Australia's biggest pension funds raise investment in fossil fuels, activist group says

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SYDNEY, May 8 (Reuters) -Australia's 30 biggest pension funds in 2022 raised their investment to more than A$34 billion ($23 billion) in companies most responsible for expanding fossil fuels, environmental activist group Market Forces said.

The superannuation or retirement funds increased by 50% over the past year their investment exposure to both Australian and foreign companies developing new or expanded coal, oil and gas projects, the group said in a report published on Sunday.

"Super funds are making a mockery of their own commitments to net zero by buying up wholesale in companies expanding fossil fuels and letting them get away with trashing our climate," Market Forces campaigner Brett Morgan said in a statement.

Some funds have committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions in their investment portfolio by 2050.

Commonwealth Super Corp, AustralianSuper, Australian Retirement Trust, Aware Super and AMP Ltd AMP.AX - operators of the five largest funds cumulatively managing more than A$1 trillion ($675 billion) - did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

There has been an active interest from shareholders in oil and gas companies after commodity prices shot up due to Russia's war in Ukraine, which could partly explain the funds' move to up their stake in fossil fuel companies, Market Forces said.

It named only AustralianSuper which it said had increased its stake in Woodside Energy Group Ltd WDS.AX, Australia's top independent gas producer, by about 19 times in 2022.

Market Forces estimated more than A$140 billion of Australians' retirement savings are invested in fossil fuel companies through the funds, which have more than 9% of members' share investments in these firms on average.

Environmental, social and governance issues have increasingly influenced investors in funds and companies.

Last month, a group of Indigenous Australians filed a human rights complaint against 20 large Australian pension funds for investing in two gas projects of Santos Ltd STO.AX, putting pressure on the funds over their fossil fuel investment plans.

($1 = 1.4806 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Christopher Cushing


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