Pressure increases on the Church of England to divest from fossil fuels


The Church of England’s National Investing Bodies are coming under increasing pressure to divest from fossil fuel companies. An open letter from Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) has been followed by General Synod questions and recent press coverage highlighting links between key individuals at the CofE and the fossil fuel industry.

Members of Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) arrive in Glasgow for COP26.

Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) open letter calls for divestment from Exxon

An open letter from members of the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) expressing their ‘deep concern and anger that the Church Commissioners are making special exceptions to continue investing in ExxonMobil’ was published in the Church Times at the start of this month.

The letter refers to comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace on 20 October, when he said that the Church of England’s National Investing Bodies would ‘disinvest immediately’ from any companies that did not meet its milestones. The signatories of the letter call for the Church Commissioners to show moral leadership and divest from ExxonMobil now.

CofE General Synod members question investment in fossil fuel companies

Members of the Church of England General Synod have also raised questions about continued investment in oil and gas companies (see Q102-104 and Q112-115), including Exxon, Shell and TotalEnergies.

The Church Commissioners were asked about continued investment in Exxon following the decision of the CofE’s National Investing Bodies to put the company on a restricted list. The question submitted by Paul Waddell, a lay member of General Synod from the Diocese of Southwark, highlights that Nest, the UK’s largest pension fund, recently divested from Exxon due to its lack of progress on climate risks.

The First Church Estates Commissioner responded that the Church Commissioners are waiting to see the impact of three new directors, despite Exxon’s plans to increase expenditure on oil and gas drilling by up to 45% in 2022, and therefore would continue to engage with the company.

General Synod members also questioned the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), which is used by the Church of England to inform its continued investment in the oil and gas industry. Revd Ruth Newton from the Diocese of Leeds, who chairs the General Synod Environment Group, asked whether the International Energy Agency conclusions that there can be no new oil and gas developments in order to limit global average temperature rises to 1.5°C were included in the TPI.

Revd Ruth Newton raised concerns that companies such as TotalEnergies, which are considered by the TPI to be on a 1.5°C-aligned pathway by 2050, are continuing to explore for new fossil fuel reserves. Cathy Rhodes from the Diocese of Sheffield asked what the National Investing Bodies are doing to raise concerns about TotalEnergies’ plans to increase Arctic oil and gas production by 28% by 2030.

The Church of England Pensions Board were also asked about Shell’s recent plans to conduct seismic blasting in South Africa and the reasons why Shell had not been mentioned in a recent press release from the National Investing Bodies, which made reference to a number of other oil and gas companies.

Articles in The Guardian and DeSmog highlight conflict of interest

Earlier this week, the Guardian and DeSmog published articles on oil industry ties to the Church of England’s National Investing Bodies, with concerns that these may cause conflicts of interest. The articles highlight that various senior figures on the Church of England Pensions Board and Church Commissioners have current or former ties to major oil and gas companies including Shell, Drax and BP and their funders.

Revd Dr Darrell Hannah, Chair of Operation Noah, issued the following statement: ‘We are deeply concerned by the Church of England National Investing Bodies’ ties to the fossil fuel industry, which raise significant questions around conflicts of interest. How can the CofE Pensions Board continue to lead engagement with Shell on behalf of Climate Action 100+, when the Chair of the Pensions Board is the former CEO of Shell Canada? And why did the Pensions Board support Shell’s energy transition plan, which includes a 20% gas production increase in the next few years?’

‘Christians with strong financial ties to high-polluting companies are clearly compromised in taking the urgent action now needed against those companies. We urge Clive Mather and others to reconsider their position.’

Take action: Divest your church or join a CofE divestment listening training session

Operation Noah is organising regular training sessions on how to run a listening meeting on Church of England divestment. Find out more and sign up here.

If you would be interested in getting your local church or diocese to make a divestment commitment, we would be delighted to hear from you. Look at our Divest your church step-by-step guide and get in touch with Bokani Tshidzu on bokani.tshidzu@operationnoah.org to ask questions or express your interest.

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