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Church of England to debate climate change amid calls for fossil fuel divestment



The General Synod of the Church of England is to stage a debate on climate change and the environment on Wednesday, discussing, among other things, its policy of investment in fossil fuel companies. 

“The intention of the motion is very simple – it’s to get the different parts of the Church of England facing in roughly the same direction, so that we can speak more clearly on the complex range of issues which climate change involves,” said Canon Giles Goddard, who will present the General Synod motion.

“My hope is that this motion will enable and encourage the Church of England to be a clearer voice on climate change; that we will go beyond changing light bulbs and speak and act prophetically to a world that has lost its way.”

The debate will cover a number of issues, including climate change adaptation and the impacts global warming may have on those in poverty, but also the environment’s relevance to the church’s investments. 

The church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has already begun a review of its investment policy. However, despite pressure from campaigners it appears that the church is unlikely to divest from companies that extract or sell fossil fuels.

In a paper due to be submitted to the General Synod, seen by Reuters, the deputy chairman of the EIAG Richard Burridge argued it was better to engage with fossil fuel companies and use shareholder influence to pressure change, claiming that excluding sectors of the market would sacrifice profits.

He said 12.5% of the FTSE350 stock market index was already excluded by the church’s ethical investment policies, meaning a loss of about 0.7% per year between 2001 and 2012. 

Adding oil and gas companies to the list of prohibited investments would exclude another 14.25%, he said.

“This would leave 26.5% of the index excluded from investment, and a higher risk of financial detriment.”

However, he did add that the advisory group would consider restricting which fossil fuel companies the church could do business with.

The Church of England’s 2012 annual report showed that two of its biggest corporate investments are in BP (£22.4 million) and Shell (£37.8 million). The organisation has also been criticised for investments in companies involved in bribery scandals, such as GlaxoSmithKline and BHP Billiton, and in mining company Rio Tinto, which has a history of alleged human rights abuses.

The Christian organisation Operation Noah launched a campaign in September called Bright Now, urging churches to divest their holdings from fossil fuels firms.

Operation Noah has welcomed the announcement of the debate, urging the General Synod “to address this debate with the utmost seriousness and support the proposed motion.”

Quakers in Britain have announced their support for Operation Noah, saying that fossil fuel investment is ‘incompatible’ with Christianity and low-carbon goals. 

Further reading:

Church of England and MSCI team up for ethical investment screening

Church of England unlikely to ditch fossil fuel investments

Quakers launch initiative to buy 100% clean power from Good Energy

Operation Noah holds church to account over fossil fuels divestment

Christian charity: we must divest from, not engage with, fossil fuels firms