THE Church Commissioners will use their assets to invest in companies that provide research into cheaper green energy, the First Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Andreas Whittam Smith, has said.
Speaking at the Commissioners’ AGM at the end of last month, Sir Andreas praised the far-sightedness of his predecessors and asked what a 2065 assets committee might look back on with approval.
He highlighted steps that the Commissioners had taken to fight climate change, including its new ban on investments in the extraction of oil sands or thermal coal, and the increased engagement with other fossil-fuel companies, including Shell and BP.
But, he said, he wanted the Commissioners to go further and to invest in green energy research.
A group of well-known British scientists, industrialists, economists, and public servants had sponsored the “Global Apollo Programme to combat climate change”, he said. Their starting-point was that, “if clean energy became less costly to produce than energy based on coal, gas, or oil, then coal, gas, and oil would simply stay in the ground.
“Like all great truths, it is at once stunningly obvious and yet profound. . . So the big question is how to make it cheaper.”
Unlike other modern technological advances, he said, there had been little public funding for research and development on climate-change initiatives. Instead, the Government had provided incentives such as carbon prices, feed-in tariffs, and regulatory standards. “In other words, governments have tried to avoid spending any actual money.”
Governments were “not stepping up to the plate so far as climate change is concerned. . . But publicly funded research, development, and demonstration is also vital, and, on renewable energy, it is woefully small. This would matter less if the private sector were itself spending a lot. But it isn’t. In fact, there is far too little research in renewables, in storage, and in transmission.
“So the answer to the question how to make clean energy cheaper so that coal, gas, and oil stay in the ground, is: do the research.”
He said that, with other large endowments, the Commissioners could “make a commitment to funding and nurturing a wide range of companies specialising in the development of clean energy”.
“We are not, however, a climate-change charity; so every investment we make has to be capable, over time, of helping us to fulfil our own charitable objectives. If not, we won’t participate.”
On Tuesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of his concerns about oil exploration in the Arctic. Speaking to journalists from The Sun, The Times, and The Wall Street Journal at the News UK Christian Fellowship, he said: “The drilling window is very, very limited, and, if you have a blow-out towards the end of the window, it might be eight or nine months before you drill a relief well and cap the flow.”