Questions about the Bright Now campaign

What is Operation Noah seeking to achieve with this 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 the climate crisis 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 renewable energy and clean technologies.

Why is this an issue for Churches?

The climate crisis is becoming an ever more urgent issue, with increasingly severe impacts on our brothers and sisters around the world. It is time to act now. 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 the climate crisis – 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.

In the past, Christian investors have played an important part in the fight against apartheid and in the rise of Fairtrade certification, their discipleship being reflected in their investment decisions. Now, the Church must act in a similarly prophetic way with respect to fossil fuel corporations. Through the use of its money the Church demonstrates how seriously it takes what it claims to believe regarding creation, stewardship and Christian discipleship.

Churches and their investment boards have a duty to ensure that their investments do not compromise the ethical position of their institutions. Given the impact of climate change around the world, can the Church continue to invest in fossil fuel companies? It is deeply uncomfortable for the Church, called as it is to embody the love of God, to continue to invest in something which causes the very harm it seeks to alleviate.

Thus far, our governments have failed to show the necessary leadership through legislation, regulation and binding targets that would push fossil fuel companies to decarbonise through cutting extraction and moving to renewable energy production. 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 the climate crisis.

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Questions about climate science

Why is urgent action needed?

The Paris Agreement in 2015 was a huge step forward for global climate action. It was signed and ratified by over 180 states, agreeing to not only work to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C but to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C’. However, in the years since, the urgency of action required has not been demonstrated, with states globally still falling far short of their emissions targets.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in its 2018 Special Report that the target of 2°C of warming in the Paris Agreement would be catastrophic – exacerbating droughts, floods and extreme heat, as well as significantly worsening poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The 2018 report stated that 1.5°C must be the upper limit if island nations and other climate vulnerable communities are to be able to survive.

However, current government commitments are still not enough to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Even if present climate commitments were fully implemented, the world is on track for more than 3°C of total warming. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 2019 Emissions Gap Report showed that staying below 1.5°C demands that nations immediately quintuple their levels of ambition. The longer governments delay, the more drastic the action will have to be over shorter timeframes, thus ramping up the likelihood of increasingly disruptive social and economic measures.

Where governments are not doing enough, it is vital that other institutions stand up for the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement sets a framework for action, but one that needs all of us to play a part: not just governments, but also businesses, investors and faith institutions.

Scientists have estimated that the majority of existing reserves owned by fossil fuel companies cannot be burned if we are to stay below a 2°C rise in average global temperature. The extraction and burning of just the known reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields (without coal) would take the world past 1.5°C of warming. The UNEP’s 2019 Production Gap Report warned that the additional planned fossil fuel production, on top of the existing reserves, would produce more than double the emissions needed to stay below 1.5°C of warming.

Fossil fuel companies continue to invest billions of dollars in new extraction. In early 2019, a Global Witness report showed that the global oil and gas industry plans to spend $5 trillion on the exploration and extraction of new reserves in the next decade. Later in the year, a Guardian report showed that Shell and Exxon alone are planning to increase production of oil and gas by 35% between 2018 and 2030 – the 12 years when global carbon emissions instead need to fall by 45% if we are to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

2020 must be the peak year of overall global greenhouse gas emissions, with a rapid decline in emissions through to 2030, if we are to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Even a 1.5°C temperature increase will bring profound changes to the earth’s climate – with severe 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, affecting the poorest and most vulnerable communities first and worst. However, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year, putting us on a dangerous trajectory towards climate catastrophe.

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Questions about investment and energy

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.

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

A divestment 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.

As a wider civil movement, divestment groups are engaging universities and colleges; civil, religious and cultural institutions; and local and national government pension funds, to push for divestment from fossil fuels. As a result, the total value of divesting institutions is now over $14 trillion globally. While this is a significant amount of assets to be removed from investment in the industry, the aim is to simultaneously influence broader society to think about where their savings and pensions are invested and also begin to put pressure on pension fund holders. The impact of the divestment movement is also being recognised by oil and gas companies themselves. In its 2017 annual report, Shell noted: ‘Some groups are pressuring certain investors to divest their investments in fossil fuel companies. If this were to continue, it could have a material adverse effect on the price of our securities and our ability to access equity capital markets.’

