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We are disinvesting from fossil fuel, 72 religious investors declare

29 October 2021

£4.2 billion of assets in joint move from groups worldwide

Christian Aid

A projected message on the Palace of Westminster on Monday, organised by Christian Aid and other faith groups

A projected message on the Palace of Westminster on Monday, organised by Christian Aid and other faith groups

AS THE nations gather in Glasgow for the start of the COP26 on Sunday, 72 faith-based institutions, including 37 from the UK, have announced their disinvestment from fossil fuels.

The move is the largest-ever joint disinvestment announcement by religious organisations, and represents more than $4.2 billion in financial assets. The organisations taking part are in Australia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Ukraine, the UK, the United States, and Zambia.

They include the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, the dioceses of Truro and Sodor & Man, the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and 15 Roman Catholic dioceses in the UK and Ireland, including the archdioceses of Glasgow, St Andrews & Edinburgh, Birmingham, and Southwark.

The environmental co-ordinator of Green Anglicans, the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, said: “Faced with environmental devastation, pollution of precious water sources, and abuse of land rights caused by fossil-fuel companies, it is easy for those on the front line of climate change to feel overwhelmed by the power of these corporations. When we hear that faith communities are taking their money out of these companies, it rekindles hope that we are not alone.”

The Anglican Bishop of Namibia, the Rt Revd Luke Pato, said: “We are guardians of the land for the generations to come. Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara, and our ground water is the heritage we leave for our children and grandchildren. We cannot risk drilling operations that pollute precious water sources, abuse indigenous rights, and threaten the heritage site of the Okavango Delta.”

James Buchanan, the Bright Now campaign manager at Operation Noah, said that he hoped that the move would put pressure on the Government to act: “As the UK prepares to host COP26, we are delighted that 37 UK faith institutions have decided to divest from fossil-fuel companies and join this record global divestment announcement. We call on the UK and global governments to end fossil-fuel subsidies and bring an immediate halt to new oil and gas exploration, including the Cambo oil field near Shetland.”

Also joining the disinvestment movement is Europe’s largest pension fund, ABP, which announced on Tuesday that it would be selling its €15-billion of fossil-fuel stocks. This is a departure from its previous strategy of engagement with fossil-fuel companies, a similar approach to that taken by the Church Commissioners.

Corien Wortmann, who chairs ABP, said: “We are parting with our investments in fossil-fuel producers because we see insufficient opportunity for us as a shareholder to push for the necessary significant acceleration of the energy transition at these companies.”

In a statement before the summit, the Church Commissioners said that they were continuing to engage with high-carbon-emitting companies on the need for a “just transition”, so that, as the world transitioned away from fossil fuels, those employed in polluting industries were supported.

Newcastle CathedralDisplay in Newcastle Cathedral, part of its “river of prayer” for COP26

The senior engagement analyst for the Church Commissioners for England, Olga Hancock, said: “The Church Commissioners is focused on the environmental and social impacts of climate change, therefore attention is given to addressing the impact that shifting to a low-carbon economy has on people and communities to ensure a just transition.”

The coming of COP26 to Glasgow was marked 400 miles away, in London, with a vigil held at Southwark Cathedral. The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, and the Archdeacon of Croydon, the Ven. Dr Rosemarie Mallett, walked from Croydon with clergy and congregations to Southwark Cathedral as part of the vigil.

Bishop Clark said: “As we make our pilgrimage from Croydon to Southwark Cathedral, I will be reflecting on the importance of repairing and rebuilding, replanting and growing, rather than continuing to plunder the resources of the world, human and environmental.”

Upriver, the message messages about climate action were projected on to the side of the Houses of Parliament. They called on the Prime Minister to ensure that COP26 limited global heating to less than 1.5ºC and ended support for fossil-fuel projects; and that rich countries delivered on their promise to provide $100 billion in climate finance to poor nations.

The stunt was arranged by the aid agencies CAFOD, Christian Aid, World Vision, SCIAF, Tearfund, and the Faith for the Climate network. The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, said: “The climate crisis brings global inequalities into stark relief. The leaders of the richer nations must commit additional finance at scale to compensate for the loss and damage experienced, though not caused by, poor people in poor countries. It’s time for us to take responsibility.”

On Tuesday, a retired priest, the Revd Tim Hewes, aged 71, glued himself to the offices of News UK, which part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Mr Hewes was returning to the scene of a protest that he made last month when he sewed his lips together to highlight Mr Murdoch’s use of his publications to promote climate-change scepticism and influence climate policy (News, 4 June).

Mr Hewes said: “My hope is that, by drawing attention to this, the Prime Minister will renounce Rupert Murdoch, and act drastically and dramatically to put solar panels on new-build houses, to insulate social housing, to cancel the gas field and the coal mine, to free himself from the suffocating grip that Murdoch has on him. I hope that News UK employees will pressure the company to attempt reparation and champion the transition from a carbon economy.”

The call for action on climate change is also being made in cathedrals around the country, whose bells will be rung for 30 minutes this Saturday on the eve of the summit. Newcastle Cathedral is having a “river of prayer”, inspired by Amos 5.24: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

Diocese of Sodor & ManArtwork by Ian Coulson, an artist and former art teacher, in St German’s Cathedral, Peel, on the Isle of Man, coinciding with a day of tree-planting

On the Isle of Man, Peel Cathedral will be leading tree-planting in the cemetery; Chester Cathedral will mark the start of the climate conference with the unveiling of Process, an art installation to raise awareness about environmental sustainability.

In Lichfield, prayers will be said in the cathedral each day of COP26, and a dedicated prayer area will be set up so that people can light candles and pray for those meeting in Glasgow. Today, at 4.15 p.m., the diocese in Europe will host a “Caring for our Climate” online event, as part of its commitment to the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission.

In both Glasgow and London, mass marches are planned for 6 November, the middle Saturday of the two-week summit. Among them will be the Quakers, joining the faith and belief section of the march.

Marchers in Glasgow are invited to gather at the Stewart Memorial Fountain in Kelvingrove Park at 11.30 a.m.; the faith and belief section in London will be meeting outside St Michael’s, Cornhill, at noon. Both marches will conclude with rallies from 3 to 4 p.m., on Glasgow Green and in Trafalgar Square.

The economics and sustainability programme manager for Quakers in Britain, Olivia Hanks, said: “We know COP26 will not deliver climate justice: this is a long struggle. But when we take action together, we are powerful, and we are part of a mass movement of people that will not be defeated.”

Legislation. The Environment Bill has completed its passage through the House of Lords, writes Tim Wyatt. Although peers successfully renewed their pressure on MPs this week to tighten rules on water companies releasing sewage into British waters from storm overflows, a series of other Lords amendments — on matters ranging from measuring soil health to targets for air-quality improvements — were rejected.

On Tuesday, the Lords voted not to reinstate almost all of their amendments, raising the prospect that the Bill may become law before the end of the Glasgow climate summit.

Joe Ware is senior climate journalist for Christian Aid.

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