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C of E applauded for fossil-fuel disinvestment move

08 May 2015

nasa/lori perkins

Into the red: NASA satellite images show the increase in the radiation from the sun absorbed in the Arctic region between 2000 and 2014. The trend aligns with a decline in white sea ice, which deflects the sun's rays

Into the red: NASA satellite images show the increase in the radiation from the sun absorbed in the Arctic region between 2000 and 2014. The trend a...

THE national investment bodies (NIBs) of the Church of England have announced a £12-million disinvestment from two of the most polluting fuels.

From 30 April, the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board will not directly invest in any company that derives more than ten per cent of its revenues from the extraction of thermal coal or the production of oil from tar sands. Existing shares have already been sold. The new policy also contains a threat to disinvest from companies who "are not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy".

The move was welcomed by campaigners, but tempered with a warning that the Church must not be "lukewarm in our pursuit of justice".

"The Church of England has effectively read the last rites to the coal and tar sands industry," Christian Aid's director of policy and public affairs, Christine Allen, said after the announcement on Thursday of last week. "The message must be heard loud and clear: they have no place in a sustainable future, and, ultimately, other fossil fuels don't, either.

"The openness to further divestment from intransigent companies must be heard as a final warning to the energy industry: shift investment out of fossil fuels and into renewables, or your investors will do so for you."

"We are delighted that the Church has begun to align its investments with its moral responsibility to take action on climate change," a disinvestment campaigner for Operation Noah, Ellie Roberts, said.

"By divesting, the Church has sent a strong signal to these companies that they cannot continue to act in denial of the climate crisis."

The conservation director at the Christian environmental charity A Rocha UK, Andy Lester, said that the announcement showed that the Church was "firmly behind alternative energies - and certainly opposed to future investment in fossils fuels".

The senior campaigner for climate and energy at Friends of the Earth, Simon Bullock, supported the Church's "moral stance in putting coal investment on a par with tobacco, pornography, and payday loans".

But he warned: "Coal is not the only fossil fuel putting our futures at risk. Only a tiny fraction of the world's coal, oil, and gas reserves are safely burnable; so we should not be exploring for new fossil fuels. New exploration such as fracking should also join the Church's list of morally unacceptable investments."

The climate-change policy of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG), adopted by the investing bodies, states that "some ongoing use of fossil fuels is likely to be necessary for some time" if other goals are to be achieved, such as tackling poverty. It speaks of "sustained efforts of many fronts over many years".

It has been reported that the NIBs have about £92 million invested in BP, and about £100 million in Shell.

Investment in fracking is not ruled out by the EIAG, which suggests that it "may well have a part to play in reducing emissions".

Engagement with fossil-fuel companies, rather than disinvestment, is the means by which the NIBs propose being at "the forefront" of those "addressing the challenge of the transition to a low-carbon economy".

The Commissioners' director of investments, Tom Joy, explained that the £12-million disinvestment announced was from a sector where "we do not think engagement would be productive."

Other Christian organisations - including the World Council of Churches, the Church of Sweden, and the Quakers in Britain - have gone further in their disinvestment pledges. Last year, the diocese of Oxford announced that it would begin to withdraw its investments in oil, gas, and coal companies (News, 5 December).

Ms Roberts said that she hoped that the General Synod would back this movement when it met in July.

"We are not called to be lukewarm in our pursuit of justice," said a spokeswoman for Christian Climate Action. "If the Church is to show real prophetic leadership before the climate talks in Paris, in December, it needs to divest from all those fossil-fuel companies who continue to put profit before people.

"We would also urge the members of General Synod to not settle for 'divestment-lite' when they are asked to make a decision, but instead to vote to divest completely from all fossil-fuel companies, putting the Church on the right side of history."

Paul Bodenham, who chairs Green Christian, said: "Hanging on to selected fossil-fuel investments for the sake of engaging with the extractors is futile. . . The Church's investors call this a transitional, evolving policy, and that is what it must be. Ultimately divestment is inescapable, and they need a policy that goes all the way. Anything less risks colluding in a fool's paradise."

Jonathan Bartley, the Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Streatham, called for the Church to go beyond disinvestment: "What many people in the pews . . . want to see is the Church moving from a policy of 'minimising harm' through divestment to one of actively investing more in the green business sector."

Climate change and the Church of England investing bodies - Letters 

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