THE Church of England will continue to invest in fossil-fuel companies, but will pull out its money if they stop listening to its demands to tackle climate change, the General Synod agreed on Monday.
Two motions on climate change were passed with overwhelming majorities, after the Synod heard that climate change was a “spiritual problem” and that there was a “moral imperative” to act. The debates were informed by pleas from Anglicans across the Communion. The Bishop of Fiji had told his counterpart in Salisbury: “The waters are coming up to our necks.”
The first motion, on combating climate change, anticipates the global summit that is due to take place in Paris in December. It urges governments to “agree long-term pathways to a low-carbon future” and endorses the World Bank’s call for the ending of fossil-fuel subsidies. It also looks inward, requesting the development of new “eco-theological resources” and encouraging parishes and dioceses to encourage a fast for climate change on the first day of each month.
It was passed by 305 to 6, with 4 recorded abstentions.
The second motion, on investments, says that “urgent action to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels” is required, and speaks of achieving this “without creating damaging and unintended consequences” through “political subtlety, flexibility, and a focus on achievable change”.
It welcomes the recent disinvestment by the Church’s national investment bodies (NIBs) from oil sands and thermal coal (News, 1 May), and urges them to “engage robustly with companies and policy-makers on the need to act to support the transition to a low-carbon economy”.
It was carried by 255 to 0 with no recorded abstentions.
For some, the threat of disinvestment did not go far enough.
The Revd Hugh Lee wished to amend the motion to threaten disinvestment from oil companies within three years “unless they have committed to ceasing oil exploration and reducing production consistently with limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees celcius”.
Clive Scowen described the threat of disinvestment as “rather peculiar”. He argued that oil companies “like nothing better than be shot of troublesome activist shareholders. It will not leave the boards of BP and Shell quaking in their boots but singing in their bars.”
The amendment fell after the Bishop of Manchester argued that more exploration was “prudent”, and that global demand was still rising, in poorer parts of the world and elsewhere.
“Make no mistake: our support for companies we engage with is not unconditional,” he said. “The investment bodies will divest from companies if, after engagement, we do not think they are taking seriously their responsibility on climate change.”
This month, the Church Commissioners announced that they would sell their £1.6 million holding in the British oil-exploration company SOCO International (News, 3 July).
Other amendments, referring to carbon pricing, cleaner fuels, and renewable energy, were passed. Speeches reference to the need to make progress in alliance with developing countries. The Archbishop of Canterbury warned against “deterministic or selfish nationalist policy” that would “kick the ladder away from the rest of humankind, which is struggling to find the prosperity which we enjoy”.
Others voiced misgivings.
The former national secretary of the Green Party, Martin Sewell, describing himself as a “devil’s advocate”, questioned whether this was a “time to move rapidly out of a carbon economy”.
“Thirty years ago, I and others were predicting that human life would be impossible by 2015. Unfortunately, in the past 30 years, that pesky capitalism that we all despise has enabled more people to live longer, better-fed, better-medicated lives. Infant mortality has reduced.”
His defence of the market is echoed in a new publication by the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, and Lord Donoughue — The Papal Encyclical: A critical Christian response (GWPF Briefing 20) — of which an extract is published this week (Comment).
They argue that the papal encylical — praised on the floor of the Synod — is “well-meaning but somewhat naïve”, and that “to regard economic growth as somehow evil, and fossil fuels as pollutants, will serve only to increase the very poverty that he seeks to reduce.”
The encouragement to fast caused some consternation at the Synod. An amendment from the Archdeacon of Norwich, the Ven. Jan McFarlane, who felt “uneasy” about it, fell narrowly.
By an overwhelming majority, however, clergy and laity were keen to voice their support for motions that were, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said, “looking forwards and outwards”.
The Bishop, who chairs the environment working group, said: “This is a spiritual problem. We get things fundamentally wrong, especially when we behave as though we are the centre of everything. What is needed is a change of heart and direction.”
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