Hundreds join Methodist divestment webinar with Bill McKibben


On Tuesday 16 February, nearly 400 hundred people joined a webinar on fossil fuel divestment in the Methodist Church organised by Operation Noah, Christian Aid and the Methodist Zero Carbon Group.

The webinar, entitled The Climate Emergency, COP26 and Fossil Fuel Divestment, explored how the Methodist Church can support a just and green recovery from Covid-19 by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean alternatives.

Speakers on the webinar included 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and Carbon Tracker founder Mark Campanale, as well as Methodist divestment campaigners Martha Rand, Sheridan Pengelly, Michael Pryke and John Howard. James Buchanan from Operation Noah spoke about our report Church investments in major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant?

There has been growing support in the Methodist Church for divestment from fossil fuels. In June 2020, 260 Methodists (including 114 ministers) signed a letter calling for the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church to fully divest. The Methodist Council passed a resolution on divestment in October 2020. Several Methodist churches have already announced their decision to divest from fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben, the author and environmentalist who co-founded 350.org and started the global fossil fuel divestment movement, was the keynote speaker on the webinar. Speaking about the moral imperative to divest from fossil fuels, he applauded people of faith for sending ‘a powerful moral signal’ that greenhouse gases must be reduced.

Reflecting on the UN climate talks in November, Bill McKibben felt a renewed ethical solidarity would emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that COP26 ‘will be the most important [summit] since Paris in 2015’ and ‘could be a moment of great hope and great power.’

Mark Campanale, whose groundbreaking research with Carbon Tracker has highlighted the risks of continued investment in fossil fuels, spoke about the financial risk of fossil fuel investments. He agreed with Bill McKibben that ‘divestment is not just a moral imperative, but clearly a financial one.’

He reported that despite the Paris Agreement and the green claims of the big players in the fossil fuel industry, such as Shell, these fossil fuel companies ‘are not diverting from business as usual’. However ‘the arrival of cheaper clean technology has wiped out the value off dirty investments’ and investors are ‘jumping into’ solar and wind stocks.

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, reported that there is clear evidence that fossil fuel companies are not aligned with the Paris Agreement targets. He spoke about the impact that churches are having by making joint global divestment announcements.

Martha Rand, a representative of the Methodist Youth Assembly and Vice Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group, spoke powerfully about how the new generation of Methodists is responding to the climate emergency. She proposed the motion at Methodist Conference in July 2020 on divestment.

Sheridan Pengelly, Vice Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group, shared the experience of a local church divesting from fossil fuels. She said: ‘As trustees of church finances, we have a trust placed in us, a legal, moral and spiritual responsibility to be wise stewards.’

Revd John Howard, former Chair of JACEI (the Methodist Church’s ethical investment advisory group), joined the speaker panel for the Q&A section of the event. The webinar was chaired by Michael Pryke, Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group and former Methodist Youth President.

The webinar saw the launch of the Methodist Divestment Guide, a resource explaining how Methodist churches, Circuits and Districts can divest from fossil fuels. This resource can be used alongside the Divest your church step-by-step guide on the Bright Now website.

If you would like to join other Methodist divestment campaigners and keep up to date with developments on this issue, contact the Methodist Zero Carbon Group on methodistzerocarbongroup@gmail.com.

Participants were invited to join the next global divestment announcement for faith organisations on Monday 17 May. If you would be interested in getting your local church, Circuit or District to make a divestment commitment as part of this joint announcement, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please get in touch with Bokani Tshidzu on bokani.tshidzu@operationnoah.org for further information or to register your interest.

Operation Noah would like to thank the 380 people who joined the webinar live, especially our guest speakers for their inspiring contributions. You can watch the webinar here, and please do share it with others!

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