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 (CCC) 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.

A 2019 report from Platform, Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth Scotland found that ‘given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than threefold’. During the decarbonisation process it is vital that the energy sector is enabled to go through a ‘just transition’. This means that there is provision of the re-skilling needed for those who will move to jobs in renewable energy production instead of fossil fuel companies.

Why not engage with fossil fuel companies?

Many UK Churches have opted for a policy of ‘engagement’ with oil and gas companies, arguing that activities such as putting forward resolutions at shareholder meetings can have a greater influence than divestment. This has not been borne out by the response of the oil and gas companies themselves: both Shell and Exxon have a track record of urging shareholders to vote against previous resolutions on climate change.

In fact, the world’s five largest oil and gas companies continue to spend more than $200 million annually to block, delay and control climate policy, on top of decades of climate denial and disinformation campaigns targeting policymakers and the public. Thus, despite two decades of stakeholder engagement with the fossil fuel industry on climate change and environmental issues, oil and gas companies continue to pursue growth and explore new reserves for exploitation.

In 2017, the Church of England (and others) launched the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), a tool to assess the progress of companies in preparing for the transition to a low-carbon economy. Our assessment of the TPI can be found in the Fossil Free Churches report.

While engagement can be effective with some sectors, we believe it is unlikely to succeed with fossil fuel companies. We are seeing neither real change, nor change that is happening fast enough. There are serious doubts about the commitment and ability of fossil fuel companies to successfully make the transition to a safe, zero-carbon economy, so we believe it is time for Churches to divest rather than engage.

Divestment from fossil fuel companies is growing. Since 2014, the value of institutions divesting from fossil fuels has risen from a starting point of $50 billion to a total of more than $14 trillion (£10.8 trillion). Faith institutions constitute the greatest number of organisations in the global movement, making up over 350 of the total of more than 1,100 institutions. Several Churches around the world have made commitments to fully divest from fossil fuels, including the United Reformed Church in the UK, Quakers in Britain, the Church of Sweden, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the World Council of Churches.

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Questions about Church divestment

What alternatives options are there for Church investments?

As a result of the grassroots movement of churches making the commitment to divest and requesting their investment managers to do the same, there are increasing numbers of options for a Church that wants to invest in a ‘fossil free fund’ (see here and here for examples).

Socially and environmentally responsible investment can be 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. A great example of this is Salisbury Cathedral’s recent investment of £25,000 in a local community-energy cooperative and installation of solar panels on the Cathedral cloisters as part of the investment.

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. While fossil fuel companies have historically been considered a safe investment, they are now seen as increasingly risky. The vast majority of fossil fuels will need to remain in the ground if we are to meet the Paris Agreement targets, so fossil fuel companies run the risk of being left with ‘stranded assets’ – worthless fuel reserves that regulations will prevent from being burned or that can only be consumed at unimaginable cost to us all.

Governments around the world are adopting policies to constrain the use of fossil fuels, such as the UK government commitment to phase out coal by 2025 and France’s decision to ban all oil and gas production by 2040. The increasing financial risk of investing in fossil fuels was made clear by a report published by the UN Principles of Responsible Investment – finding that the 10 largest oil and gas companies could lose 31% of their value as a result of policies designed to combat climate change.

The increasing competitiveness of renewable energy and the growth of new technologies are further accelerating the shift from fossil fuels to clean alternatives.

Why should we be arguing for church divestment 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 two centuries, and many of us are still 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 the financing of fossil fuels can no longer be considered an ethical investment. Divestment from fossil fuels is part of a broader strategy to enable Christians and the Church to address the climate crisis 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 zero-carbon economy and to drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

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