I did so as part of the Church of England’s Pilgrimage to Paris. A hardy band of 40 pilgrims are spending two weeks walking the 200 miles from London to Paris to witness the Church of England’s support for – indeed call for – the agreement of a strong global climate change deal in Paris in December. The pilgrims are now in France and you can follow their progress on Twitter (#pilgrimage2Paris).
Why, as the Church Commissioners’ Head of Responsible Investment, did I join the pilgrims for a day? It wasn’t to enjoy the weather, for sure. During the leg I participated in, the pilgrims experienced their worst conditions to date as Storm Barney battered the south coast of England. We were lashed by driving rain and 60 mile-an-hour winds.
I had personal reasons for doing the walk. Climate change matters to me. As the Church’s lead bishop on the environment says, it is the biggest moral challenge of our age. I wanted to support the pilgrimage and its message and I will continue to do so, even if only through the comfort of my Twitter account.
The main reason I joined the pilgrimage, however, was to live out the relationship between where the Commissioners invest and what the Church of England believes. The Commissioners exist to support the mission and ministry of the Church across the country and our Responsible Investment activities seek to reflect the values of the Church. The Commissioners and the wider Church walk together. It is good to be reminded of this.
Back at my desk, my journey is a different one. It is the step by step work of implementing the climate change policy that the Commissioners announced in May this year. We started that journey with divestment from companies deriving more than 10% of their revenuesfrom the extraction of thermal coal or production of oil from oil sands.
Next we created a new framework for our energy infrastructure programme. We signed the Montreal Pledge on investment carbon footprinting. We assessed our low carbon investments – 4% of our portfolio qualifies for the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change’s Low Carbon Investment Registry – and we identified where opportunities might lie to do more. Recently we had got planning permission for the first renewable power scheme on our rural land portfolio, a solar farm in the north west of England.
Now we are busy working with ‘Aiming for A’ investor coalition partners on shareholder resolutions for companies in the UK-listed mining sector for next year’s AGMs as we seek to build on the success of the BP and Shell resolutions in this year’s voting season. Helen Wildsmith, founder of the Aiming for A initiative at CCLA, was walking alongside me on the pilgrimage.
Sometimes the headwinds impeding progress towards more assertive investor stewardship seem every bit as strong as those on the South Downs. But if the long term future of all our investments is to be safeguarded, and if the transition to a low carbon economy is to happen, investors will need to be more active as shareowners than they have ever been.
You may not be able to join the walk to Paris, but you can join the journey of stewardship. Co-file, pre-declare your support for the resolutions, or simply vote in favour, whatever your investing institution feels comfortable with. But please don’t stand still. Walk with us on the journey to a low carbon future. #pilgrimage2paris
Edward Mason is Head of Responsible Investment at the Church Commissioners for England.