MEMBERS of the General Synod are being urged to “strengthen the hand” of the Church’s National Investing Bodies (NIBs) in discussions with fossil-fuel companies, by voting to increase the threat of disinvestment.
Scores of Anglican clergy have signed a letter (below) in support of Oxford diocese’s attempt, via an amendment, to commit the NIBs to a “more rigorous and urgent policy” on climate change.
On Thursday, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft said that the matter should not be left to investment experts: “Where we invest affects the credibility of the leadership we offer as a church, both in the United Kingdom and globally.”
The NIBs’ motion, set to be debated on Sunday, commits them to “engaging urgently and robustly with companies rated poorly by TPI and, beginning in 2020, to starting to disinvest from the ones that are not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy”. “TPI” refers to the Transition Pathway Initiative, which helps investors to assess how effectively companies are addressing climate change (News, 6 July).
An amendment from the diocese of Oxford would change the second clause to “and to divest from any fossil-fuel company which is not on an unequivocal path by 2020 to aligning its business investment plan with the Paris Agreement to restrict global warming to well below 2°C”.
On Monday, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said that it would “strengthen the hand of the NIBs in their dialogue” with fossil-fuel companies. He praised the investors’ work in shareholder engagement, and their “fantastic success” to date, but said that this must be “set against the substantive challenge of the whole world scaling down its dependence on fossil fuels to get to carbon zero. . . There is still a very long way to go.”
Given that fossil-fuel companies made plans decades in advance, it was “not unreasonable” to expect them to declare their plans to reduce emissions by 2050; yet many were still not disclosing “basic information” that would enable investors to make assessments.
The 2020 time-frame gave the companies “plenty of time . . . to make serious changes to their plans and intentions,” he wrote in a blog this week. “Some are doing so. Many are not.”
The amendment was not removing discretion from the NIBs, he emphasised, but describing “ethical and principled disinvestment”.
“The chief motivation is whether the C of E as a whole should continue to profit from investment in fossil-fuel companies who are not keeping to the very important principles of the Paris Agreement.”
Another signatory, the environmental co-ordinator at the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, said this week: “We have very few years left to slow the course of climate change and avoid unbelievably devastating effects on the most vulnerable. This amendment will allow the Church of England to take a prophetic role in challenging the fossil fuel companies to align themselves with the Paris agreement.”
A paper outlining the NIBs’ position, written by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, argues that they have “no intention to remain invested in companies behaving in an unethical way”, but that “engagement is the most significant ethical investment contribution that the NIBs can make.” It suggests that the Oxford amendment would mean that the NIBs would be “forced automatically to walk away from the fossil fuel sector” if the conditions were not met.
“Pulling out wholescale and hoping other investors fill the engagement void left by our departure is not, we believe, Christian ethical leadership,” Dr Walker writes.
Dr Croft has described this as a “caricature of our position. We are not proposing walking away. Engagement by the Church and its investment bodies can continue in different ways. . . the pressure, threat and reality of divestment must be a tool in that debate.”
The NIBs had failed to engage in “a more important and substantial primary ethical debate”, he wrote: “At present, the fossil fuel companies’ intentions are to continue to extract and burn more fossil fuels than the Paris Agreement allows.”
Christian Aid, which is calling on church investors to divest from all fossil-fuel companies, said this week that the C of E’s investor engagement had generated “limited success”.
“The reality is that oil and gas companies are moving much too slowly, and are even betting against the world taking decisive action to stop climate change,” the charity’s director of policy and public affairs, Christine Allen, said. “People living on the front lines can no longer wait. Church investors need to send a stronger signal that they will no longer stand for the foot-dragging of the fossil-fuel industry.”
Oxford amendment to fossil-fuels motion crucial
From the Bishops of Swaziland, Dorchester, Reading, Buckingham, Wolverhampton, Dunwich, and Taunton, and 84 others
Sir, — This Sunday, the Church of England’s General Synod will debate future investments in oil and gas companies. This will provide a crucial opportunity for the Church to demonstrate credible leadership on one of the most important moral issues of our time.
