Pensions Board investment policy on fossil fuels
From the Chief Executive of the Church of England Pensions Board
Sir, — We are writing in response to the letter (5 May) calling for the Church of England Pensions Board to disinvest from fossil-fuel companies and start investing in renewable alternatives.
It is a matter of public record that we share concerns about the trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the risks associated with global average temperatures increasing above 2°C.
In 2015, we, with the other Church of England National Investing Bodies, adopted a new climate-change policy. The policy is grounded in theology and the science of climate change, and aims to assist the transition to a low-carbon economy. It was overwhelmingly endorsed by the General Synod by 255 votes in favour, with none against.
Although the Pensions Board, with the other National Investing Bodies, disinvested from the most polluting fossil-fuel companies, those that generated more than ten per cent of their revenue from thermal coal and tar sands, we also committed ourselves to playing our part in supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy by engaging with companies and policy-makers.
To support the implementation of our policy, we established earlier this year an international initiative, the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) with the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute. The initiative evaluates corporate practices and performance on climate change, and provides us and other asset-owners with a structured framework for engagement, and for escalation in the event that our engagement is not effective.
At the launch of TPI, we gained the support of asset-owners and fund-managers from around the world, with more than £2 trillion in funds under management. This is considerably greater than the £2 billion we manage on the behalf of beneficiaries, and indicates the leadership that the Church as an investor can play in the market.
Under all future energy scenarios of the International Energy Agency, fossil fuels will continue to be an important component in the global energy mix for several more decades. The key is that it will be a declining component, and companies will need to manage that transition; and we intend to play our part in encouraging and supporting companies to do so.
We firmly believe, therefore, that active stakeholders have a part to play in the years to come, and that strategic corporate engagement is too powerful a tool to be rendered ineffective by disinvesting at this time. We retain the right to disinvest if companies are unresponsive, and we will do so, as previously evidenced when announcing the policy in 2015.
We will, therefore, also continue to use our voting rights, and rights to file shareholder resolutions (alongside the Church Commissioners), with some of the world’s largest oil and gas suppliers, to further drive the change we want to see.
Our active engagement and voting record provide greater leverage and influence than we could ever hope to achieve by acting alone or by simply selling our holdings. Separately from our engagement, we also continue to consider low-carbon investment opportunities, in infrastructure and other areas that can meet our investment needs.
Church of England Pensions Board
29 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3PS
The Archbishops’ pastoral letter and the General Election debate
From Mr Peter Bolton
Sir, — On Sunday, as I listened to our Vicar reading the Archbishops’ pastoral letter for the General Election (News, 5 May), I realised that it was not drafted, as it should have been, to make an impact on a congregation listening to it just once.
It tries to cover too many points and is written in a dense style, full of abstractions such as “cohesion” and “sustainability”, not to mention the confusing phrase “Courage, which includes aspiration, competition and ambition . . .”. In fact, courage, as normally defined, includes none of those things.
It is particularly unfortunate that the paragraph on migration, a highly sensitive topic, lacks force and clarity. Migration, it says “is not without cost”; but what kind of cost? Financial, social, or some other kind? Cost to whom, the UK, the migrants, or those who give them hospitality? And what does “The pressures of integration must be shared more equitably” actually mean? Furthermore, given the sharp rise in reported hate crimes since the referendum last year, the lack of a pithy sentence condemning racism is especially regrettable.
I applaud the intention to address a highly important issue, but this letter missed the mark. In future, it would be better for such documents to make just two or three points, using clear and concrete language, with some practical application.
3 Stakesby Manor
Whitby YO21 1HG
From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — The Archbishops have written: “We are constantly reminded of the personal costs and burdens carried by those in political life and by their families.” But it is the job of the Church constantly to remind the wealthy and powerful in political life of the personal costs and burdens they place on the lives of our poorest fellow citizens (Matthew 23.4).
Of course, we pray that all MPs will work for peace and justice, but in some cases we are praying for the enemies of the poorest people in the UK, whose circumstances and immediate outlook have never been worse, in my experience of working with and for them since the 1980s.
The Resolution Foundation forecasts up to 16-per-cent reduction in the lowest incomes after housing costs by 2020, while the already very high incomes of the wealthy grow by four per cent.
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF
From the Revd Paul Butler and others
Sir, — Reading Canon Angela Tilby’s column (Comment, 28 April) denouncing the Labour leadership as those who hold to an “inherently violent creed”, we are reminded of St Augustine of Hippo in The City of God (IV. 4), in which he describes a sea pirate, who responds to an accusation of piracy by Alexander the Great, asking, “What meanest thou by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor?”
