Doctors’ divestment exposes Churches’ ‘never’ regions


The vote by members of the British Medical Association to divest from fossil fuel companies leaves UK Churches with stakes in oil, coal and gas, and those who say ‘never’ to disinvestment, looking exposed.

The decision at the BMA’s annual meeting in Harrogate on 25th June, follows an editorial in the British Medical Journal earlier this year which called for divestment. It is backed by the Climate and Health Council, as well as health charities Medact and Healthy Planet UK.

The speed and intent with which the BMA (not known as a hot bed of environmental radicalism) has moved on this issue is striking. This decision was influenced by the five reasons to divest that were issued by campaign groups from Medact, Healthy Planet UK and the Climate and Health Council.

Substitute ‘BMA’ with ‘the Church of England’, ‘the Methodist Church’ or any other denomination (bar the Quakers who have already made the decision to disinvest) and you are left with statements which are surely aligned with Church policies on climate change, though not with their investment policies.

  1. It goes against the BMA’s values, objectives and responsibilities to invest in the fossil fuel industry given its role in creating the ‘greatest global health threat of the 21st century’ and its contribution to several million deaths from air pollution.
  2. A transition to a less carbon-intensive society, meanwhile, promotes health ‘co-benefits’ including cleaner air, increased active transport, healthier diets and many others.
  3. The global carbon budget means that the majority of the industry’s assets will become stranded if international climate change mitigation policy is enacted, making divestment a sensible long-term management strategy.
  4. Fossil-free portfolios have had similar performance to those including fossil fuels in recent years, sometimes outperforming them.
  5. This is an opportunity for the BMA to take the lead and demonstrate the health profession’s commitment to a sustainable future, enabling it to advocate more effectively on issues related to climate change and sustainability.

Put like that, what is there (for Churches) not to like about divesting?

BMA members appear comfortable with the fact that in the real world it is not possible to improve public health while at the same time investing in companies, products or services that damage public health.

Let’s hope that those within national Churches who, like Operation Noah, argue that it is nonsensical to try and implement policies to limit global warming, while actively investing in companies doing the very things guaranteed to make it worse, are heard, quickly.

Trying to have it both ways is leaving Churches looking dangerously exposed and, as any doctor will tell you, that is rarely a pretty sight.

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Mark Letcher, Vice-Chair of Operation Noah