Epiphany Declaration: 20 Christian organisations divest from fossil fuels


Operation Noah is delighted to announce that 20 Christian organisations in the UK – including churches, dioceses, Synods and religious orders – have announced their divestment from fossil fuels as part of the Epiphany Declaration for Fossil Free Churches. 

The organisations involved express their desire to take practical action and send a message of hope at the start of 2020, a crucial year for climate action in the UK and around the world. They join the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, with the global value of divesting institutions now standing at a total of over $12 trillion.

The institutions joining the announcement include the Catholic Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster, two Catholic religious orders (the Congregation of Jesus and Presentation Sisters), two United Reformed Church Synods (Wales and South Western Synods), a theological college and several local Church of England, Methodist, URC and Baptist churches.

Among those announcing their divestment commitments, there are some significant firsts. The Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster are the first Catholic dioceses in England and Wales to divest from fossil fuels. Ivybridge Methodist Church and Stirling Methodist Church are the first local Methodist churches to commit to go fossil free.

Ivybridge Methodist Church announce their divestment from fossil fuels
(photo credit: Sophie Phillips)

The organisations making divestment commitments as part of the Epiphany Declaration are:

  • Diocese of Middlesbrough (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Lancaster (Catholic)
  • Congregation of Jesus, English Province (Catholic)
  • Presentation Sisters, English Province (Catholic)
  • United Reformed Church Synod of Wales
  • United Reformed Church South Western Synod
  • Lavington URC, Bideford
  • Redland Park URC, Bristol
  • Northern College, Manchester (URC/Congregational)
  • Ivybridge Methodist Church, Devon
  • Stirling Methodist Church, Stirling (Methodist Church in Scotland)
  • Devonport Baptist Church, Plymouth
  • St Luke’s Holloway, London (Church of England)
  • Pudsey Parish Church, Leeds (Church of England)
  • The churches of the Parish of Alston Moor – St Augustine of Canterbury, Alston; St John the Evangelist, Garrigill; St John the Evangelist, Nenthead; Holy Paraclete, Kirkhaugh; St Jude, Knaresdale; and St Mary & St Patrick, Lambley (Church of England).
Pudsey Parish Church announce their divestment from fossil fuels
(photo credit: Richard Dimery)

Announcing the decision to divest, Bishop Terry Drainey, the Bishop of Middlesbrough, said: ‘With growing awareness of people’s concerns for the care of our common home, supported by the Trustees and Council of Priests of the Diocese, and after thorough scrutiny of diocesan investments and with support from Operation Noah, the Diocese of Middlesbrough has decided that now is the time to divest from fossil fuels. The evidence and the urgency of the climate crisis are all around us. However, as Pope Francis points out very clearly in his Encyclical Letter on The Care of Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, nothing will succeed if we do not begin with personal conversion, a change in lifestyle, a change of mindset.’

A key moment for Church divestment

While most UK Churches have divested from coal and tar sands, many continue to invest millions of pounds in oil and gas companies. The Church of England continues to invest more than £120 million in major oil companies including BP, Shell and ExxonMobil.

Following a motion passed at General Synod in July 2018, the Church of England is set to begin divestment in 2020 from oil and gas companies that are ‘not taking seriously their responsibilities to assist with the transition to a low carbon economy’ and to complete divestment from companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement targets by 2023.

The divestment commitments of Ivybridge Methodist Church and Stirling Methodist Church come at a key moment in the wider Methodist Church, following the motion on divestment passed at Methodist Conference in 2017. This motion called on the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church to divest from any oil and gas companies whose business investment plans are not aligned with the Paris Agreement target of a ‘global temperature rise well below 2°C’ by 2020. 

Epworth Investment Management, an investment firm wholly owned by the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church, is planning to launch a new fund in early 2020 that will exclude investments in fossil fuel companies, following increased demand from clients. In recent months, CCLA Investment Management, which manages investments on behalf of many churches and charities, announced that its COIF Charities Ethical Investment Fund would complete divestment from fossil fuels by December 2019.

