Divestments from fossils are significant but more is expected from the Church beyond the mere acceptance of climate science
The 2015 Paris Agreement was a significant landmark in the global move on climate mitigation. The urgency of the energy transition is increasingly acute as the world creeps further into the critical decade of 2020 – 2030. More than before, governmental and non-governmental institutions are aligning organizational objectives, activities, and most importantly, investments with the goal to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C of pre-industrial level.
Fossils and the Church of England…
The Church of England (CoE) has been in the news recently in this regard. Recall that in 2018, the General Synod directed its NIBs (National Investing Bodies) to divest from oil and gas companies that are still burning fossils by 2023. It is known that the Church owns substantial holdings and investments in a variety of industries, including the oil and gas industry. The “Commissioners for England” are in charge of the church’s endowment assets, which include investments in major fossil-fuel firms such as British Petroleum (BP), ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies. These investments, estimated at billions of pounds, have drawn concerns from climate advocates about the church’s ethical and moral standing. They argue that by encouraging the exploitation and combustion of fossil fuels which are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and, ultimately responsible for climate change, the Church is culpable in endangering the earth and futures of generations unborn. In response, the CoE announced a review of its investment in fossil fuels in 2015. The decision, backed by an overwhelming 247 to 4 votes taken at the General Synod, was to divest from oil and gas firms who are unwilling to comply with the net zero of 2030.
Over the following years after that big decision was taken, the Church gradually reduced its stake in firms involved in the extraction and production of fossil fuels. By 2020, up to 20 oil and gas firms had been knocked off the investment portfolio. Reuters recently reported that the CoE Pensions Board decided to divest its 1.35 million pounds investment from Shell. The report said the move is part of plans to remove some 10.3 billion pounds from fossil business due to non-compliance with 2030 net zero targets. Another report, says an estimated £19.6 million invested by dioceses in fossil fuels had been cut to £17.8 million.
Concerns remain but small steps matter
Despite progress, there are still concerns about the Church’s willingness to fully comply with its 2023 commitment. According to reports, regional churches of the CoE in the UK still have some £18 million invested in fossil fuel companies. Some argue that rather than just selling off its shares, the Church should raise its moral authority to influence other investors to shun fossils. However, the Church’s decision to divest from companies that deal with fossil fuels is a game-changing move in the fight against climate change. This show of leadership in ethics and consistency in values and practice makes a strong statement to other institutions and therefore, serves as a model to reorient their values and practice toward a sustainable future.
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