The official Church of England announced Thursday that it had divested its holdings of all investments in tar sands and thermal coal companies.
The mother church of the world’s Anglican Communion divested a total of $18.42 million in coal and tar sands investments from its holdings, a move that the church said is part of a larger goal of helping the globe make the transition to a lower-carbon economy. From now on, the church — which counts about 26 million baptized English residents as its members — will not invest in companies that generate more than 10 percent of their revenue from thermal coal or tar sands.
“Climate change is already a reality,” Reverend Canon Professor Richard Burridge, deputy chair of the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group, said in a statement. “The Church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor who are most vulnerable to climate change.”
The church’s investment portfolio totals about $12.1 billion. According to the Guardian, if the church divested its portfolio of all fossil fuel stock, including oil and gas companies, it would be the largest institution in the world to do so.
Bishop Nick Holtam, the Church of England’s lead Bishop on the environment, said in a statement that climate change “is the most pressing moral issue in our world.”
“Change is happening rapidly, I therefore particularly welcome the commitment to regularly review the policy recommendations in the light of our knowledge and experience,” he said.
This isn’t the first strong statement the Church of England has made on climate change. In 2014, when the church was deliberating over whether or not to divest its holdings, it said that it would stop investing in companies that fail to fight the “great demon” of climate change. The church also made clear, however, that it believed divestment was a “final option,” and that ultimately, humans must examine their way of life, which relies on “plentiful, cheap energy,” if climate change is to be addressed.
The church said last year that it sees tackling climate change as a way to engage with younger generations.
“At the moment, the church is perceived by most young people as supremely irrelevant,” Canon Giles Goddard said. “This is a significant opportunity for churches to engage with a new constituency, and it’s important that we take it.”
Though the church has divested its holdings from some fossil fuel sources, at least one of its prominent members has ties to the oil industry. Justin Welby, who worked for 11 years in the oil industry, became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013. In that role, Welby serves as the Anglican church’s spiritual leader and is also the senior bishop in the Church of England.
The Church of England’s announcement comes during a week of focus on climate change by the Catholic Church. On Tuesday, scientists, policy-makers, religious leaders, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held a summit on climate change. The summit was held in the lead-up to Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, an influential church document that’s expected to be released this summer.
At the end of the summit, leaders released a statement emphasizing that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality” and “its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.” It also warned that the November U.N. climate talks in Paris may be the world’s last chance to negotiate a deal to limit climate change to 2°C.
“In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role,” the document states. “These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home.”
Other religious institutions have made commitments in recent years to tackle climate change. The World Council of Churches, a global coalition of 345 churches including the Church of England, announced last year that it would pull investments of all fossil fuels. Union Theological Seminary in New York also announced it would be divesting from fossil fuels last year, becoming the first seminary to do so.
Some Evangelicals, too, want to see more action on climate change: the Evangelical Environmental Network emphasizes that, because God created the Earth and its creatures, humans have a duty to look after that creation — and action on climate change is part of that care.