While the Church of England disinvested from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands in 2015, it is seeking to bring about change through “engagement” with oil and gas companies. Yet, as companies such as Shell and BP are still pursuing business plans that would lead to 3-5+°C of global warming, there is little sign that notice is being taken.
At Shell’s annual meeting in May this year, only 5.5 per cent of investors supported a resolution calling on the company to set emission-reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.
The diocese of Oxford is proposing an amendment at the Synod calling on the Church of England to disinvest from any fossil-fuel company “which is not on an unequivocal path by 2020 to aligning its business investment plan with the Paris Agreement to restrict global warming to well below 2°C”. This goes further than the weaker motion proposed by church investors.
We urge Synod members to vote in favour of this amendment, which reflects the urgency of action required to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. It gives oil and gas companies time to bring their business investment plans in line with the Paris Agreement. It also sets robust and clear criteria for disinvestment by the Church, beginning in 2020, thus intensifying the Church’s engagement efforts.
By passing this amendment, the Synod will play its part in accelerating the clean-energy transition. It will show true leadership on the urgent issue of climate change both within the UK and the worldwide Anglican Communion.
ELLINAH SWAZILAND, COLIN DORCHESTER, ANDREW READING, ALAN BUCKINGHAM, CLIVE WOLVERHAMPTON, MICHAEL DUNWICH, RUTH TAUNTON, DAVID ATKINSON, GRAHAM CRAY, MICHAEL DOE, ROBERT PATERSON, APILEMEKI QILIHO, MAURICE SINCLAIR (bishops); RACHEL MASH (Environmental Coordinator of Anglican Church of Southern Africa); TIM STRATFORD, JOHN HAWKINS, OIIVIA GRAHAM, MALCOLM CHAMBERLAIN (archdeacons); MARTIN WEBSTER (retired archdeacon); and of the other clergy: JANE HASLAM, MIKE HASLAM, PHILIP HAWTHORN, JULIA HICKS, JONATHAN MORRIS, GRAHAM OWEN, ROSALIND SELLERS, CATHERINE SOURBUT (Bath & Wells), DEBBIE COLLINS, JOHN NIGHTINGALE, AL BARRETT, ANDREW LENOX-CONYNGHAM, PETER SELLICK (Birmingham), DEREK FRENCH, JOHN RODWELL, ED SAVILLE (Blackburn), STEPHEN SAXBY (Chelmsford), DEBBIE BEER, MARK BETSON, DAVID FAREY, PETER OWEN-JONES, ADAM RANSOM (Chichester), GRAHAM COLES (Coventry), TOM AMBROSE (Ely), ELIZABETH BUSSMAN (Europe), SIMON HOLLAND, SIMON HOWARD (Exeter), VAL THORNE (Gloucester), SUSAN BOLAN, LESLEY CRAWLEY, ALAN CRAWLEY, STUART THOMAS (Guildford), JOHN BENNETT, ANN BROXHAM, DEBBY PLUMMER (Leeds), KEITH HEBDEN, ANDREW QUIGLEY (Leicester), GILLIAN STRAINE (London), JOHN HUGHES (Manchester), JANET APPLEBY (Newcastle), HELEN BUDD, GRAHAM KIRK-SPRIGGS, JAMES RIDGE (Norwich), HILARY CAMPBELL, BARBARA DOUBTFIRE, CHRISTOPHER EVANS, GRAEME FANCOURT, DARRELL HANNAH, MARGOT HODSON, MARK LAYNESMITH, HUGH LEE, TINA MOLYNEUX, AINSLEY SWIFT, JO WILLIAMS, TERENCE WINROW (Oxford), JIMMY HOLDEN, MIKE PERRY, RUTH SCHOFIELD (Salisbury), MICHAEL BAYLEY, DAVID GOSS, NICHOLAS JOWETT, MALCOLM LILES, MARK NEWITT (Sheffield), AARON KENNEDY (Southwark), RACHEL PENNANT (St Albans), CHERYL COLLINS, STEPHEN MORLEY (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), CLAIRE McILROY (Truro), BEN CHASE (Winchester), FRANCIS BUXTON, DAVID PARRY (Church in Wales)
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