Updated: Nigerian civil society voices anger at Church of England ‘lending its moral and financial authority to Shell’ on climate

NGOs cite Nigeria’s “horrendous” experience with Shell and ‘unrealistic’ climate plan

A group of Nigerian NGOs has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury saying they are “extremely disappointed and concerned to see that the Church of England Pensions Board (CEBP) is lending its moral and financial authority to Shell” and urged it to rethink plans to support the oil major’s climate plan at its annual meeting next week.

Investors are already divided on Shell’s climate transition strategy. The CEPB, which leads Climate Action 100+’s engagement with Shell in partnership with Dutch investment manager Robeco, has said it is “likely” to vote in favour of its new climate plan. But its approach is at odds with fellow faith-based investors, and increasing number of whom are divesting fossil fuels on climate grounds. 

Investors such as Sarasin & Partners and hedge fund The Children’s Investment Fund (TCI) have said they plan to vote against Shell’s climate plan, which seeks to outline its strategy for decarbonising by 2050. 

Speaking recently on the issue, TCI’s Sir Chris Hohn has said it was important to “call out” investors that support insufficient climate plans while claiming to be active on the issue. 

Now, just days before Shell’s AGM, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), has penned a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who appoints the chair and some of the trustees of CEBP, saying: “It is not acceptable for the Church to sign off on a Shell plan for this decade that makes no absolute carbon emission reduction pledges, includes huge increases in gas production, and relies on improbably large amounts of tree-planting.”

They go on to warn that Shell’s rush for ‘nature-based solutions’ might lead to further ‘carbon colonialism’, slavery and human rights violations in the global south. 

The current approach to Net Zero “simply means polluting and assuming the equivalent amount of carbon is absorbed by trees or is mechanically captured and stored by an assortment of risk and unregulated geoengineering proposals,” they continued.

“Endorsing Shell’s plan is akin to handing the corporation a right to toy with planetary systems while the poor and vulnerable continue to fight a losing battle against global warming.”

The ANEEJ says the CEPB’s responsibility on the matter is “even weightier” given its relationship with Shell as part of Climate Action 100+. 

ANEEJ refers to a recent RI op-ed penned by Adam Matthews, who coordinates engagement with Shell for CEPB, in which he says “Shell is accountable” for delivering on its climate targets. The group questioned the ability to hold the oil major accountable, citing its controversial history in Nigeria. In January, the Hague ordered Shell to pay damages to farmers for oil spills in the Niger Delta more than a decade ago. The oil major has been subject to a number of international lawsuits over oil spills and pollution across the Niger Delta. 

“Nigeria has horrendous experience with Shell, and as representatives of Nigerian citizens’ groups we wish to tell you that we feel that the company is the opposite of accountable to most Nigerians, and has a track record of misleading statements and commitments,” said Rev Ugolor, Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice.

Update: Since publication, a spokesperson for the Church of England provided the following response to the letter from ANEEJ

“We passionately share your commitment to limiting the devastating effects of climate change and recognise there are different approaches to achieving this. Companies have to face up to climate change & pressure from responsible shareholders is an important lever. Our decision was taken after much consultation, consideration and prayer, to take the approach we have outlined publicly. It is not a decision we have taken lightly or without stated expectations of further change by those with whom we are engaging with.”