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Oil-less future looms for Synod

14 February 2014

by staff reporters


THE General Synod voted by a huge margin on Wednesday to look at whether the Church of England should disinvest entirely from fossil-fuel companies.

Introducing the motion, the Revd Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark) said that he hoped to raise the profile of climate change, and "align the mission of the Church with its investment arm".

The motion, which was passed by 274 votes, with one vote against and three abstentions, called on the Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) to ensure that the Church's investing bodies were taking the mission to combat climate change into account. It also said that disinvestment should be one option on the table.

It also re-established the Archbishops' Council's Shrinking the Footprint working group, and gave it a mandate to co-ordinate the entire Church's response to environmental issues.

Canon Goddard said: "The issue of climate change is real and it's happening, but it has dropped down the agenda." He said that environmental issues mattered on the grounds of mission and justice, and because of the Church's responsibility to the future.

The Revd Canon Richard Burridge (Universities), deputy chairman of the EIAG, said that he welcomed the motion. "The EIAG recognises that climate change is one of - if not the - biggest ethical investment issue, particularly because its impact will be felt most by the poor," he said.

The issue of disinvestment from fossil fuels was not simple, however, and it avoided the problem of confronting the Western way of life and excessive consumption, he said. "Making the transition away from the fossil fuels in a fair and just way is going to be long and hard, and requires sacrifices from all of us."

One member of the House of Laity, Tom Sutcliffe (Southwark), moved several amendments which sought to change the focus of the motion. One amendment was to change the motion to only condemn "excessive" burning of fossil fuels.

But Canon Goddard said that any burning of fossil fuels was now excessive, and the Synod voted against the amendment. Other amendments by Mr Sutcliffe,which sought to replace a focus on fossil fuels with a warning on population growth, were also defeated.

Several members of the Synod condemned the focus on population growth as unfairly shifting the burden of fighting climate change to the poor in the developing world, who generally had larger families.

The motion also called on the EIAG to publish the report of its already-started review into climate change investment policy by the end of this year.

Canon Burridge said that the EIAG had been largely successful when it had challenged firms to cut carbon emissions. "In 2013, 72 per cent of the companies we targeted improved their emissions management," he said.

"But make no mistake - we reserve the final option of disinvesting from those particular companies who resist change, as we did with the mining company Vedanta."

Christian Aid said that it welcomed the motion and the decision to create a working group on climate change and the environment.

The charity's senior climate-change advisor, Dr Alison Doig, said: "Climate change is increasingly becoming one of the moral issues of our time, and the Church has a powerful voice with which to speak.

"This positive move shows a commitment to protect the planet and strive to help those suffering.

"The Church Commissioners are fortunate to have £8 billion under investment. With great wealth comes great responsibility, and I'm encouraged to see the Church taking that responsibility seriously by reviewing its ethical investment policies."

The Synod also discussed on Wednesday changes to safeguarding legislation, the Girl Guides' Promise, and relaxing rules on vesture.

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