From the Revd Mark Bennet
Sir, - As a member of Oxford diocesan synod, I am rather bemused
by the response (Letters,
12 December) to Oxford diocesan synod's motion on fossil fuels.
The motion did not commit the diocese of Oxford to any immediate
action, but was framed as a request for a national debate in the
General Synod on the subject.
The text that we carried allows the proponents of disinvestment
to put their best case, which is subtly different from a general
argument about fossil fuels. At heart, they are arguing that it is
wrong to invest large sums of church money in unsustainable
technologies, because that puts capital at risk and cannot secure
long-term financial returns for the Church. This is an argument on
investment grounds, not on the ethics of the technology
Of course, it is in part the ethics surrounding climate change
which arguably make the technology unsustainable and a poor
investment. There is a contrary case to be made, suggesting that
the situation will change more quickly through direct engagement
with companies - many of which are, after all, well-resourced and
powerful multi-national entities. If we can change their behaviour
through engagement, that would be a good thing.
If this view prevails, I believe that the fact of the debate,
and the presence of the voices of grass-roots members of the Church
within it, will bring more urgency to such conversations, and a
sense that we would be prepared to put our money where our mouth is
if progress is too slow.
So the General Synod will either carry the motion, if it
believes the Church will benefit by rebalancing its investments
away from the risk of unsustainable technology; or it will reject
the motion (or carry some amended motion), and thereby have more to
bring to its conversations with powerful global entities.
I couldn't see any significant downside to a well-conducted and
informed national debate. Let the General Synod do its business of
taking counsel together, and let us have an informed and
high-quality debate that leaves us in a better place.
The Rectory, 2 Rectory Gardens
Thatcham, Berkshire RG19 3PR
From Mr Mark Letcher
Sir, - Contrary to the Revd Mark Roberts's assertion (Letters,
12 December), the fossil-fuel disinvestment campaign is not based
on knee-jerk ideology. Churches are disinvesting after careful
analysis and debate, challenging the moral legitimacy of companies
that plan to explore and extract fossil fuels for decades to come
while our window of opportunity to hold temperature rise to 2°C
Bright Now - Operation Noah's campaign to persuade Churches to
disinvest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean energies
- is based on theological, ethical, and financial arguments.
The campaign was launched after the 2012 publication of the Ash
Wednesday Declaration (Climate Change and the Purposes of God),
which followed careful deliberation about how Christians and the
Church should respond to climate change, and was endorsed by
leaders of all the main UK denominations.
Nor does Bright Now suggest
that it would be possible to cease using fossil fuels today. We ask
Churches to consider whether it is right to hold substantial
investments in companies whose business strategies contradict the
Churches' own policies on avoiding catastrophic climate change. We
urge Churches to use their funds to help kick-start the urgently
needed transition to a low-carbon energy system.
The disinvestment campaign
is about reinvesting as much as it is about moving money away from
fossil fuels. Eighty-five per cent of disinvestment pledgers
worldwide have also committed themselves to investing in clean
energy, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which disinvested
its $860 million fund million this year. Operation Noah's recent
report outlines opportunities for sustainable reinvestment
available to Churches.
The vast majority of
existing fossil-fuel reserves need to remain underground to hold
average global temperature rise to 2°C. Yet in its statement to
investors (September 2014), Shell promises that it will improve
financial returns through greater extraction of oil and gas and
increased acquisition of fossil-fuel reserves. It states that it
intends to use 85 per cent of capital investment - provided by
investors such as the Church - to explore new reserves and develop
new extraction projects.
So it is not surprising that
Churches are, like the diocese of Oxford, concluding that this
reckless approach is incompatible with Christian ethics and
theology, and that the only way to persuade these companies to
change strategy is to sell their shares and reinvest in
As Gunnela Hahn, Head of
Responsible Investment at the Church of Sweden, which made its
$691-million portfolio fossil-free in October, said, "We do not
want to own, and thereby fund, the extraction of fossil fuels.
Instead we want to own and fund companies that stand for
As for fracking, the UK
Government may have thrown its weight behind this, but it has yet
to set out how this change in energy strategy can be squared with
the UK's commitment to playing its part in reducing global
pollution from fossil fuels. There are many, including leading
climate scientists, who believe that fracking is not compatible
with this commitment.
Leaving aside concerns
around local environmental impact and safety, whether fracking will
have any positive impact on UK gas prices in the next decade, the
impact of methane leakage and local acceptability of fracking,
would it not make more sense for the UK to move away from the old
model of "predict and provide", and set about cutting energy
demand by investing in proved, cost-effective, and benign energy
efficiency technologies, before locking us in to decades of
reliance on fracked gas?
The Grayston Centre