"THIS is the year for action," the Executive Director of the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said
at St Paul's Cathedral in May.
The climate-change talks in Paris in 2015 will be crucial - and
2014 is the year in which the world's governments need to get their
act together, she said. It is good, therefore, that this year, the
C of E's Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) is reviewing its
policy. Some urgency is needed.
At the debate on the environment at the General Synod in
February, the EIAG said that it would consider disinvestment from
fossil-fuel extraction, even though it was unlikely to recommend
disinvesting fully from all fossil fuels (Comment, 7 February;
Ms Figueres listed a number of companies that are part of a
growing international disinvestment campaign, and intimated that
the Church should join in. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said
recently: "It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine
The EIAG uses several criteria to determine policy, to avoid
"profiting from, or providing capital to, activities that are
materially inconsistent with Christian values". So the Church does
not invest, for example, in tobacco - which damages health. Nor in
alcohol - a gift from God, but open to damaging misuse. It does,
however, have a policy both of partial disinvestment, and of
engagement with alcohol companies, in the hope of reducing
WITH fossil fuels, it is much more complicated. We all need
energy, especially electricity, and can use it for good (travel,
heating, cooking, and much more). Many people (even, shamefully, in
the UK) are in fuel poverty, although the cost of energy is by no
means the only factor.
Developing parts of the world understandably need more energy.
There are, however, clean forms of energy, which, coupled with
energy-efficiency and carbon capture, could - given the right
incentives and subsidies - provide for all that is needed.
The issue for investors is that (as the UK Parliamentary paper
Green Finance showed) there is little clarity about
government policy, and relatively little subsidy for low-carbon
energy generation. Many investors are unwilling to take the
The Church puts a high value on engagement, and it is vital to
engage with policy-makers and the Government, and with other
companies, to ensure proper carbon disclosure. But what would
direct engagement with fossil-fuel companies be for?
Those companies globally have reserves of fossil fuels many
times more than could ever be safely burned without triggering
potentially catastrophic climate change. They are committed to
future extraction for decades to come: would the Church be trying
to make them change their minds? Time is too short.
Is continued investment in fossil-fuel extraction and supply,
which feeds dangerous consumption, "consistent with Christian
THE Church's five Marks of Mission include the aims (i) to
respond to human need byloving service (the dignity of all
people; the loving service ofGod and all our neighbours, especially
in the poorest parts of the world; and our children's children);
(ii) to seek to transform unjust structures of society
(the questfor a different sort of economy based on flourishing for
humanity and the planet, not unlimited economic growth, over
consumption and debt; the need to critique the exercise of
corporate power; (iii) to strive to safeguard the integrity of
creation (God's creation is good; the Earth which we damage
through sin and selfishness is the Lord's. Caring for creation is
foundational to the gospel).
We should continue to investin fossil-fuel companies only if
(i) demonstrate that they have a viable strategy for
diversification away from coal, oil, and gas;
(ii) recognise the urgent need for reduction in greenhouse-gas
(iii) work with the Government to achieve binding climate-change
(iv) work with the Government to create a favourable investing
environment for clean energy, CCS, and energy efficiency;
(v) refuse to invest in developing oil and gas deposits from
environmentally sensitive areas;
(vi) refuse to develop new coal seams or tar sands.
Otherwise, we should disinvest - perhaps in a phased way: first,
dirty carbon, such as coal and tar sands, then oil and gas. Then
reinvest in low-carbon assets and clean energy.
CHRISTIANS are called to make bold and sometimes sacrificial
steps. The church investors have a fiduciary duty to their
beneficiaries, and disinvestment could result in reduced stipends,
reduced church pensions, and reduced grants. Such reductions
should, however, not be necessary.
There is evidence of a growing, vibrant global market in
renewable energy. Some pension funds have divested, and then
reinvested in clean energy, to find profits boosted. Ms Figueres
called on faith leaders to find their voice on climate change.
I took a bit of persuading, but my view now is that continued
investment in fossil-fuel extraction cannot be reconciled with
"Christian values". Church disinvestment and reinvestment would not
change much in fossil-fuel companies' finances; it could,
nevertheless, be a hugely effective demonstration of the Church's
commitment to respond urgently - this year - to climate change, and
of the need to reframe the moral and gospel issues that are
Dr David Atkinson, Assistant Bishop in the diocese of
Southwark, has until recently been a board member of Operation
Noah, but is writing here in a personal capacity. This article
draws on a longer, referenced paper on brightnow.org.uk