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Church of England Pushes Forward on Divesting from Fossil Fuels

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Energy & Environment
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This week, the Church of England reaffirmed its stance on climate change by voting to divest from any fossil fuel company lacking decarbonization strategies not in alignment with the Paris Accords. The church’s governing body, the General Synod, voted 347 to 4 in favor of a plan that calls for divestment from any company not on track to meet the Paris Agreement by 2023.

This week’s vote was a slight change from the Church of England’s original plan, which was to unilaterally divest from any fossil fuel producers by 2020. The logic behind giving companies another three years to comply with the Paris Accords’ goals is that the faster timeline risked weakening any influence the church has on private companies to rethink their strategies. “Unilateral, whole-scale disinvestment from fossil fuel producers in 2020, or beginning in 2020 based on assessments in 2020, would leave our strategy, and influence, in tatters,” said David Walker, Bishop of Manchester and Deputy Chair of the Church Commissioners in a public statement.

Not everyone agreed with the Church of England’s strategy of engagement over faster divestment.

“Waiting until 2023 would mean another five years of money still invested in fossil fuels which could be instead used to support renewable energy and low-carbon projects. The fossil fuel industry had plenty of opportunities to redeem itself; it never did. They need to be stopped now,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org.

Sunday’s vote comes just a few days after Pope Francis urged world leaders to follow through on their climate change commitments, saying that unsustainable development would turn the planet into a pile of “rubble, deserts and refuse.” Last fall, the Catholic Church announced it would start divesting from the billions of dollars in energy company securities its churches have held. Watch for more governments to make similar moves: Ireland announced yesterday that its national investment fund would sell off all investments in oil, gas and peat, making the country the first in the world to take on such divestment.

In this era of more brands taking stands on climate change, many of the world’s most influential religious institutions are finding themselves aligned with the global business community. For example, France’s energy giant, Total, said this week it would sell off $1.5 billion worth of assets in North Sea oil fields. Earlier this year, Shell said in its annual report filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange commission that the oil and gas divestment movement “could have a material adverse effect on the price of our securities and our ability to access equity capital markets.”

Multiply the Church of England’s investment portfolio, worth about $16 billion, with other endowments across the world, and it’s becoming even more clear to the energy sector that the time to adapt to the 21st-century economy . . . was yesterday.

Image credit: Marco Verch/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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