Church Commissioners continue investing in ExxonMobil, despite CofE putting Exxon on ‘restricted’ list


The Church Commissioners, one of the three Church of England National Investing Bodies (NIBs), have decided to continue investing in ExxonMobil, despite the NIBs having put Exxon on a list of ‘restricted’ companies.

The announcement was made as the CofE’s National Investing Bodies restricted 28 companies for investment, including major oil companies BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil. The Church Commissioners had already sold their shares in BP for financial reasons in February 2020.

In the case of Exxon, a Church of England press release states that ‘ExxonMobil does not meet the hurdles established for 2021 so it will be restricted for the NIBs.’

However, the Church Commissioners have decided to make an exception with US oil giant ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly listed oil and gas company. While it is now on the restricted list, divestment has been postponed after three new Board members at Exxon’s AGM in May 2021.

Supporters of Operation Noah and Christian Climate Action joined a vigil outside Church House in September 2017 to call for divestment from Exxon (photo credit: Ruth Jarman)

The Church Commissioners’ decision to continue investing in ExxonMobil has come despite a growing number of institutional investors of a similar size opting to divest from Exxon.

Nest, the UK government-backed pension scheme with £20 billion of assets under management, divested from Exxon in December 2021 after criticising its lack of progress on managing climate change risks.

Katharina Lindmeier, Senior Responsible Investment Manager for Nest, said: ‘We aim to work with companies to encourage sustainable business decisions but will draw the line somewhere. The five companies being excluded have not done enough to convince us that we should remain shareholders.’

The Presbyterian Church (USA), which has supported shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies for many years with its $11 billion investment portfolio, also recently announced plans to divest from Exxon for ethical reasons.

The Church of England’s investment in ExxonMobil has long been a controversial issue. In November 2017, five bishops were among the signatories of an open letter from CofE clergy to the Church’s National Investing Bodies calling for divestment from Exxon, after a Harvard study showed that Exxon knew about the risks of climate change in the 1970s, yet misled the public for decades.

In the 2017 letter, the CofE bishops and clergy raised concerns that are even more urgent today: ‘Time is running out to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. While some governments and companies pursue policies that are leading us in the wrong direction, the Church of England is uniquely placed to show moral leadership through its investment policies.

‘Now is the time for decisive action. We call on Church of England investors to take the lead and immediately divest from ExxonMobil.’

Since the election of the three new Board members at ExxonMobil, evidence has continued to emerge of Exxon’s efforts to lobby against action to address the climate crisis.

In June last year, a senior ExxonMobil lobbyist admitted to working behind the scenes to weaken climate legislation in the US.

Channel 4 reported in July that Exxon was among oil and gas companies that met UK Trade Minister Conor Burns for a private dinner in Texas ahead of COP26, where fossil gas was championed as a ‘vital part of the solution’ to tackling the climate crisis. Shell, BP, Equinor and Chevron were also at the meeting.

In January 2022, the Financial Times reported that ExxonMobil was among the top 20 worst performing companies during the two-year period from the start of 2020 to the end of 2021, with a 12% fall in market value. Other major oil and gas companies fared even worse: Shell was the fourth worst performing large company in the world with a 32% loss in market value, while BP’s market value plunged by 30%.

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Director for Operation Noah, said: ‘The Church Commissioners’ decision to continue investing in ExxonMobil despite putting Exxon on its list of ‘restricted’ investments is outrageous and farcical. It cannot be one rule for Exxon and another rule for everyone else. The Church of England should immediately divest from ExxonMobil.’

Bookmark and Share