Likewise, the capitalist system denounces those who oppose it, while ignoring its own failings. As Christians, unless our faith is to be purely gnostic and inward-looking, concerned with salvation in only a narrow individual sense, ought we not ask at election time some pretty serious questions of the current system? Surely our faith calls us to a vision of human flourishing that is simply impossible under a system that produces such gross inequality between the richest and poorest in our world.
Furthermore, in questioning capitalism and calling for a just economy, we draw not simply on liberation theology, as Canon Tilby suggests, but on the extensive and mainstream Catholic social teaching of successive popes past and present, as well as on the robust Anglican social tradition.
PAUL BUTLER, CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITHS, SAMUEL GIBSON, LEONARD MARSH, SIMON BEES, ANDY DELMEGE, NEIL WILSON, BARRY NAYLOR, JERRY GARTON CA, ANGELA RAYNER, JOANA ABREU, BARNABAS-FRANCIS OSF
The Convening Group of the Society of Sacramental Socialists
c/o St Paul’s Rectory
Mary Ann Gardens
London SE8 3DP
Importance of asparagus in the Vale of Evesham
From the Revd Dr Adrian Hough
Sir, — Media coverage of the Asparagus Festival at Worcester Cathedral (News, 28 April; Press, 5 May) has displayed a mixture of amusement and scepticism, generally presenting it as a misguided publicity stunt by a Church that is prepared to bless anything. This, however, is to miss the significance of asparagus in Worcestershire, and especially in the Vale of Evesham.
Between 1997 and 2004, I was the incumbent of a rural benefice just outside Evesham where, according to The Sunday Times, we grew the best asparagus in the world. Go back just a few more years, and asparagus would have provided a significant part of the annual income for my parishioners who worked in market gardening; and it still plays an important part today. That is why we always celebrated the asparagus harvest with an annual outdoor service.
Harvest festivals are rightly popular and are important for reasons I do not need to repeat. We quite rightly give thanks for crops just as we bless fields at Rogationtide. For asparagus growers and the Vale of Evesham, the asparagus harvest is just as important as any other, and it is rightly celebrated. To belittle its significance is to do an injustice to generations for whom asparagus has been an essential source of income as well as a labour of love.
While we celebrate the harvest of other produce in the autumn, for those who grow asparagus, the harvest at this time of the year is just as significant, and worthy of equal respect.
96 Old Tiverton Road
Exeter EX4 6LD
Interfaith initiative welcomed frank dialogue
From Canon Lisa Battye
Sir, — The article “Interfaith dialogue needs ‘more bite’” (News, 28 April) caught my attention because, several years ago, I co-led a series of four seminars, “Shared Legacy: Honest differences”, with a local Jewish historian, Clive Gilbert.
The events took place partly in one of my churches and partly in a local synagogue, and served a mixed group of Jews and Christians. We examined together our very different views on creation, the prophets, Jesus, and Israel. The events were certainly not about drinking tea: it was real “argument” in a “safe” space. We all enjoyed them, and they helped us all think more deeply about our different faiths.
I want to pay tribute to Near Neighbours, which funded the events, and had previously funded the contemporary Hebrew classes where I met Clive, and which continue to nourish Christian-Jewish friendships in our area.
General Synod member
1 Moorside Road, Kersal
Salford M7 3PJ
Ladders . . . and snakes
From the Revd Paul Burr
Sir, — Since when has clerical ambition become a virtue in the C of E? Women priests who “wish to explore senior leadership” are invited for a year-long mentoring programme (advertisement, 28 April).
A trap for the unwary? And why only women? If women need “skills development for leadership”, why no such programme for male priests?
We are assured that “course leaders are respected Bishops, Deans, Archdeacons, and Theological Educators”. No doubt! But why not seek out and approach suitable candidates rather than take the dubious route of self-nomination? If the established system of preferment has been found wanting for women priests, how do we know it ever rooted out the best male priests either?
Change is needed, but the programme’s claim to be “successful” is doubtful. How can anyone know?
The Vicarage, The Common
Swardeston, Norwich NR14 8EB
Clergy charity helps out
From Margaret Wilkinson and Dilys Stone
Sir, — We read with interest the informative articles about the Sons and Friends of the Clergy (Features, 5 May).
The charity helps the divorced and separated spouses of the Clergy, and many members of Broken Rites have received help from it at times of great distress and extreme financial hardship. It is impossible to overstate what a difference the work of the charity makes.
Your readers may also be interested to know that, as a group, divorced and separated clergy spouses are among the most impoverished of its applicants.
Co-chairs, Broken Rites
27 River Grove Park
Beckenham, Kent BR3 1HX