Global divestment announcement: Divest your church in the year of COP26


Together with our friends at the Global Catholic Climate Movement, World Council of Churches, Green Anglicans and GreenFaith, Operation Noah is delighted to launch the next global divestment announcement for faith organisations, which will take place on 26 October 2021.

The global divestment announcement, which will take place as the UK prepares to host the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November, offers an opportunity to faith organisations – at national, regional and local levels – to highlight the urgent need to divest from fossil fuel companies and invest in solutions to the climate crisis.

In 2021, many UK Churches have taken the important step of fully divesting from fossil fuels, including the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union, Church in Wales and the Church of Scotland.

This means that, among the major UK Church denominations, only the Church of England, Catholic Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church continue to hold shares in fossil fuels. Some dioceses have already decided to divest, including 2 out of 42 dioceses in the Church of England and 4 out of 22 Catholic dioceses in England and Wales.

The Church of England’s Diocese of Bristol joined the global divestment announcement in May 2021 (Photo credit: Diocese of Bristol)

Fossil fuel companies continue to explore for more oil and gas and obstruct climate action

Earlier this month, Channel 4 revealed that fossil fuel companies including BP, Shell and ExxonMobil have lobbied the UK government ahead of COP26 for ‘greater recognition of the role of [fossil] gas’ so that fossil fuels continue to be a ‘vital part of the solution’. Despite its net zero ‘ambitions’, BP has also lobbied the EU to support fossil gas.

As the Church Commissioners continue to invest in US oil giant ExxonMobil, a senior Exxon lobbyist has been caught on camera revealing how the company continues to obstruct and weaken US climate legislation

The case for continued investment in Shell has come under particular scrutiny in recent weeks, given its plans to increase gas production by 20 per cent in the next few years.

In May, a Dutch court ruling ordered Shell to ensure that its net carbon emissions were 45 per cent lower in 2030 than in 2019. This ruling, the first of its kind, shows that the oil company’s net zero ‘ambitions’ are not adequate to align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The court ruling against Shell came just a few days after the Shell AGM, in which the Church of England Pensions Board voted with the oil giant to pass the company’s new energy transition plan. The Church Times reported that Shell’s strategy involves plans to seek out new fossil fuel reserves for years to come. The company said: ‘We have attractive exploration opportunities in the first half of this decade.’

On the same day as the Shell AGM, the International Energy Agency (IEA) gave its strongest warning yet on the need to drastically scale back fossil fuels. The IEA released a report stating that the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year if the world was to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – a goal of the Paris Agreement.

There are also calls from the global South for divestment from fossil fuels, in solidarity with communities suffering from the activities of the fossil fuel companies.

The Bishop of Nampula, in Northern Mozambique, the Rt Revd Ernesto Manuel, wrote in May: ‘Fossil fuel investments increase climate change and impacts on those most vulnerable, and also destabilise communities… We plead with the international community – take your money out of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy which is decentralised, benefits local people, and does not contribute to climate change.’

Fossil fuel companies are also coming under pressure for their destructive impacts on biodiversity. A report in the Independent has revealed that BP is planning to drill for fossil gas on the edge of the world’s largest cold-water coral reef on the west coast of Africa, raising the risk of biodiversity loss, further global heating and toxic fuel spills. 

In June 2020, the Vatican recommended fossil fuel divestment in its first-ever set of comprehensive environmental guidelines. The document, entitled Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home: Five Years After Laudato Si’, was released on the fifth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’. The guidelines frame investing in fossil fuels as an ethical choice, on a par with other significant ethical choices.

Divestment works

The UN Environment Programme noted the effectiveness of divestment in its November 2019 report, The Production Gap: ‘Through fossil fuel divestment campaigns and other efforts, civil society groups and investors have placed social, political, and economic pressure on governments and companies to move away from supporting fossil fuel production.’

Even the major oil companies are acknowledging the impact of divestment. Shell’s 2018 annual report stated: ‘Some groups are pressuring certain investors to divest their investments in fossil fuel companies. If this were to continue, it could have a material adverse effect on the price of our securities and our ability to access equity capital markets.’ In other words, divestment is making it more expensive for oil and gas companies to raise finance for exploration, extraction and production of fossil fuels.

The growing financial risk of fossil fuel investments

In December 2019, former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, spoke about the risk of investors in fossil fuel companies being left with ‘stranded assets’, noting that oil and gas companies have not been a good investment in recent years.

In July 2020, one of the Church of England’s three National Investing Bodies, which is managed by investment management company CCLA, sold its last remaining shares in fossil fuel companies. CCLA, whose CBF funds manage investments on behalf of most Church of England dioceses and many local CofE churches, said it had dropped its investments in oil giants Shell and Total for financial reasons.

While this is great news, the Church of England’s Church Commissioners, Pensions Board and many dioceses still collectively hold tens of millions of pounds of shares in fossil fuel companies. We’re encouraging Anglicans who feel passionate about divestment to use the hashtag #DivestCofE on social media, and encourage their local churches and dioceses to make divestment commitments.

Divest your church

If you would be interested in getting your local church, regional Church structures (dioceses and equivalents) or religious order to make a divestment commitment, we would be delighted to hear from you.

This involves making a commitment to divest (disinvest) any investments in fossil fuel companies within a five year timeframe and a pledge not to invest in fossil fuels in the future. Even if your church doesn’t currently hold any fossil fuel investments (for instance if it only has a bank account), it can make a powerful statement by pledging not to invest in fossil fuels in the future.

Please get in touch with Bokani Tshidzu on bokani.tshidzu@operationnoah.org by 18 October 2021 for more information or to register your interest.

Global divestment announcement statement: October 2021

The World Council of Churches, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Operation Noah, Green Anglicans and GreenFaith invite faith organisations from around the world to join a global fossil fuel divestment announcement on 26 October 2021.

The global announcement, which will take place shortly after the UN biodiversity conference (COP15) and before the G20 Leaders’ Summit and UN climate talks (COP26), will emphasise the urgent moral imperative to divest from fossil fuels, given their destructive impacts on climate, biodiversity and human rights.

Fossil fuel divestment is a powerful act of faith that hundreds of religious institutions around the world have taken to respond to the climate emergency. It increases pressure on governments and financial institutions to end financing for the fossil fuel industry. Furthermore, an increasing number of faith investors are investing in solutions to the climate crisis, and providing access to clean, affordable energy, including zero-carbon energy solutions for the 800 million people without access to electricity.

Any groups interested in joining the announcement will confirm (i) that they have divested from fossil fuel investments; or (ii) that they will divest from any investments in fossil fuels as soon as possible, and within five years at the latest; or (iii) that they do not hold any fossil fuel investments and will not invest in fossil fuels in the future.

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