Encouraging signs for Church divestment


This is an exciting time in the campaign for fossil free Churches. Arguments for divestment are now being taken seriously in many quarters: in just a few weeks, we’ve seen the following signs of the times.

A change of mood in the Churches

There was fantastic news two weeks ago when the Church of Ireland voted to divest from all fossil fuels. It voted to exclude fully companies with a turnover of greater than 10 per cent from fossil fuel production, by 2022.

The Church of Scotland General Assembly voted last week on a proposal by the Church of Scotland’s Church & Society Council that the Church should begin to divest from fossil fuel companies in 2020. They also voted on a ‘counter-motion’ calling for faster action – divestment within two years. You can view a video of the debate in this Eco-Congregation Scotland report.

Disappointingly, both the motion and the counter-motion fell. Nonetheless, 47% of people still voted in favour of one of these motions calling for divestment from oil and gas companies (300 of 563 people voted to continue engagement without a timeline). This level of support for rapid climate action is encouraging.

Operation Noah supported campaigners in the Church of Scotland who were calling for divestment, and also organised an event with Friends of the Earth Scotland for General Assembly members to find out more about the issues.

Meanwhile, the Church of England will decide in the next few days the shape and content of its General Synod debate on the environment in July. A motion calling for divestment from any fossil fuel company that does not bring its business investment plans into line with Paris Agreement targets by 2020 passed the Oxford Diocesan Synod in March. It is possible that General Synod, however, will not consider Oxford’s motion, but a weaker one – in which case, members of Oxford’s delegation to General Synod will seek to amend it.

Watch this space for more information as it becomes available.

Shareholder engagement shows few signs of progress at 2018 AGMs

Rev Jenny Adams, who proposed the Church of Scotland counter-motion on divestment, said: ‘The evidence suggests that oil and gas companies have little intention of changing fast enough to get close to making the Paris Climate Change agreement. There is a need for climate emissions to peak by 2020 and if we just keep talking, too much time passes and change is not coming fast enough.’

And it is clear from recent shareholder meetings of the big oil and gas companies that shareholder engagement faces significant challenges in bringing about real change.

BP and Shell both held their AGMs last week. There were no shareholder resolutions on climate change at the BP AGM, but Adam Matthews, Head of Engagement for the Church Commissioners and Church of England Pensions Board, spoke at the meeting. His statement called for the company to take more responsibility for ‘Scope 3’ emissions – those resulting from actually burning their products.

At Shell’s AGM, shareholders voted on a resolution (supported by the Church of England and Methodist Church) calling on the company to set stronger emissions targets in line with the Paris Agreement goals. Shell had already urged shareholders to vote against the resolution, which was rejected by 95% of shareholders.

Exxon holds its AGM this Wednesday, 30 May, and has blocked a shareholder resolution on climate change, leading to further questions about the effectiveness of engagement with the company. Exxon’s recent climate risk report has been assessed as ‘inadequate’ by Carbon Tracker and other analysts.

The argument for faster divestment

Operation Noah’s new report, Fossil free Churches: Accelerating the transition to a brighter, cleaner future, will be launched in June. It will argue that, due to the latest climate science, the increasing financial risk of fossil fuel investments and developments in clean energy technologies, the Churches need to rapidly shift their investments to support the transition to a net zero carbon economy.

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