The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan must stop investing our money in climate failure

As Ontario teachers, we work hard to prepare young people for the challenges of the future. In a world ravaged by the climate crisis, that can’t mean only teaching, mentoring and coaching. It also means doing our part to ensure that students will graduate into a world with a livable climate.

Unfortunately, our pension savings are working against the clean energy future our students need.

Our $205 billion Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) continues to invest billions of our savings in climate-polluting fossil fuels, and only a small percentage in climate solutions.

Investments that accelerate the climate crisis are immoral and jeopardize the future of our students. They’re also a risky financial decision, with oil companies writing down assets and losing billions of dollars in value.

As the climate crisis worsens, pressure is building to ensure that fossil fuels stay safely in the ground.

Science shows that if we have any hope of stabilizing the climate at levels that are safe for our students, we must phase out the extraction and combustion of oil, gas and coal by mid-century. That means an immediate end to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Ensuring a bright future also requires massive new investments in zero-carbon technologies and infrastructure. Climate solutions are expanding exponentially, creating a valuable opportunity to grow our pensions in the long-term.

To its credit, OTPP has taken steps to increase its expertise in climate science and understand climate-related financial risks. Small but smart investments in renewables, energy storage, and green real estate have helped reduce our pension’s carbon footprint by 15 per cent between 2018 and 2019.

However, OTPP’s investments in climate solutions make up a tiny portion of our portfolio, while we estimate more than $8 billion is invested in companies and infrastructure that fuel the climate crisis.

It’s unacceptable to us that our pension finances companies and infrastructure that directly undermine the future of the young people we teach. This bet on a dying industry runs counter to the fund’s fiduciary duty to invest in our best interests.

It’s time for OTPP to align its investments with a safe climate. That means committing to a plan that includes: a screen on new oil, gas and coal investments; phasing out all fossil fuel investments by 2025; decarbonizing our portfolio by 2030; establishing ambitious targets for increased investments in profitable climate solutions; and engaging companies we own to refrain from lobbying activities that undermine ambitious climate policy.

There is nothing radical about these expectations. In fact, numerous large pension funds are already doing this in Quebec, Europe, Australia and the U.S.

We expect OTPP to take immediate action to protect our pension savings and ensure a livable climate for all teachers and our students.

Teri Burgess is a grade 8 teacher in Marathon, Ont., and Natasha Bartels is a high school teacher in Toronto. The above is a condensed open letter signed by more than 300 working and retired Ontario teachers from 45 different public school boards and independent schools.