20

Sep

2023

Dioceses continue to make divestment commitments in the UK

 

The Church of England Diocese of Guildford and the Catholic Diocese of Salford have announced their divestment from fossil fuel companies as part of an on-going movement away from the industry. 

The Diocese of Salford said in its statement, ‘We must take a stand against companies that do not align with our principles and that put their profits ahead of the common good.’ Rt Revd John Arnold, Bishop of Salford, is the lead bishop on the environment for the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

In June 2023, the Church Commissioners for England, the steward of the Church of England’s £10.3 billion endowment fund, announced that it would part ways with all oil and gas behemoths in its investment portfolio. The announcement was the result of a planet-first approach, aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, a goal that will require rapid and profound changes in how we invest our money. 

The Moral Turning Point

At the core of this move are ethics and a deep concern for the climate crisis which can no longer find alignment with the oil and gas sector. The message is unequivocal: Attempts to engage meaningfully with this industry have consistently hit a dead end. The Church of England’s divestment raised the question about how effective engagement by individual dioceses can be when they do not have the same resources as the National Investing Bodies.

Indeed, most other major denominations across the UK have already made full divestment commitments, though, notably, the Catholic Church in England and Wales lags behind, albeit with more than half of its dioceses now having pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Resource Conundrum: The Problem with Engagement 

The question every diocese has to grapple with is straightforward: can it afford to expend its limited resources in an attempt to influence an industry notoriously resistant to change? Recent decisions by fossil fuel companies indicate that the scales for staying invested have tipped in favour of divestment. Shell and BP have both recently reneged on their climate commitments. The industry’s entrenched position has provoked many dioceses to re-evaluate whether their investment engagement strategies are sustainable or, indeed, ethical. 

The Accelerating Clock: Why Time is of the Essence

With extreme weather events—from Mediterranean heatwaves to North American hurricanes—increasingly making headlines, the time for resolute action is now. The divestment movement is no longer a whisper in the wind; it’s a clarion call for immediate change.

The Catholic Position: A Moral Framework for Investment 

The Vatican itself has provided directives, notably in the June 2020 document, Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home: Five Years After Laudato Si’ explicitly recommending Catholic organisations avoid investing in fossil fuels and that they promote a transition to clean and renewable energy. In 2022, Mensuram Bonam provided a robust framework for Catholic investors to act in alignment with Catholic Social Teaching, urging a holistic approach to investments, encompassing not just economic returns but also moral, social, and environmental outcomes.

Mensuram Bonam navigates the intricacies of investment through a Catholic lens, offering a guided pathway for faith-driven investors. Notably, it includes probing Questions for Discernment like, ‘Is authentic sustainability being realised (and “greenwashing” avoided)?’, and recommends a multi-faceted approach—‘vote, voice and exit’. 

The recommendation is also clear as regards oil and gas companies: ‘If these strategies have no prospects for success in the long term, divestment strategies should be discussed as a final step and corresponding decisions should be exercised (the ‘exit’ strategy).’

The findings of both the Church of England and the Methodist Church indicate that, indeed, there are no prospects for success.

Changing the Economic Narrative: Impact Investing

Both the Church of England and the Vatican echo the sentiment that the mission of investments should not solely be to ‘do no evil’ but to proactively contribute to societal and environmental betterment. 

‘Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization…There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy’ (Pope Francis, addressing ‘The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home’, Vatican City, 14 June 2019).

As the clock ticks and climate impacts escalate, the decisions to divest by the Church of England and several dioceses within the Catholic Church in England and Wales offer more than symbolic significance. They are the ethical imperative of our times, setting a standard for not just faith-based organisations, but for society at large.

To read more about how Churches can use their investments to respond to the climate emergency, click here

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