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Protests held as Church Commissioners pursue engagement policy at Exxxon Mobil AGM

02 June 2021

Priests glue themselves to furniture at Church House, Westminster

Christian Climate Action

Glued to furniture, the Revd Sue Parfitt lies on the floor in Church House, Westminster

Glued to furniture, the Revd Sue Parfitt lies on the floor in Church House, Westminster

TWO priests glued themselves to furniture at Church House, Westminster, last Wednesday, in protest at the Church’s continuing investment in the fossil-fuel producer Exxon Mobil.

 ‘They’re successfully cutting energy consumption, Sarge — they can’t move’

The pair, the Revd Susan Parfitt and the Revd Tim Hewes, are both members of Christian Climate Action. Ms Parfitt, aged 79, who was already on bail for a similar protest at the City of London Magistrates Court in March (News, 26 March), was arrested for breach of bail, and later re-bailed. Mr Hewes, who was imprisoned for 14 days for his part in the earlier action, was not arrested this time.

During last week’s action, Ms Parfitt, who retired in 2001 after holding senior administrative posts in both Bristol and Southwark dioceses, and has permission to officiate in Bristol diocese, delivered a letter to the Church Commissioners asking them to disinvest from Exxon Mobil.

In the letter, Christian Climate Action says that it expects the Church Commissioners to understand that last year’s General Synod decision to set a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 was “expressing the will of the Church and that this will should be reflected in decisions made by the Church Commissioners”.

It also says that it does not believe that Exxon is taking seriously its responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low-carbon economy. It has “consistently blocked shareholder resolutions calling for climate action while planning major new investment in oil and gas exploration and extraction. The behaviour of Exxon does not show the slightest degree of serious engagement with the truth of the situation we are facing.”

Christian Climate ActionThe Revd Tim Hawes, at the vigil outside Church House, Westminster

On the same day as the protest, vigils were held at Chester, Salisbury, Liverpool, and Bristol Cathedrals. Participants prayed for the Church to “Exit Exxon” and disinvest from all fossil fuels immediately.

Mr Hewes, who is 70, a retired dentist, and a former non-stipendiary minister, holds permission to officiate in Oxford diocese. The Church’s holdings in fossil fuels were, he said, “akin to the investment by the Church in previous centuries in sugar and the slave trade. To believe that maintaining investments in some way provides the Church with leverage for the greater good is a nonsense, and merely provides these companies with a fig leaf to cover their continued acts of ecocide.

“It is the duty of the Church to invest ethically, and by propping up these companies it is reneging on this fundamental principle.”

Christian Climate ActionThe vigil outside Church House, Westminster

The Church Commissioners believe, none the less, that change can be effected from within. As the protest took place, the Commissioners’ representatives were attending the online Exxon Mobil AGM, at which the dissident shareholder group Engine No. 1 succeeded in replacing two board members with its own candidates.

The Commissioners’ head of responsible investment, Bess Joffe, said on Tuesday: “We supported the entire slate of directors proposed by Engine No. 1 at Exxon’s AGM, since it is clear to us that the existing board is not taking the company’s transition plan or renewables strategy seriously.

“We hope the existing board directors will work with the new non-executive directors and benefit from their significant experience with transition plans and in renewable energy. We will continue to engage urgently with the company to understand the pace and scale of strategic change that we can expect in the face of the significant expression of investor dissatisfaction this campaign represents.

“Should the company fail to demonstrate sufficient progress on their transition strategy, the Church Commissioners would expect to divest from Exxon, in line with its commitment to Synod.”

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