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager, said: ‘It is wonderful news that so many Christian organisations have made the decision to divest from fossil fuels, including the first Catholic dioceses in the UK to divest. We hope many more churches will join them in taking this prophetic step out of concern for those most affected by the climate crisis – especially people living in the world’s poorest communities.’ 

Climate action and divestment in 2020: why it matters

The announcement comes at the start of a vital year for climate action in the UK and globally. Last month, delegates from around the world met in Madrid for the UN climate summit (COP25), where UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is fast approaching the ‘point of no return’ on the climate crisis. The outcomes of COP25 are largely considered to have been disappointing and lacking in the major collective measures urgently needed to tackle the climate crisis.

In November 2020, the UK will host the UN climate talks for the first time, with COP26 taking place in Glasgow. In the lead up to COP26, environmental and civil society organisations hope to build on the momentum generated in the last year by climate protest movements such as Youth Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion.

Divestment is vital in the move to decarbonise our energy systems, and accelerate the urgently needed transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Last year, 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. Following this, 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 meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C.

Last week, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said that although cuts to investment in oil and gas companies are beginning to take place in the financial sector, the process is not moving fast enough. Carney made clear that all companies and financial institutions must explore their justification for continued investment in fossil fuels, warning of the increasing risk of “worthless” assets in the sector.

Could you get your local church or faith organisation to divest from fossil fuels? The next joint announcement, which Churches and Christian organisations of all denominations are invited to join, will be a global divestment announcement for faith institutions in late March 2020. Watch this space (or follow us on Twitter and Facebook) for further details!

Statements from leaders

Reverend Ruth Whitehead, Moderator of URC South Western Synod said: ‘The South Western Synod covers a beautiful part of God’s creation and we are very aware of our responsibility to be wise stewards. We therefore made the decision to divest from fossil fuels and also challenge everyone in the life of the Synod to ask themselves how best to respond to the climate emergency by cutting our carbon footprint. We are hopeful that as Christians we can help to build a more sustainable economy for the good of all God’s children.’

Sr Frances Orchard CJ, Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Jesus, said: ‘Our decision to divest from fossil fuels was motivated by our concern for our planet and climate justice for all who inhabit our world, especially those living in poverty. We had previously supported engagement with oil and gas companies, as we were impressed by the efforts of our investment managers to put pressure on those companies to change course. However, our younger members were rightly questioning our strategy, and our investment managers also become exasperated by the lack of integrity of the companies they were engaging with and agreed that the time had come to divest. We believe that divestment from fossil fuels is the right decision given the urgency of the change we need to see.’

Reverend Richard Dimery, Vicar of Pudsey Parish Church, in the Diocese of Leeds, said: ‘We have decided to divest from fossil fuels because as Christians we want to take seriously our response to the climate crisis. As a church we are trying to improve our environmental responsibility and this is an action of integrity which speaks clearly to the need to change the way we live, act and speak about our world.’

Jon Cape, Green Team Leader at Stirling Methodist Church, said: ‘Stirling Methodist Church has given unanimous support to divesting from fossil fuels, and supports the request by Methodist Conference to divest from any oil and gas company not aligned with the Paris Agreement targets by 2020. This is a necessary and prudent response to the climate emergency, both to protect God’s creation and to protect the value of our investments. We hope that the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church will complete divestment from fossil fuels this year. Scotland will host the critical UN climate talks (COP26) later this year and, as one of the first Scottish churches to divest, we hope that many more Scottish churches will join us this year in divesting from fossil fuels, and that together the Churches will play a leading role in speaking out for climate justice.’

The Epiphany Declaration for Fossil Free Churches

On the Epiphany, we remember the visit of the Magi to Jesus as a child. Known for their wisdom, they followed the star, in the hope that it would lead them to Jesus to bring him gifts and to worship him.

We wish for our investments to be made as a sign of hope, contributing to the flourishing of God’s creation, both now and for generations to come.

We support the campaign for fossil free Churches and, conscious of the impact of climate change on our sisters and brothers around the world – especially those living in poverty, we recognise the urgency of the need to shift from fossil fuels to a brighter, cleaner future.

Our church or religious community, therefore commits to divest any existing fossil fuel investments within the next five years (for churches with existing fossil fuel investments) and pledges not to invest in fossil fuels in the future.

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