Methodist Church edges towards fossil fuel disinvestment but fails to commit


In a new climate change policy, the Methodist Church has set criteria for excluding tar sands and thermal coal companies, but fails to join a growing list of fossil free churches, public bodies and leading charitable trusts by sending a clear signal that it will disinvest.

The policy, ‘Climate Change – Ethical Implications for Different Fuels’, suggests that the Methodist Church is considering the possibility of disinvestment, stating that it may exclude companies devoted to tar sands or thermal coal production, as well as those exploring new reserves which, if burned, will reduce the likelihood of reaching emissions reduction targets. However, it also suggests that the Church will continue to engage with fossil fuel companies, despite shareholder engagement strategies over the last several decades failing to convince companies to make major changes. Companies such as Shell have explicitly committed to increase their exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, and to continue developing unconventional extraction methods such as Arctic drilling.

A growing number of churches around the world have already committed to disinvest in response to the fact that 80% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. Those who have taken this step include the Quakers in Britain, the United Reformed Church of Scotland, the Church of Sweden, the Uniting Church in Australia and the World Council of Churches.

Pressure on the Methodist Church to disinvest and switch investments to clean energy alternatives has been steadily growing. Over the last two months, three resolutions have been passed by local churches calling on the Methodist Church to disinvest from oil, gas and coal companies. These will be debated at Methodist Conference this summer.

Revd David Haslam, who proposed the resolution from Stratford and Evesham Circuit, says, ‘The Methodist Church’s policy on climate change is encouraging, and recognises that “riches gained at the expense of irreparable damage to the environment do not constitute wise stewardship of God’s creation”. Unfortunately, the Church has been doing just that for twenty years or more, drawing income from the major energy companies who know what damage their products cause, but have failed to make the change to renewable energy. After disinvesting, the Church can continue to engage with such companies through the promise of reinvestment when that change is being made.’

Responding to the Church’s new policy, Ellie Roberts, divestment campaigner for Bright Now, says, ‘While the Methodist Church has taken positive action by setting exclusion criteria, this report does not go far enough quickly enough. Given the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, the Church should be sending the clearest possible signal to fossil fuel companies that they need to switch their business strategies to solving – rather than hastening – climate change. We believe it is time for the Church to take a prophetic and leading role by aligning its investment policy with its strong theological commitment on climate change. We hope that the Methodist Conference will seize an historic opportunity this summer by backing calls from local churches to disinvest by 2018.’

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