United Reformed Church votes to divest from fossil fuels


The United Reformed Church (URC) unanimously approved a proposal to sell its investments in fossil fuel companies at a governing body meeting yesterday evening.

L-R: James Buchanan, Revd Alex Mabbs, Katie Henderson, Natalie Gibbs, AJ Mills, Revd Dr David Pickering, Mark Kirkbride

The resolution was brought to Mission Council, taking place in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, by the URC Synod of Scotland, which dropped its own fossil fuel investments in 2015.

It states that the URC should divest from companies involved in the extraction or supply of oil and gas by the time of its General Assembly in 2020, following divestment from coal and tar sands in 2015.

The paper also calls on the Church to shift its shareholder engagement efforts to other high-carbon industries such as the automotive sector, while “scaling up investment in renewable energy and clean technologies.” Mission Council further resolves to encourage other URC Synods and churches to follow their lead.

A proposal from the URC’s Investment Committee, to divest from fossil fuel companies that have not achieved “clear progress toward developing their business” to align with the Paris Agreement by the end of 2020, was rejected.

A different motion passed on Monday updated the URC’s environmental policy to endorse a UK target of “net zero emissions by well before 2050.”

The United Reformed Church holds £100m worth of equity investments to support the activities of the Church, including clergy salaries and pensions. An estimated 4% of the URC Trust’s £50m fund is invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator of the United Reformed Church National Synod of Scotland, said: “I strongly welcome the new United Reformed Church policy to end investments in fossil fuels and increase investment in the clean technologies of the future. This will enable us to shift our engagement towards companies in other high-carbon industries such as the automotive sector.”

“Together we can create a climate for real change,” he added.

Youth voice

URC Youth, which represents 18-25 year olds in the United Reformed Church, has played a leading role in pushing the Church to make a fossil fuel divestment pledge.

Natalie Gibbs, URC Youth Co-Moderator, said in a statement during the debate: “We believe that by divesting from fossil fuels we can support God’s creation on a scale that is now needed given our planet’s fragile condition,” adding: “It will be URC Youth members that have to live through and deal with this volatile future planet if change does not happen now.”

Ahead of the debate, URC Youth member and award-winning vlogger Isaac Harvey produced a powerful film entitled For the Love of Our Planet: Fossil Free Future, highlighting the impacts of climate change on the world’s poorest communities, and calling on the URC to divest at a national level.

Isaac Harvey’s short film, For the Love of Our Planet: Fossil Free Future

Growing climate concern

The United Reformed Church is one of over 1,000 institutions around the world, with more than $8 trillion worth of assets, that have made fossil fuel divestment pledges. They include half of UK universities, faith-based organisations such as Quakers in Britain and the Church of Ireland, and health institutions such as the Royal College of GPs.

The decision comes at a time of increasing concern about climate change, with the UK parliament recently declaring a “climate emergency” and widespread protest, including strikes led by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and “direct action” campaigns run by Extinction Rebellion, which have been supported by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the group Christian Climate Action.

Parliament is due to discuss the “financial and ethical risks of investments in fossil fuel companies” with regard to its pension fund next Wednesday.

Last month, the Christian climate charity Operation Noah organised a joint announcement for local churches divesting from fossil fuels. Eight local churches, including three URC churches, as well as the United Reformed Church Synod of Yorkshire, announced their divestment commitments as part of the ‘Easter Declaration for Fossil Free Churches.’

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “We are delighted that the United Reformed Church has decided to divest. This is a hugely positive response to the climate emergency. We hope many other Churches will join them in divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean alternatives.”

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