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Church of England considers divesting from fossil fuels

Church agrees to take a more active stance on climate change, including reexamination of where they invest their funds

Source: Flickr/iambents

Source: Flickr/iambents

By Sophie Yeo

The Church of England has said it will consider divesting from fossil fuels as a means of addressing the causes of climate change.

A General Synod meeting yesterday passed a motion asserting that the Church should take more assertive steps in cutting carbon pollution, in line with what it said is the Christian responsibility to be stewards of the planet.

Specifically, it said it will consider engaging with the companies to encourage better treatment of the environment, investing in more renewable energy groups, and divesting from those with especially high emissions.

Canon Giles Goddard of the Southwark Diocese, who proposed the motion, said that there is a wider expectation for the Church to do more on climate change.

“We need to raise this issue higher up the agenda,” he told the Synod. “This motion’s not the end, it’s the beginning.”

In the Guardian, Steven Croft, the bishop of Sheffield, described climate change as “a giant evil; a great demon of our day.”

He adds: “Its power is fed by greed, blindness and complacency in the present generation, and we know that this giant wreaks havoc though the immense power of the weather systems, which are themselves unpredictable.”

Ethical investment

Previously, the Church of England has said that engaging with the companies in which it invests has a greater impact than withdrawing funds.

This will remain a part of their practice, according to the Rev Professor Richard Burridge, Deputy Chair of the Church’s Ethical Investments Advisory Group, give the extent to which “carbon emissions remain so embedded in our economic system”. It would, he said, require a “sophisticated response” from the Church.

He added: “The Synod vote for this motion affirms the will of Synod that the Church of England treats climate change as an urgent ethical issue of the utmost importance, including in its practice of ethical investment.”

A growing divestment campaign spearheaded by environmental group 350.org has already seen cities and organisations across the US and the UK promise to withdraw their funds from fossil fuel companies, which are credited with causing the majority of the emissions behind human-caused climate change.

Last year, the UK’s Quakers committed to reinvesting the 3.85% of their £21million investment portfolio that went towards fossil fuels in more ethical businesses.

The amount of money controlled by these institutions is not enough to starve the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel industry of money, but it can help to stigmatize them, and remove their social license to operate, a report from the University of Oxford has found.

The motion passed by the Synod said that, while ethical investment was a complicated area “the church could use its power as a large investor to take a lead.” They added that, in many cases including climate change, “maximizing income is not the only priority”.

The move was welcomed by Christian charities. Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Advisor, Dr Alison Doig, said that the show of solidarity on the part of the Church would allow them to “engage prophetically” with climate change politics as the world tries to sign off a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Paris in 2015.

‘”The Church Commissioners are fortunate to have £8 billion under investment,” she said. “With great wealth comes great responsibility and I’m encouraged to see the Church taking that responsibly seriously by reviewing their ethical investment policies.”

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