Church of Scotland General Assembly rejects call to divest from fossil fuels

THE Church of Scotland has narrowly voted against calls to divest from companies driving climate change tomorrow.

Its General Assembly in Edinburgh discussed a motion put forward by officials that it should ditch associations with fossil fuel companies.

A report, which sets a 2020 target, says: “It is deeply uncomfortable for the church, as a caring organisation concerned about climate justice, to continue to invest in something which causes the very harm it seeks to alleviate.”

A grassroots motion urged the Church to begin divesting now rather than waiting.

Reverend Jenny Adams proposed a counter-motion to “withdraw from investing within two years.”

He said: “While I understand the Church wanting to change minds in the oil and gas industry, we have already given two years to engagement.

“With evidence of increased production, at a time when fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe, we must now put our money where our mouth is and withdraw investments urgently.”

But it needed 19 more votes to pass.

The Church’s investment fund is believed to be valued at £443 million.

His motion had drawn support from Friends of the Earth Scotland, with Ric Lander saying: “Oil companies like BP and Shell have made business plans that will create catastrophic changes to our environment.

“They are expanding their operations while scientists tell us that the vast majority of existing fossil fuel reserves can’t be used.

“The pace of the climate crisis demands urgent action, the Church should begin divesting now.”

A group of Catholic organisations with combined investments of over €7 billion, including SCIAF in Scotland, committed to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel companies last month.

The Church of Ireland also committed to end its investments in all fossil fuels less than two weeks ago.

After the vote, Ric Lander, said: “To those suffering from the abuses of oil companies around the world it’s a blow that the Church of Scotland didn’t start divesting from oil companies.

“However, during a debate infused with depth, urgency and sincerity there was bountiful support for radical action on climate change and a speedy and just transition to a 100% renewable economy.

“The Church must now consider how it can most effectively use its time and money to offer a response befitting of the strength of feeling in the Assembly.”

James Buchanan, Operation Noah, campaigns for UK Churches to divest from fossil fuels, added:  “While we are disappointed with the outcome of the vote at Church of Scotland General Assembly, we are encouraged by the level of support for divestment from oil and gas companies and the consensus on the need for climate justice.

“Churches, along with other investors, should divest from fossil fuels to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and ensure that the vision of the Paris Agreement becomes a reality.

“The time to act is now.”

On 19 April the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Dr Derek Browning, joined other faith leaders in Scotland to call for the Scottish Government to make its forthcoming Climate Change Bill more ambitious .

Scotland’s campaign to divest from fossil fuels was launched in the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly Hall in 2013 at an event with US author and environmentalist Bill McKibben.

After a debate lasting over two hours at its annual General Assembly, the Church of Scotland narrowly voted against divestment.

Around 1,000 people were present at a packed Assembly Hall in central Edinburgh to hear 53% of commissioners vote for continued engagement with oil and gas companies, whilst 47% backed one of two motions for divestment from oil and gas.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: Church and Society May 2018

IMAGE CREDIT: cc Waldomiguez

Shaun Milne is a Scottish based journalist with a particular interest in environmental issues, politics and travel.

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