In Wisconsin, building power to protect our pensions

Climate Safe Pensions for Wisconsin continues to build our grassroots movement and up our visibility to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) that manages our public employee pensions.

Last Spring, we at Climate Safe Pensions Wisconsin delivered the first 500 signatures on our divestment petition and met with SWIB staff. Since then we’ve continued to collect signatures and talk to more pension members.

In October, we started attending all the quarterly Board of Trustee meetings, proudly wearing our CSPW buttons and taking every opportunity to introduce ourselves to Board and staff members.

Communicating with SWIB is difficult. Unlike many other large state pension systems, SWIB doesn’t allow any comments from the public at its meetings. Instead they have provided a comment form on their website. So we’ve decided to use it!

This month, many members from around the state submitted comments ahead of the Board meeting on December 15th. Here are a few examples:

From Susan of Madison:

What is the SWIB rationale for investing in fossil fuels, when there is evidence that this reduces the value of the portfolio?

A study by the University of Waterloo has obtained documentation that SWIB lost $4 billion over the past ten years because you kept fossil fuel stocks in your investment portfolio – a portfolio that affects me as an annuitant.  This is flat out not smart or justifiable – either for annuitants, or for the climate that we are leaving all of our grandchildren. So my question to you is “Why do you continue to invest ANY of our money in fossil fuels?”

From Douglass of Milwaukee:

A 2023 report by the prestigious Pew Charitable Trust described how a number of countries and U.S. states are now regularly incorporating climate stress tests as an integral part of their ongoing analysis of the stability and viability of their pension funds.  The Trust went on to say that “officials in MaineMinnesota, and New York are contemplating approaches to measuring and mitigating the emerging risks that climate trends pose to their public pension funds.”  Is the WSIB examining the feasibility and benefits of doing something similar?  If not, why not?

From Anne of Ashland

Dear SWIB Board,

Thank you for your thoughtful oversight of the outstanding work investment staff do to protect my pension

I am a retired teacher wondering how you will help guide holdings away from fossil fuels that are contributing to the destruction of our planet toward lucrative climate friendly investments.

I am pleased that between 2021 and 2022 Enbridge shares were reduced by half. Please see that we continue that trend in a significant way.

From Lewis of La Crosse

How does SWIB incorporate climate-related financial risks, including physical and transition risks, in making investment decisions? Can you share an example of an investment SWIB did not make because of climate-related financial risks?

From Judith of Madison

I am the mother/mother-in-law of two future State of Wisconsin pensioners and am deeply concerned about the rapidly increasing effects of climate change.  My four grandchildren, ages 15 to 22, will live in a world of increasing heat emergencies, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, crop losses and other climate related catastrophes.

I see in your recent report to Board members, you included reference to consideration to investments of the risks of AI, Artificial Intelligence.  I am pleased that you are considering, and addressing those serious risks.  But I have to ask why Climate Change Risks are not at the top of your considerations of risk.  When will you include Risks of Climate Change in your list of serious risks of investments?

From Eric of Milwaukee

Why is SWIB holding onto fossil fuel stocks? They are an unreasonable financial risk for WRS participants.

Waterloo University’s detailed study of SWIB’s fossil fuel holdings document a loss of $4 billion over ten years. Have SWIB analysts studied that analysis? Have they made changes to avoid ongoing losses such as those the Waterloo University study describes?

Looking ahead to 2024, we will continue to build our grassroots network and our visibility to the Board, and to build a climate-safe Wisconsin for all!