Church of England’s General Synod set to debate climate change and investment

Amended motion set for discussion this week

The Church of England’s national assembly, the General Synod, will this week debate the role of climate change in investment policy.

The motion expressly does not call for disinvestment from fossil fuel companies; rather it calls for the merits of the exclusion of some companies from investment to be considered as one of the tools available to the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG).

“A Synod vote for this motion affirms the will of Synod that the Church of England treats climate change as an urgent ethical issue of the utmost importance, including in its practice of ethical investment,” the motion says.

Following amendments, it is being proposed by the Church’s Southwark Diocese in London. Southwark’s Canon Giles Goddard says in a background paper that if passed it will enable the church to have a “more coherent and stronger voice” in the run-up to the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change in Paris next year.

Goddard acknowledges that the investment issues are “extremely complex, lying on the cusp of political and long-term economic policy” and in the context of the church investment bodies’ “fiduciary duty to obtain best value”.

“But the church could use its power as a large investor to take a lead,” Goddard says, noting that the EIAG is currently reviewing its existing advice to the church’s National Investment Bodies on climate change.He also cites the fossil fuel divestment campaigns such as Bill McKibben’s and Operation Noah’s Bright Now. He also notes that many faith bodies, such as all five Anglican dioceses in New Zealand and the Quakers in the UK, have taken the decision to disinvest.

In a separate paper prepared for the debate, the EIAG’s Deputy Chairman Revd. Professor Richard Burridge notes that the church’s investment bodies have “long recognised climate change as an ethical investment issue” and that the EIAG has had a climate change framework in place since 2008. The investing bodies (the Church Commissioners, the Church of England Pension board and the CBF Church of England Funds) consider the extent to which their investment managers integrate ESG factors as well as being part of the CCLA-led “Aiming for A” engagement initiative with large UK extractives and utilities companies.

The EIAG has established a theological sub-group to discuss climate change and is also taking expert advice and reaching out to stakeholders. It held a roundtable in December with participants associated with Shrinking the Footprint (the Church’s national environmental campaign), operation Noah and others.

The environmental issues debate takes place in London on Wednesday (February 12).

The EIAG today mounted what the Church described as a “robust endorsement defence” of the Church’s engagement with companies across a wide range of sectors. EIAG officials told the Synod that while “the world of investment and business is ambiguous and messy” it believes that “engaged investment is a core part of the Church’s witness and mission.”