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Orkney’s Links With the Cerrejon Coal Mine

Cerrejon is the largest open coal mine in South America and has ‘seriously damaged the environment and health of the country’s largest indigenous community, and is making them more vulnerable to COVID-19’, states a report for the United Nations.

Cerrejón mine photo: Hour.poing

The mine is owned in equal parts to subsidiaries of the international mining companies BHP, Anglo American and Glencore.

Orkney Islands Council’s Pension Fund invests in BHP.

The operational activities of the Cerrejon mine were investigated by David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

Residents living near the mine, particularly in Provincial, suffer from a range of health issues: headaches, nasal and respiratory discomfort, dry cough, burning eyes and blurred vision as a result of the open-pit mining.

Work at the mine is carried out 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using heavy machinery and explosives. Explosions cause houses to shake and propel coal dust into the air, water and soil.

Mining and transportation along railroads also owned by the company emit fine particles called PM 2.5, invisible to the human eye. This pollutant can cause asthma, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, hypertension and cancer, skin and eye damage, miscarriages and premature births, but only began to be measured in 2018, after the mine had already been operating for 35 years.

The Cerrejón mine is also the largest water polluter in the region. The company not only diverts and uses a huge number of streams and tributaries, but also pours back water contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals.

In response to this the company has helped to truck water to residents, but David Boyd said that the water pollution had denied the communities of access to clean water in the first place.

“This has made the Wayúu community more dependent on the alternative source of water and leaves them more exposed to the risk of COVID-19,” he said.

David Boyd has called on a halt to mining in the area. He explained:

“It is absolutely vital that Colombia protect the indigenous peoples’ rights to life, health, water, sanitation, and a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment by halting mining close to the Provincial reserve until it can be made safe.

“I further call on the mining company to increase its effort to prevent further harm to people and also to ensure that those who have been negatively impacted have access to effective remedy.”

Yesterday, 23rd of February, The Orkney News revealed the connection between investments made by Orkney Islands Council’s Pension Fund and BHP. Fossil Fuel investments between 2017 and 2020 showed losses of £1,625,133. OIC’s Pension Fund Loses £1,625,133 Investing In Fossil Fuels

Robert Leslie, SNP candidate for the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections has urged OIC to now divest from fossil fuels with some urgency. He commented:

“While I recognise that Orkney Islands Council has said that it is addressing the issue of pension fund investments in fossil fuels, having declared a climate emergency in 2019 the time for the local authority to act is now, and with some urgency.

“The council engaged very positively in the recent Sustainable Orkney Conference, the report from which is due next month, but that signal of intent must be turned into action.

“This continued investment in fossil fuels, along with the recent revelations that quarry stone is to be shipped from Oban to Orkney for use in the islands, doesn’t send out the right signals in terms of leading Orkney’s climate emergency response.”

The Local Government Pension Scheme is Scotland’s largest store of public wealth and councils continue to invest in fossil fuels. The losses are huge because of the fall in value of coal, oil and gas.

Local Government Pension FundFinancial Losses from Oil & Gas Investments (2017-2020)
Strathclyde Pension Fund-£46,374,450
Lothian Pension Fund-£36,077,023
Falkirk Council Pension Fund -£34,769,723
Tayside Pension Fund-£30,005,131
North East Scotland Pension Fund-£15,780,431
Dumfries and Galloway Pension Fund-£13,506,338
Highland Council Pension Fund-£11,650,109
Fife Council Pension Fund-£2,356,219
Scottish Borders Pension Fund-£1,968,406
Orkney Islands Council Pension Fund -£1,625,133

Councillor Leslie Manson, Chairman of the Orkney Islands Council’s Pension Sub-committee said:

“The Council is very alert to the topic of climate change and responsible investment, having declared a climate emergency in May 2019. The Council also requires all managers appointed to manage assets for the Pension Fund to be signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI).”   

OIC Councillor Steve Sankey of the Orkney Greens commented:

“In recent years OIC has amended its investment strategies to ensure that all OIC fund managers now have membership of the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. We see this as a positive base for further movement towards divestment away from fossil fuel companies, based partly on their fiduciary performance as well as ESG matters. ”

The UN’s Special Rapporteur David Boyd has called on Colombia to do more to protect the Wayúu community on the Provincial indigenous reserve against pollution from the huge El Cerrejón mine.

The people have seen their farms taken from them and their environment destroyed. Farming has been the lifeblood of Orkney for over 5,000 years. We pride ourselves on our commitment to greening our economy. And yet we continue to invest in companies which destroy farms and communities in another continent.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

OIC’s Pension Fund Loses £1,625,133 Investing In Fossil Fuels

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