29

Jun

2023

How the Church of England divested from fossil fuel companies

 

Operation Noah launched the Bright Now campaign in September 2013. Our campaign for fossil free Churches was kickstarted by the Fossil Free Tour a month later, which we organised alongside 350.org and People & Planet. Bill McKibben, US environmentalist and author who started the fossil fuel divestment movement in the US in 2012, spoke at events attended by 1,000+ people in London, Birmingham and Glasgow.

Quakers in Britain announced its decision to divest from fossil fuel companies in October 2013, becoming the first UK Church to do so.

Mobilising support for divestment in the Church of England

Following the launch of the Bright Now campaign, members of the Church of England, Methodist Church and Church of Scotland were among the first to call for divestment. In 2015, the Church of England General Synod debated an amendment proposed by the Revd Hugh Lee from the Diocese of Oxford, which called for a staged divestment from all fossil fuels that would begin immediately and be completed by 2020.  This amendment began as a motion from Oxford’s Diocesan Synod, where it was proposed by the Revd Dr Darrell Hannah and seconded by Revd Hugh Lee.

The July 2015 General Synod voted to support the National Investing Bodies’ motion to divest from coal and tar sands, although several amendments were passed on investment in renewable energy and calling for a framework for the CofE’s engagement with oil and gas companies. As a result of this process, the Transition Pathway Initiative was launched in January 2017 and used by the Church of England in its engagement with fossil fuel companies.

Major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant?

Momentum for divestment continued to grow, as a result of campaigning efforts in the CofE and other Church denominations. The 2017 Methodist Conference passed a motion calling for divestment from any fossil fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement by 2020.

The Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Steven Croft, proposed an amendment at the Church of England General Synod in July 2018, after a motion proposed by Revd Dr Darrell Hannah had been passed by Oxford Diocesan Synod in late 2017. The Oxford amendment called for divestment from oil and gas companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement by 2020. However, the National Investing Bodies argued that more time was needed for engagement with fossil fuel companies, and the General Synod, following a motion submitted by Revd Canon Giles Goddard, voted to support a deadline of 2023 for divestment from oil and gas companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement.

In recent years, Operation Noah has highlighted that no fossil fuel companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement, publishing our May 2020 report Church investment in major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant? 

Investment management companies launch fossil free funds

The United Reformed Church decision to divest in 2019 led to a major breakthrough in the campaign. A few months later, CCLA announced that its COIF Charities Ethical Investment Fund would no longer invest in fossil fuel companies – meaning that the United Reformed Church decision had an impact far beyond its own investments. In early 2020, CCLA’s Church of England (CBF) funds dropped investments in fossil fuel companies for financial reasons.

Anglican Communion divestment webinar and first CofE dioceses divest from fossil fuels

In March 2021, the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, Operation Noah, Christian Aid, Tearfund and Eco-congregation Scotland organised a powerful webinar on fossil fuel divestment across the Anglican Communion. The webinar included speakers from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Church of Ireland and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, which had already divested from fossil fuels.

The Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Steven Croft, announced the Diocese of Oxford’s divestment decision on the webinar, which, together with Bristol, was one of the first CofE dioceses to divest and join the May 2021 global divestment announcement, which was coordinated by Laudato Si’ Movement, Green Anglicans, Operation Noah, the World Council of Churches and GreenFaith.

Several UK Churches and CofE dioceses announce divestment ahead of COP26 

In the lead up to COP26, many UK Churches made the decision to divest from fossil fuel companies, including the Methodist Church, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland and the Baptist Union. Five days before COP26, 72 faith institutions, including 37 from the UK, participated in the largest-ever joint divestment announcement by religious organisations. By the end of 2021, six Church of England dioceses had announced their divestment.

Momentum for divestment in the Church of England builds in 2022

Church of England campaigners continued to call for divestment in 2022. An open letter from members of the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN), expressing their ‘deep concern and anger’ that the Church Commissioners were continuing to invest in ExxonMobil, was published in the Church Times in February 2022. CofE bishops and clergy, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, added their support in an open letter coordinated by Revd Canon John Nightingale.

By the summer of 2022, over 60 UK local churches, including many from the Church of England, had made divestment commitments.

Operation Noah joined members of YCCN and Christian Climate Action at prayer vigils outside Church House and during the Lambeth Conference, emphasising the importance of listening to the voices of communities in the Global South who had long been calling for the Church of England to move away from fossil fuel investments.

Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) vigil at Lambeth Conference

2023: The Church of England announces its divestment from fossil fuel companies

In early 2023, Operation Noah launched the 40 Days, 40 Dioceses campaign, which highlighted the CofE and Catholic dioceses that were yet to make fossil fuel divestment commitments. The Dioceses of London, Rochester and Lichfield led the way in announcing their divestment. By the end of Lent, more than half of Church of England dioceses and half of Catholic dioceses in England and Wales had made a full divestment commitment.

In May 2023, the Church Commissioners and Church of England Pensions Board voted against company directors at the Shell, BP, TotalEnergies and Occidental Petroleum AGMs, citing their inadequate climate plans.

In June 2023, the Church of England’s Church Commissioners and Pensions Board announced the historic decision to divest from all oil and gas companies for failing to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The news was covered in national and international press, including the Financial Times, Reuters, Telegraph and Guardian.

We hope the Church of England’s announcement, especially given its nearly decade long engagement with oil and gas companies, will give a boost to divestment campaigns in the UK and globally, encouraging many other investors to join them in accelerating the clean energy transition.

Read more on the potential impact of the Church of England’s divestment decision in the UK and globally.

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