Global divestment movement builds momentum


The world is starting to wake up to the need to take our money out of fossil fuels. The global divestment movement is gathering pace with recent announcements from the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association, New Zealand and Australian Anglican Churches and with support from the Church of Sweden.

Last week the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee passed a divestment motion when reviewing their ethical investment policies, stating that the list of sectors in which WCC does not invest should be extended to include fossil fuels. WCC is a fellowship of over 300 churches in 150 countries and the central committee is made up of influential religious leaders. They are encouraging their members to do the same, meaning that this decision to disinvest could resonate far and wide.

In May, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia became the first province in the worldwide Anglican Communion to divest from fossil fuels. The overwhelming vote at General Synod emphasised the readiness with which the Anglican Church in the region has embraced the idea of fossil fuel divestment. This was inspired by Bill McKibben’s Fossil Free Tour there in June 2013. Within a few months of the tour five Diocesan Synods had been presented with divestment motions and all five had passed.

The Australian Anglican Church passed a motion at its General Synod this  June encouraging churches across the country to divest. Several dioceses across Australia are now looking into the possibility of divesting. Bishop Tom Wilmott of Perth said, ‘The church can bring a moral voice to the debate, but from a theological point of view, God is the creator and so what we do with creation does matter.’ Dr Beth Hevde, chair of the Public Affairs Commission, said that it made financial sense to give up shares in the fossil fuel industry. She said, ‘the market can be expected to recognise that investments in fossil fuels are becoming very risky. They may well become “stranded assets”, where value rapidly decreases as buyers no longer want them.’

In Sweden, the first ever female Archbishop, Antje Jackelén, recently endorsed the divestment movement at the country’s annual political festival. This follows a joint statement from the bishops of the Church of Sweden calling for scientists, politicians, cultural icons and religious leaders to work together to address climate change, ‘the biggest common challenge ever faced by humanity’.

The British Medical Association last month announced plans to disinvest from fossil fuel companies, the first health organisation in the world to do so, backed by the Climate and Health Council and health charities Medact and Healthy Planet UK.

For UK Churches things have been moving a little slower, although fossil fuel investments were discussed at this year’s Methodist Conference in July. An unprecedented six memorials (resolutions) were put forward to the Conference from Methodist local Circuits or Districts – four requesting the Methodist Church to disinvest and two asking for a review of investments in fossil fuels. The four resolutions requesting disinvestment were declined and the Joint Advisory Committee on Ethical Investments (JACEI) has published a paper outlining their position. Operation Noah has published a response detailing five reasons why the Methodist Church needs to go further, move faster and be more radical.

We hope supporters of the Bright Now campaign will help us to create more waves in UK Churches over the coming year. Please get involved in our campaigning actions here.