On Wednesday, the Church of England’s parliamentary body announced that it was considering redirecting its investments in an effort to battle climate change. The motion put forward, which called for the Church to recognize “the damage being done to the planet through the burning of fossil fuels,” received overwhelming support.
“Climate Change is a moral issue because the rich world has disproportionately contributed to it and the poor world is disproportionately suffering,” Canon Goddard said.
According to the Church of England’s official statement, the passing of the motion makes clear that the Church’s investment policies are “aligned with the theological, moral and social priorities” of the Church on climate change.
“The threat of climate change is a giant evil, a great demon of our day,” said the Right Reverend Stephen Croft. “The damage this great demon will do to this beautiful earth if unchecked, is unimaginable.”
The U.K. is currently experiencing the worst rainfall for this time of year in 250 years of records, which has lead to widespread flooding and over 130 severe flood warnings this year. This has inundated homes and communities, cut off transportation links, and may lead to an outbreak in bacterial diseases that thrive in damp conditions.
The Church Commissioners manage around £5.2 billion, or $8.5 billion, in investments. Royal Dutch Shell, BP, BHB Billiton, a mining and petroleum company, and Rio Tinto, another mining company, are all in their top ten investments. The Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group aims to keep these investments in align with the broader ethical considerations of the Church.
While the Church has said it prefers actively engaging companies to improve their practices, rather than threatening divestment, it sees divestment as an option when other efforts fail. However, it sees the broader ethical issue as one that can’t just be solved by quickly shifting finances.
“Pointing the finger at the extractive industries gets us off the hook and avoids the fundamental problem which is our selfishness and our way of life, which has been fuelled by plentiful, cheap energy and more and more people around the world wanting that,” Rev Canon Professor Richard Burridge said.
According to Burridge, the Church has influenced 72 percent of the companies they target with investment and engagement, prompting them to improve their emissions profile.
The Church also sees its action on climate change as a way to invest in younger generations. “At the moment, the church is perceived by most young people as supremely irrelevant,” said Canon Giles Goddard. “This is a significant opportunity for churches to engage with a new constituency, and it’s important that we take it. I know that Christiana Figueras, the chair of the IPCC, believes that the faith groups across the world should be much more vocal in our response to the reality of climate change. The motion is trying to help that to happen.”
However, when it comes to the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, which is threatening to flood the U.K. as demand for cheap natural gas overwhelms local and environmental concerns, the Church of England has a less clear-cut position.
In a statement released in August, the Church said that there are a number of factors to take into account when considering the issue, including fuel poverty, stating that “blanket opposition to further exploration for new sources of fuel fails to take into account those who suffer most when resources are scarce.”
“Clearly all carbon based fuels contribute to global warming and are less than ideal in terms of climate change. However, it should also be recognized that gas is less damaging than coal and to preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely.”
The Church has been accused of trying to invest in fracking, as it has started to try and register mineral rights underneath Church property. The Church has denied these claims, saying is has no particular plan to mine under any property and is simply following registration requirements, but did not rule out the possibility. “The Church Commissioners manage the church’s extensive investments and their financial decisions sometimes clash with the clergy’s ethical positions,” reported The Telegraph.