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Church’s fossil fuel investments ‘hypocritical’

24 November 2022

C of E clergy were among those who held a prayer vigil outside Church House

Holly-Anna Petersen/Christian Climate Action. 

Christian Climate Action protesters outside Church House, Westminster, on Monday

Christian Climate Action protesters outside Church House, Westminster, on Monday

CHURCH of England clergy have said that the Church’s continued investment in fossil fuels makes Anglican efforts to campaign on climate change seem “hypocritical”.

Five C of E clergy were among those who held a prayer vigil outside Church House on Monday, calling for the Church of England to follow the lead of other faith institutions and end their investments in fossil fuels.

The Revd Jonathan Herbert, a chaplain to Gypsies and Travellers in Salisbury diocese, said: “Personally, as a vicar who cares about God’s creation, the Church of England has put me in a really difficult position. Whenever I try to encourage others to take action for the planet, I am reminded that my pension is invested in fossil fuels and I am called a hypocrite. I have been protesting for years for the C of E to divest from fossil fuels, but they continue to refuse.”

Mr Herbert, along with the Revd Helen Burnett, the Revd Hilary Bond, the Revd Alison Judge, and the Revd Vanessa Elston, were part of a protest by Christian Climate Action, during which they, and other Christians, knelt on the pavement outside the entrance to Church House and held a banner which read “No Faith in Fossil Fuels”.

The Church Commissioners, the Pensions Board, and 11 dioceses still invest in fossil fuels. Michelle Barnes, from London, said that church disinvestment was particularly powerful because the continued support of fossil fuels by a moral investor provides oil and gas corporations social licence, which they use to bolster political influence around the world.

“It is so embarrassing that there are many universities, companies, and councils that have divested from dirty energy, but the Church of England is still in bed with fossil fuel companies,” Ms Barnes said. “It’s hard to claim any moral integrity or claim that we care about young people when we are funding the destruction of their future.”

With the COP27 climate summit coming to a close this week, the Church of England’s lead bishop for the environment, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, warned about the danger of dirty energy, and said that there was not “enough global ambition to phase out fossil fuel usage”.

Ms Burnett, from Reigate, in Surrey, who took part in the protest, said that she wanted to see the Church take concrete action. “On the day after COP27 draws to a close,” she said, “I have to carry the guilt that my Church of England pension is drawn from shares in fossil fuels: a strategy that so many have lobbied against, and that all the data shows us is propelling us towards climate destruction.”

A Church of England spokesperson said: “General Synod in July 2018 endorsed a five-year strategy by the National Investment Bodies combining robust engagement and targeted disinvestment. This will lead to disinvestment of any fossil fuel companies not aligned to the Paris Agreement by July 2023.

“An independent academic assessment undertaken by TPI will determine which companies are aligned and those that are not. The Church Commissioners and Pensions Board want a net zero world, not just net zero investment portfolios.”

This week, the charity Operation Noah published a report outlining the case for church financial institutions to invest in climate solutions rather than fossil fuels. Church Investment in Climate Solutions: Financing a liveable future suggests that churches can make a positive impact by investing in renewable energy, public transport, and electric vehicles, and energy storage: a key technology for accelerating the decarbonisation of the electricity grid.

The report says that if the world redirected the $570 billion of annual planned oil and gas investments towards renewables, this could fully finance wind and solar expansion in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global heating by 1.5°C.

The Bishop of St Germans, in the diocese of Truro, the Rt Revd Hugh Nelson, said: “The choices we make about finance and investment both describe and shape the future we want to see. If the Church is serious about cherishing creation and getting to net zero, we need to align our finances to that goal.”

The CEO of FaithInvest, Martin Palmer, described the report as “a prophetic witness”, and said, “To achieve the scale of investments necessary to turn the market towards a sustainable world and away from climate and biodiversity disaster, faith institutions have to take up the challenge of putting their money where their mouths are. And Churches in the UK have the resources to do this.”

Joe Ware is a senior climate journalist at Christian Aid.

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