Church investments in major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant?


Our new Bright Now report, ‘Church investments in major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant?’, calls on Churches to urgently divest from fossil fuels in response to the climate emergency. The report shows the gap between the business plans of major oil companies and the Paris Agreement targets.

Download the report
Download the Executive Summary

Climate science and the increasing urgency of action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in October 2018 showed the need for rapid emissions cuts in order to limit global average temperature rises to 1.5°C.

As Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has said: ‘When it comes to rises in global average temperature, every fraction of a degree matters.’

Major oil companies are not Paris compliant

Our report highlights that Shell and BP intend to spend huge sums on exploration and extraction of new reserves this decade ($149 billion and $71 billion respectively). Shell and BP also plan to increase oil and gas production by 38% and 20% respectively between 2018 and 2030, when global carbon emissions must fall by 55% by 2030 in order to limit global average temperature rises to 1.5°C, according to the 2019 UN Emissions Gap report.

The report draws on research from various key sources, including Carbon Tracker’s Breaking the Habit report and the Transition Pathway Initiative 2020 State of Transition Report, both of which demonstrate that none of the major oil companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement targets.

The report also draws attention to the fact that BP and Shell, which spend the most among the major oil companies on lobbying against climate action, belong to trade associations such as the American Petroleum Institute that have successfully lobbied for weaker environmental regulation during the Covid-19 crisis.

2020: A year to choose the future

The year 2020 has taken on a new significance as a year of stark choice: the climate emergency is still happening, and the decisions we make now will shape our ability to safeguard a liveable planet and affect the future of humanity for thousands of years. What future will UK Churches choose? Will they continue investing in companies that are fuelling climate breakdown, or will they invest in a clean energy future where all life can flourish?

Several UK Churches have already divested from fossil fuels, including Quakers in Britain, the Church of Ireland, the United Reformed Church and two Catholic dioceses.

The 2017 Methodist Conference called for the Central Finance Board to divest from oil and gas companies whose business investment plans were not aligned with the Paris Agreement target of a global average temperature rise well below 2°C by 2020. Based on the research we have outlined in this report, the Methodist Church should divest from all fossil fuel companies now.

The Church of England General Synod in July 2018 voted to begin divestment in 2020 from oil and gas companies that are ‘not taking seriously their responsibilities’ in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and complete divestment from those not on track to align with the Paris Agreement by 2023. Yet with all major oil companies planning to significantly increase production in the next decade, none of them can really be considered as taking their responsibilities seriously.

In other Churches, such as the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church, Church bodies have made divestment recommendations for ethical reasons, and these should be followed through as a matter of urgency. Some Catholic dioceses and religious orders have already divested from fossil fuel companies, and the report urges the remaining dioceses in England, Wales and Scotland to join them and the 150 Catholic institutions globally that have already made divestment commitments.

Divestment from fossil fuels and investment in the future

In recent years, the global divestment movement has grown rapidly. The assets under management of divesting institutions have risen from $52 billion in 2014 to more than $14 trillion today. Even the oil companies themselves are acknowledging the impact of divestment!

As well as divestment from fossil fuels, increased investment in clean technologies is vital to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Churches must seize the opportunity to demonstrate prophetic leadership at this key moment in history and build a brighter, cleaner future for all.

James Buchanan, Operation Noah’s Bright Now Campaign Manager, said: ‘All major oil companies continue to spend huge sums on the exploration and extraction of new fossil fuel reserves, as well as lobbying against climate action. The evidence is overwhelming that none of these companies are ‘Paris compliant’. We strongly encourage Churches to demonstrate moral leadership at this key moment in history by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future.’

Support for the Bright Now report

Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘The current health crisis has highlighted as never before the need for coherent international action in the face of global threat.  Can we learn the lesson and apply it to the global threat of climate change?  To do so means taking practical and effective steps to reduce our lethal dependence on fossil fuels, and this report challenges the Churches to take these steps as a matter of urgency.’

Revd Michaela Youngson, former President of the Methodist Conference: ‘The use of fossil fuels continues to have a devastating impact on the environment and, as is so often the case, it is the poorest communities that suffer most due to climate change. It is time to move from dependence on fossil fuels and to commit to investing in clean energy. For Christians this is a matter of good stewardship of God’s creation and a practical way to love our neighbours.’

Revd Dr Dave Gregory, former Baptist Union President and climate scientist: ‘I am grateful for the work of the Bright Now campaign for inspiring our action and continued discussions on divestment, as the Baptist Together family of churches picks up the pace in joining God’s mission to care for creation. This report shows that urgent action is needed on the climate emergency, and that the time has come for Churches to divest from fossil fuel companies.’

Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, Head of Christian Aid Scotland: ‘The time is now – to realign our investment and commitment, moving away from fossil fuel dependence and towards a renewable future. The time is now – to reimagine our world and our priorities. The time is now – to remember that we are one global family, with one shared home. This report inspires and informs Churches, offering practical steps and compelling arguments that the world cannot wait any longer for faith-filled action.’

Bright Now Report webinar

In addition to the report we will be hosting an interactive webinar in the first week of June to share and discuss key findings of the report. More details to follow soon!

Read the report

Copies of the report are available to download from the link below. 

Divest your church

If you would be interested in getting your local church to make a divestment commitment or encouraging divestment in your Church denomination, we would be delighted to hear from you! Find out more on our Divest your church step-by-step guide or get in touch with James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager, on james.buchanan@operationnoah.org.

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