26

Nov

2013

Why Churches need to end engagement and disinvest from fossil fuels

 

Operation Noah's response to the Church Investors Group's statement 'Climate change and the fossil fuel divestment campaign'.

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the public statement issued by the Church Investors Group following the launch of Operation Noah’s Bright Now campaign.

One of the three aims of Bright Now is to stimulate a public debate on the ethics of investment in fossil fuels, so we are pleased to contribute to this discussion and would welcome the chance to debate the issue further with all concerned.

The Church Investors Group rightly draws attention to its long experience and on-going work of building a strong investor voice to hasten the transition to a low carbon economy. With regards to investments in fossil fuel companies this approach raises two important questions.

 

Photo credit:  Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Firstly, is investor influence of this kind likely to persuade companies whose core activities are the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and the development of new fossil fuel assets, to change tack? And secondly, is the desire for a smooth transition to a low carbon economy by 2050 an adequate and appropriate response given current scientific evidence, and a shared desire by Churches to avert an uncontrolled breakdown in the climate system?

It is our view that fossil fuel companies, including Shell and BP, give absolutely no indication that they intend to switch away from their current business models. These are built on the progressive identification, extraction and consumption of fossil fuel assets. Indeed, the current investment strategy of the fossil fuel sector suggests that it is intent on doing the very opposite whatever the consequences. This is despite a vast body of scientific evidence accumulated over the last two decades and published in successive IPCC reports, including the most recent, which set out the devastating consequences of continuing to modify the atmosphere and oceans with pollution from fossil fuels.

The failure by governments, and society at large, to engage adequately with this problem for more than twenty years means that the opportunity to defer the transition to a low carbon economy to some point in the future no longer exists. It is clear that meeting the objectives set out in the Churches’ own policies to prevent catastrophic climate change now requires bold, assertive and immediate action to cut and ultimately eliminate pollution from fossil fuels.

The CIG cautions against over-simplifying climate change as an ethical investment issue. Yet the facts on which our campaign rests are straightforward. We know that changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, which increase its absorption of heat, are directly related to the concentration of greenhouse gases. We know that the most significant source of these gases is pollution from burning fossil fuels.

We also know that there is a maximum quantity of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from fossil fuels if we are to limit the average rise in global surface temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Existing, identified reserves of conventional fossil fuels already exceed this global carbon budget by three to five times meaning that the major part of existing reserves will need to be left untouched. Yet, fossil fuel companies continue to invest billions of dollars every year to develop new fossil fuel reserves with the obvious intention of extracting, processing and burning these resources.

So Churches need to consider if it is right and ethical to continue to invest in companies that are clearly ignoring both scientific evidence and international commitments made in Copenhagen in 2009, to limit the average global increase in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.

Christian denominations in the UK have a long tradition of using their investments and shareholdings to bring pressure to bear on companies to perform better on an array of ethical issues. But Churches have also set a clear precedent by not investing in companies whose raison d’être they regard as unethical or at odds with Christian values.

If, as CIG and some advisory bodies suggest, engagement is an effective means of persuading fossil fuel companies to change the very basis of their businesses, why not pursue a similar approach with companies whose business is tobacco, pornography or gambling?

And given that a policy of engagement, pursued over many years, appears not to have convinced fossil fuel companies to switch out of fossil fuels, why should such a policy now lead to the radical shift in business strategy so urgently required?

Operation Noah believes that a policy of investing in and engaging with fossil fuel companies is no longer appropriate. The time has now come for Churches to disinvest from fossil fuels and to support the development of clean alternatives to fossil fuels through their investment policies.

In so doing, Churches would send a clear signal to governments, other investors and the companies themselves that profiting from the progressive, deliberate and ever more rapid destruction of the atmosphere and oceans, is ethically, morally and financially unacceptable, and that they are actively striving for a more hopeful, positive and viable future.

CIG’s statement ‘Climate change and the fossil fuel divestment campaign’, may be found here (follow the link from Church Investors Group Release Position Statement on Climate Change.)

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