during their protest and this incident illustrates why the council has regrettably had to spend money on increasing security for some meetings, for which the council has previously been criticised, to ensure everyone’s safety."

A spokeswoman for the pension fund added: "East Sussex County Council is designated under legislation for the local administration of the LGPS. The Pension Committee is the delegated decision maker for the Fund. The Fund’s primary responsibility is to pay pensions to its 85,000 pension scheme members and protection of members’ pensions is paramount.

“The Fund invests in line with regulation and only invests indirectly into pooled investment products through investment managers. It does not invest in any company directly. The exposure to oil companies through investment products is 0.4 per cent of Fund value. It has a strong focus on responsible investment in its stewardship of assets and takes climate risk and environmental, social and governance factors into account when investing, having removed fossil fuel companies from its equity allocation and reduced the exposure in other parts of the portfolio. Instead, the Fund has a focus on investing in climate solutions, greener revenues, and resource efficiency.

“It is incorrect to say a vote on whether the East Sussex Pension Fund should divest from fossil fuels has been postponed. All decisions by the Fund must be based on professional advice and full information about the financial and legal implications. It is proper to pause a decision until all information is available.

“It is also incorrect to say the report commissioned by the Pension Committee on the efficacy of divestment and engagement supported the case for divestment. The report found that neither engagement nor divestment has been entirely effective to date in bringing about the low carbon transition alone. If the Fund were to implement a fossil fuel divestment policy, it was established the financial impacts could be significant."