FAQ

These FAQs were written for the launch of the Bright Now campaign in September 2013.

Questions about the Bright Now campaign

What is Operation Noah seeking to achieve with this new national campaign?

We want Churches of all denominations to withdraw their investments from companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels. We want them to end the contradiction whereby Churches have committed to addressing climate change by cutting pollution from fossil fuels, but continue to invest in, and profit from, companies actively seeking to develop existing and new reserves of fossil fuels.

We are asking the Church and Christian community in the UK to take a leading role in a national debate on the ethics of investment in, and exploitation of, fossil fuels. By shifting investment away from highly polluting fossil fuels we also hope to encourage Churches to consider opportunities for investment in clean sources of energy and low-carbon technologies.

Why is this an issue for Churches?

Operation Noah’s declaration, Climate Change and the Purposes of God, sets out an urgent call to the Church to realise that care for God’s creation – and concern about climate change – is foundational to the Christian gospel and central to the church’s mission. Operation Noah believes that there is a moral imperative for urgent action and a change of direction.

The Christian church has traditionally had a role in influencing ethical investment choices as part of its mission and witness, through the upholding of Christian values. We believe that the Christian Church should now demonstrate the moral leadership required to make the necessary transition to a low-carbon way of life.

Thus far, our governments have failed to show the necessary leadership through legislation, regulation and binding targets that would give fossil fuel companies more ethical parameters for the sustainable utilisation of fossil fuels. So it is up to civil society, including the Church and all faith groups, to demonstrate that decisive action can be taken in response to an acute and very serious problem.

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Questions about climate science

Why is urgent action needed?

Under the Copenhagen Accord signed in 2009, governments around the world, including the UK, agreed to ‘hold the increase in global temperature below 2ºC, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity’.

Scientists have estimated that around 80% of existing known reserves owned by fossil fuel companies cannot be burned if we are stay below this 2ºC rise in average global temperature. Extraction and exploitation of new reserves of fossil fuels still in the ground severely jeopardises this goal. Fossil fuel companies continue to invest billions of dollars in new extraction. There has been a recent proliferation of new and planned extraction of more unconventional fossil fuel reserves around the world – for example, tar sands, shale gas, deep coal mines and Arctic and other off-shore drilling – as well as extraction in environmentally sensitive areas.

Scientists have cautioned that over the coming decade we must reach a peak in overall greenhouse gas emissions globally, and then achieve a steady decline in emissions, if we are to stay below a 2ºC rise in average global temperature. However, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year, putting us on a dangerous trajectory towards a 4-6ºC increase.

Even a 2ºC temperature increase will still bring profound changes to the earth’s climate – changes that will have human and environmental consequences. The impacts of atmospheric pollution from fossil fuels are already being experienced around the world, causing extreme weather patterns, drought, floods, heat waves and crop failures, often affecting the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Temperature increases of 4-6ºC will have devastating consequences and bring large-scale human and ecological tragedy.

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Questions about investment and energy

Could oil and gas companies ever be considered ethical?

Operation Noah has developed criteria that would need to be adopted if a fossil fuel company was to be considered ethical. They would need to:

  1. Have diversification strategies in place to move away from fossil fuels.
  2. Have strategies in place to not exploit the full potential of their existing fossil fuel reserves.
  3. Not exploit new reserves of fossil fuels, in particular in ecologically sensitive areas.
  4. Invest in carbon capture and storage.
  5. Work within safe targets for greenhouse gas emissions and urge governments to adopt such targets.

What is ‘lock-in’ and why is it important?

Investment decisions taken today lock us into the use of certain technologies. All technologies have an operational life, which is used to calculate their potential for investment and the financial return they could make. Once a decision is made to invest in a gas power station, for example, investors will expect it to operate for its full working life or until it is no longer profitable. This may be for 15 or 20 years. So decisions made today to invest in fossil fuel technologies commit us to pollution from these technologies for the duration of their operational lives. Furthermore, investors making a financial return from these technologies have a strong incentive to lobby governments for their continued use. The IEA report suggests that the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure needs to stop within five years if we are to avoid being locked in to catastrophic warming.

