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Church fossil-fuel holdings are sold to the sound of no trumpets

10 July 2020


UP TO 20 dioceses no longer hold any investments in fossil-fuel companies, after one of the Church of England’s three investment bodies sold its last remaining stocks in the oil and gas sector.

CCLA, a fund manager which invests on behalf of Anglican dioceses, sold its stake in oil majors Shell and Total, worth £8.4 million, earlier this year.

Although the Church’s ethical guidelines already rule out investing in thermal coal and tar sands, holdings in oil and gas is still permitted. The Shell and Total shares were part of CCLA’s £1.5 billion CBF Church of England Investment Fund, the largest of the six funds it offers clients, as well as in a smaller UK Equity Fund.

An estimated 39 out of 42 dioceses invest in at least one of the CCLA’s funds, and the sale means that up to 20 are now fossil-free. The divestment came to light through an investigation by the climate change website DeSmog. A spokesperson for the diocese of Coventry told DeSmog that the funds had stopped investing in fossil-fuel companies “on the basis of the financial risks posed by the short- to medium-term outlook for the oil and gas markets.” CCLA confirmed that the decision had been made for financial rather than ethical reasons.

CCLA said that it was unlikely to reinvest in Shell or Total through its CBF C of E funds, although such holdings remain eligible under current guidelines. Campaigners welcomed the move, but urged the fund manager to make a clearer stand on the ethics of profiting from fossil-fuel assets.

Holly-Anna Petersen, a member of Christian Climate Action, said: “It’s vital for life as we know it that we stop funding climate suffering, so this is a positive step. As an Anglican, I find it disappointing that this divestment was not done for ethical reasons but because fossil fuels were deemed to be a risky economic investment. What does that say to our brothers and sisters in Christ, suffering in vulnerable countries around the world? It says their lives were not worth divestment, but our financial reports were.”

Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s Global Climate Lead said: “The Church of England’s investors have missed a great opportunity to publicise this fossil-fuel sell off. . . To make their divestment impactful they need to be shouting it from the rooftops, not keeping it quiet.”

In 2018, the General Synod voted to begin divestment in 2020 from oil and gas companies that failed to aid the transition to a decarbonised economy, with complete divestment by 2023 from those not on track to align with the Paris Agreement goals of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

This was confirmed by a Church of England spokesperson: “The basis of our climate-change policy is that there is no easy escape from climate change as an investor. We must all transition to lower carbon business models, consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“We continue to engage urgently with companies rated poorly by the Transition Pathway Initiative, and will begin in 2020 to start to divest from companies that are not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now campaign manager for the Christian climate-change charity Operation Noah, said that church investors had a role to play in funding a green recovery from the economic fall out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Fossil-fuel investments are not only unethical, they are also a growing financial risk that investors are increasingly unwilling to accept,” he said. “We urge CCLA to make this decision permanent.”

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