Three more churches pledge to divest from fossil fuels


At the beginning of the Season of Creation, Operation Noah invited local churches to join the growing fossil fuel divestment movement. We are delighted that three more churches have now taken this step.

Photo credit: Andrew Mathewson

Selkirk Parish Church in the Scottish Borders; St John’s, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire; and Vine United Reformed Church, Ilford, Essex, have all made divestment commitments.

Each had different motivations for divesting, but all agree on the urgent need to tackle climate change, for the sake of communities around the world already experiencing its devastating effects, as well as future generations.

David Bethune is the Programme Coordinator of Eco-Congregation Scotland, a Christian charity that supports churches in addressing environmental issues. His local church of Selkirk decided to divest from fossil fuels following the Church of Scotland General Assembly debate on divestment earlier this year.

David explained that keeping investments in fossil fuel companies which are continuing to explore for ever more reserves was at odds with the church’s stated policy not to invest in companies whose activities are ‘felt to harm society more than they benefit it’.

He referred to the Pope’s meeting with oil executives in June, at which Pope Francis expressed his concerns about ‘the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground’.

Emphasising the limitations of engagement with fossil fuel companies, David pointed to the ‘failure of the Church of Scotland’s policy of engagement to bring about significant change in the policies and practices of Shell, BP and Total’.

Peter Musgrave, whose local URC church in Ilford has pledged not to invest in fossil fuels in the future, said that time is running out to reduce emissions: ‘Every year seems to be the hottest on record both here in England and around the world, and weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable.’

As a former USPG Mission Partner who worked with the Church of Bangladesh for several years, Peter said that he had ‘seen the effects of climate change first-hand, especially among those living by rivers or in coastal areas, who suffer from cyclones, rising sea levels and drought’.

The argument for divestment isn’t only ethical, however: it can also increase financial pressure on companies, as Matt Pitcher, the Treasurer of St John’s, Hartley Wintney, highlighted: ‘Engagement with fossil fuel companies isn’t working. Divesting is the only way to have a clear conscience and apply financial pressure on these companies to force them to change their business model’.

Add to this the risks of fossil fuel investments becoming ‘stranded assets’, as a result of global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement targets, and it’s clear there are strong reasons to divest.

A message to national Churches

The increasing number of local churches taking this step presents a challenge to their respective national investing bodies which still hold shares in fossil fuel companies.

The United Reformed Church is expected to discuss the issue in the coming months, and Peter is keen to urge the URC, along with other local and national Churches, to ‘divest from fossil fuels and to invest in renewables’.

David similarly felt the Church of Scotland should be ‘leading the way for others’ and hoped that Selkirk’s decision to divest would encourage other local churches to follow suit.

If your church would be interested in making a divestment commitment, please read our ‘Divest your church’ guide and get in touch with any questions. We are hoping to make another joint announcement early next year, so watch this space!

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