Operation Noah says ‘unethical’ for churches to profit from fossil fuel investments

THE CHURCH of England has voted to divest from fossil fuels as those religious groups who don’t were accused of profiting from “unethical” funds.

The remark, from campaigners Operation Noah, come just two months after the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly refused to back a similar motion.

The Church of Ireland and a range of Catholic organisations including SCIAF have also committed to divesting, leaving the Kirk looking more and more isolated in its environmental policies. 

The CoE’s governing body, General Synod, voted almost unanimously to divest by 2023 from oil and gas companies not on track to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global average temperature rise to well below 2°C.

 The amendment, tabled by Canon Giles Goddard of its Environmental Working Group, strengthened the original motion of the National Investing Bodies, which stated that the Church would begin in 2020 to divest from companies ‘not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy’.

 The amendment gives this process a deadline and adds alignment with the Paris Agreement as a condition.

The overall motion passed with 347 votes in favour, 4 against and 3 abstentions.

They also debated an amendment proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Steven Croft, which called on the National Investing Bodies to divest from any oil and gas company which was not on an ‘unequivocal path to aligning its business investment plan with the Paris Agreement’ targets by 2020.

The Bishop of Oxford argued that due to the urgency of climate change and the need for global carbon emissions to peak by 2020, divestment should proceed more rapidly.

This amendment had been supported by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, as well as by Christian Aid, Tearfund, Operation Noah and USPG.

 James Buchanan, who works on Operation Noah’s Bright Now divestment campaign, welcomed the outcome of the debate, saying: ‘We are very glad that General Synod has sent a strong message to oil and gas companies that they are on final notice to fundamentally change their business model, or face divestment.

 ‘While the major oil and gas companies claim to support the Paris Agreement, they continue to pursue business plans taking us on a path to dangerous levels of climate change, with devastating consequences for humanity.

 ‘It is unethical for Churches to profit from companies that are causing the very harm they seek to alleviate.

“Today, the Church of England has drawn a line in the sand and, given the increasing financial risk of fossil fuel investments, they would be well advised to divest sooner rather than later.’

Operation Noah describes itself as a Christian charity working with churches to ‘inspire action on climate change’.

In May, 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.

A report before the vote stated: “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.

Afterwards, Friends of the Earth Scotland campaigner 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.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: Church of Scotland General Assembly rejects call to divest from fossil fuels

IMAGE CREDITS:  Richard Collett-White, Operation Noah.

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