Will disinvestment have an impact on the large fossil fuel companies?

A disinvestment campaign aimed at the most polluting companies is much more than just an economic strategy: it is essentially a political and moral act. It pushes the debate forward in wider society to influence public opinion on the ethics of continued exploitation of fossil fuel reserves. A wider civil movement – which is engaging with universities and colleges, civil institutions and religious institutions across US, Europe and Australia – is being built and has already attracted much media coverage. This in turn will influence broader society to think about where their savings and pensions are invested and begin to put pressure on pension fund holders. Campaigns such as Carbon Bubble, led by Share Action, are advocating for responsible investment of pension funds.10 This will build the climate for greater government action to legislate and regulate the activity of fossil fuel companies.

Will reducing reliance on fossil fuels result in fewer jobs?

The huge reforms that are needed in our energy production methods over the coming decades will inevitably lead to flux and change within industries and job markets. The large-scale transition to a low-carbon economy will make some jobs obsolete while many new ones will be created. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended an almost complete decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030 in the UK, bringing many new opportunities for investment in low-carbon industries and the creation of new jobs. The Campaign Against Climate Change has outlined a broad strategy to create many new green jobs across different sectors in their report – One million climate jobs: solving the economic and environmental crises. The Alliance for Jobs and Climate is advocating for a massive investment in jobs and a shift to renewable energy.

What about nuclear power?

The debate around nuclear power is complex, controversial and has divided those who call for decisive action to cut pollution from fossil fuels. Most UK Church denominations have not excluded the possibility of investment in nuclear power. Operation Noah believes that it is up to churches and their advisors to decide whether or not to invest in nuclear power.

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Questions about church disinvestment

What alternatives options are there for Church investments?

Socially and environmentally responsible investment is a profitable alternative to investment in fossil fuels. Churches can adopt a diverse ethically responsible investment portfolio across a range of sectors to balance risks and ensure profitable returns on their investment. For example, the renewable energy sector is a growth industry, even though it is at present relatively small in comparison to the established large fossil fuel companies. Churches can also consider exploring other positive investment strategies, such as community and social investment, for example, in energy-efficiency schemes and community-owned renewable energy.

What impact will withdrawing investment have on the Churches’ investments and pension provision?

It is important that Churches’ investment portfolios spread risk in order to protect the pensions of their employees and the funds available for mission. Shares in fossil fuels have traditionally been seen as stable and low-risk but we are now witnessing a volatile economy where investment in new fossil fuel extraction is not necessarily low-risk. For example, the loss in share value of a major oil disaster is passed on to the shareholders of pension funds at considerable cost. Analysis suggests that investment in low-carbon renewable technology could be as profitable as fossil fuels and be lower-risk.

The recent report, Unburnable Carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets, by Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Research Institute, explains that existing fossil fuel reserves, representing trillions of dollars of assets, need to be written off if we are to keep global warming below 2ºC. Professor Lord Stern commented in the report that ‘Smart investors can see that investing in companies that rely solely or heavily on constantly replenishing reserves of fossil fuels is becoming a very risky decision.’ This leads to growing uncertainty about the future economic sustainability of the fossil fuel industry.

Why should we be arguing for church disinvestment when oil and gas are commodities on which we all depend?

It is true that the use of fossil fuels has provided broad benefits to society over the past century, and we largely continue to be dependent on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs and to maintain our lifestyles. However, at this critical time their continued exploitation poses such a threat to our future safety and to that of future generations, that financing of fossil fuels can no longer be considered an ethical investment. Disinvestment from fossil fuels is part of a broader strategy to enable Christians and Churches to address the very real threat of climate change through their lifestyle choices and actions. Individual Christians can also choose to review their own investments, including pensions. We all need to be engaged in as many ways as possible to reduce our demand for highly polluting means of satisfying our lifestyle needs. The primary objectives are to move as quickly as possible towards a low-carbon sustainable society and to drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

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