A group of teachers rallied outside the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s (OTPP) annual general meeting in downtown Toronto on Thursday, urging its board to stop investing in fossil fuels and sink more money into climate solutions.
The OTPP is Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan, according to Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, which organized the rally. It manages over $247 billion on behalf of 336,000 working and retired teachers across 170 public school boards and private schools throughout Ontario.
One of the people outside the OTPP meeting was Karen Weisberg, a retired teacher and member of Seniors for Climate Action Now, who told Canada’s National Observer that fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas — and the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions they create — “are taking us down the road where the planet is just not going to be sustainable.”
“Pension funds have huge amounts of money, and we need to make sure that they are not contributing to the destruction of the planet,” the former teacher added.
Weisberg says the group wants to make sure their message about ending fossil fuel investments gets to OTPP.
James Campbell, a high school teacher who attended the rally with his child, said it is not in anyone's best interest for OTPP to be fuelling the climate crisis by continuing to invest in and profit from fossil fuels.
“I’m here because my pension plan, my deferred salary, is really an important resource. These funds are being used in our name ... funding the climate catastrophe,” said Campbell.
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“The plan has started to use greenwashing and trying to say they are reinvesting in a more sustainable future. But when you look at their climate plan, they still see fossil fuel investment as a medium- to long-term solid investment, and we know it just isn’t.”
Patrick DeRochie, a senior manager at Shift Action, told Canada’s National Observer the OTPP has made real progress in developing a climate plan for its portfolio, but teachers remain concerned about the OTPP’s risky investments in oil, gas and pipelines, which are estimated to be at least $10 billion.
“OTPP is actually making the climate crisis worse,” DeRochie said. “They are undermining the future of their own members. They are creating financial risks for their pension plan by continuing to perpetuate the fossil fuel economy.”
DeRochie said what is good for the environment is good for teachers’ retirement, and there is no retirement security without a safe climate future.
Canada’s National Observer reached out to the OTPP’s communications department but didn’t receive an immediate response.
The pension fund’s website says OTPP is “building our capacity to deploy capital into companies that enable the net-zero transition, reduce emissions and build a sustainable economy.”
“In 2022, we added $3 billion in new green assets, which are companies that generate clean energy, reduce demand for fossil fuels and help build a sustainable economy,” the pension fund’s website says. “We now have nearly $34 billion in green assets, making continued progress toward our target to grow our green investments to $50 billion.”
OTPP is playing a key role in the energy transition by actively investing in “select emissions-intensive assets with the goal of helping them decarbonize faster,” the website reads.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.