In this blog, Operation Noah’s Bright Now Campaign Officer Bokani Tshidzu writes about the leading role of Churches in the global fossil fuel divestment movement.
The urgency of the climate crisis has escalated and it demands a proportionate response. One of the most effective ways in which we can make the necessary and just transition is to divest (disinvest) from fossil fuel companies.
Divestment, which involves selling off shares in coal, oil and gas companies and making a commitment not to invest in fossil fuel companies in the future, is a strategic and practical step that makes an impact at the structural level. In this crucial year with the COP26 summit being held in Glasgow, UK Churches have a crucial part to play.
As major oil companies themselves have acknowledged, divestment makes it more expensive to raise funds to continue the exploration and extraction of new fossil fuel reserves. Furthermore, by removing the social licence from fossil fuel companies, divestment increases the pressure on governments to introduce legislation that further cuts demand for fossil fuels.
In 2021, many UK Churches have taken the important step of fully divesting from fossil fuels, including the Baptist Union, Church in Wales and the Church of Scotland.
The Methodist Church, one of the latest to divest, cited the slow pace of change by the oil companies. David Palmer, Chief Executive of the Central Finance of the Methodist Church, which oversees £1.3 billion of investments, said: ‘The patience of the Church has run out.’ He added: ‘The pace of change across the oil and gas sector has been inadequate and we welcome the recommendation of JACEI to disinvest.’ The Methodist Church has sold almost £21 million in shares in Shell.
This means that only the Church of England, Catholic Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church continue to hold shares in fossil fuels. Some dioceses have made the decision to divest, including 2 out of 42 dioceses in the Church of England and 4 out of 22 Catholic dioceses in England and Wales.
The case for continuing to hold investments in Shell has come under particular scrutiny, given its plans to increase gas production by 20 per cent in the next few years.
The ruling of the Dutch court in a case against Shell in May 2021, ordered the oil company to ensure its net carbon emissions were 45 per cent lower in 2030 than in 2019. This ruling, the first of its kind, shows that the oil company’s net zero ‘ambitions’ are not adequate to align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently called for an end to the exploration and development of oil reserves this year if we are to remain below the Paris Agreement target. Divestment is therefore the financially prudent choice to protect investments given the risk of stranded assets, as well as the cuts to dividends seen last year for the first time in three decades.
In this crucial year for climate action, Churches need to divest from fossil fuels, in order to speak out with integrity on the climate crisis. Churches can also accelerate the clean energy transition by investing in companies providing climate solutions.
Divest your church
The World Council of Churches, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Operation Noah, Green Anglicans and Green Faith invite faith institutions from around the world to join a global divestment announcement in October 2021.
If you would be interested in getting your local church or regional Church structures (dioceses and equivalents) to make a divestment commitment, we would be delighted to hear from you. For more information, visit the Bright Now website or get in touch with Bokani Tshidzu on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Could your local church hold a Climate Sunday service? Local churches across Great Britain and Ireland are invited to organise a climate-themed service on any Sunday between now and COP26 in November.
Operation Noah was invited to prepare the Climate Sunday theme on Climate and Finance, which explores fossil fuel divestment and investment in clean alternatives and includes a blog and resources for a climate-themed service, prayers, videos and actions.