ON MONDAY, 36 faith institutions in 11 countries, from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist denominations, announced their disinvestment from fossil-fuel companies. They includes the Church in Wales, which has assets worth more than £700 million under management, and the dioceses of Oxford and Bristol.
Disinvesting funds from socially unacceptable activities has long been a way for institutions to show where they stand on issues of injustice or importance. Whether it is big tobacco, weapons manufacturers, or fossil-fuel companies, faith institutions carry a particular moral power: by withdrawal they can strip such companies of the social licence, public influence, and political power that their investment had lent them.
The Revd Henrik Grape, of the World Council of Churches, one of the organisations that has disinvested, said: “To have investments in the fossil-fuel industry is not an option when you are a church advocate for climate justice. In a time of climate emergency, we must do everything we can to achieve a swift and just transition to a sustainable future. In such a transformation divesting from fossil fuels is the least we can ask.”
The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, said that the decision was taken with the fifth Mark of Mission in mind: “In taking seriously our response to the climate emergency, I’m pleased to be able to share that the Diocesan Board of Finance has made this commitment to disinvest from fossil fuels. Care for creation is a core mark of mission for the Church, and this is an important step towards realising our net zero carbon aims.”
The UK Government is preparing to host the G7 summit in June, and the COP26 climate talks in November, and these Christian institutions are hoping to put pressure on the Prime Minister to deliver outcomes that reduce emissions and provide financial support for the climate vulnerable.
Even individual parish churches have stepped forward to join the disinvestment movement. The Priest-in-Charge of Whitchurch with Tufton and Litchfield, the Revd David Roche, said: “Recently, our PCC undertook to make sure that as far as possible the parish was fully divested from fossil fuels, as part of a series of commitments made ahead of COP26. We believe it is vital that the Church takes seriously its role as steward and protector of all God’s creation, especially in this crucial make-or-break decade for climate change.”
The actions have drawn support from Anglican Provinces that are suffering most acutely from the activities of fossil-fuel companies. The Bishop of Nampula, in Northern Mozambique, the Rt Revd Ernesto Manuel, said: “Fossil-fuel investments increase climate change and impacts on those most vulnerable, and also destabilise communities.”
Referring to pollution, conflict, and displacement in Mozambique caused by gas prospectors, he said: “We plead with the international community — take your money out of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy which is decentralised, benefits local people, and does not contribute to climate change.”
In related news, a coalition of 39 African civil-society organisations has written an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury and church investors, asking them to oppose a new energy transition plan by the oil giant Shell, which would see gas production increased by 20 per cent. The vote was due to take place at the company’s AGM on Tuesday.
The 39 organisations write: “We are extremely disappointed and concerned to see that the Church of England Pensions Board is lending its moral and financial authority to Shell, and plans to vote for Shell’s climate and energy plan at its 2021 annual meeting. We urge you to use all the tools available to you to encourage all parts of the Church of England to challenge Shell, rather than champion the corporation’s climate and energy plan. . .
“It is not acceptable for the Church to sign off on a Shell plan for this decade that makes no absolute carbon emission reduction pledges, includes huge increases in gas production, and relies on improbably large amounts of tree-planting.”