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Church Commissioners sell stake in BP

25 January 2021

The decision was taken for commercial reasons, not for environmental ones


A BP sign in Paris, France, in April last year

A BP sign in Paris, France, in April last year

THE Church Commissioners have sold their estimated multi-million-pound stake in the oil giant BP, it was confirmed on Monday.

The sale, which was first reported in The Sunday Times this week, happened in February last year. The Church Times understands that this decision was taken for commercial reasons, not for environmental ones. The Commissioners, who manage the Church of England’s £8.7 billion investment portfolio, could repurchase stocks in BP at any time, and have not ruled this out.

A spokesperson for the Commissioners said on Monday: “BP is not a restricted stock for the Church Commissioners for England. We currently focus our engagement time on companies we do hold, and thus have a larger influence at. We remain supportive of the positive ongoing engagement which CA100+ [Climate Action 100+] has with BP, and remain active members of the initiative.”

The spokesperson would not comment on the value of the stocks sold. In its annual report from 2019, however, BP was listed in the top 20 of the Commissioner’s direct equity holdings, all 20 of which represented 6.4 per cent of the Commissioners’ total investable assets at the time.

Selling its shares in BP means that the Commissioners no longer have shareholder leverage to hold BP to account on meeting the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change: one of the main reasons why the Commissioners have chosen not to completely disinvest from fossil fuels thus far (it still has shares in ExxonMobil and Shell, among others).

The Commissioners cannot, for example, be part of any shareholder revolt at BP as it was at ExxonMobil, in which it still holds shares (News, 18/25 December).

There are, however, other ways to hold BP to account. The Commissioners and the C of E Pensions Board recently joined a coalition of investors who are pressuring Europe’s 36 largest companies — including BP — to state in their accounts the costs of working towards net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris agreement (News, 20 November).

Both the Scottish Episcopal Church and Methodist Church have taken steps towards complete disinvestment (News, 11 December; 3 July).

Safety of mining sector reviewed. The C of E Pensions Board is urging the mining sector to commit itself to further changes to improve the safety of tailings dams, two years after the collapse of one in Brumadinho, in Brazil, killed more than 200 people (News, 8 February 2019). The Pensions Board and the Council of Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds are leading a group of investors worth 20 trillion US dollars in developing a 2030 Investor Agenda to reform the mining sector.

In an online event held on Monday to review the progress made over the past two years, the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, led an act of remembrance for all those affected by the disaster. Since then, a new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management has been released, and most listed mining companies have responded to a corporate-disclosure request, which has contributed to a database of 1853 tailings facilities.

The co-chairs of the Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, John Howchin and Adam Matthews — the latter is also director of ethics and engagement for the Pensions Board — called for further action, to include the launch of an independent Global Institute by the end of 2021; companies to adopt the Global Industry Standard; and the creation of an independent Expert Advisory Group, Expert Working Group, and Investor Working Group on Affected Communities.

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