Campaign with senior clergy backing calls for UK church assets fossil fuel divestment

But church investors caution against making climate change a simple ethical issue.

A campaign that has received the backing of some of the most senior clergy in the UK including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Hon Rowan Williams, will today (September 20), call for churches in the country to divest tens of millions of pounds of treasury and pension assets from fossil fuels. The divestment call is the latest international development in a growing campaign kicked off by US environmental activist Bill McKibben’s group, whose Go Fossil Free campaign is petitioning US college endowments and city and state pension funds to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. However, the UK church campaigners, under the banner of Operation Noah, launched their campaign ‘Bright Now: towards fossil free Churches’ with the release of a survey of 1,520 church goers across the denominations that shows that just one in four actually believe the Church of England should disinvest from fossil fuel related companies. According to the Church Commissioners’ latest annual report, the Church of England has investments in Shell worth £37.8m and £22.4m in BP. Both are among its top five corporate holdings. Operation Noah said more than nine out of 10 church goers of all denominations in the survey said churches should invest their money ethically, but it claimed that most were confused about what this means in relation to disinvestment.Breaking down the responses, it said two out of three (63%) of Anglicans responding to the survey said they believed the Church of England should take a lead role in addressing man-made climate change. Operation Noah is an ecumenical Christian charity that lobbies for action against climate change. In 2012, then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, the Most Rev Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, and leaders of the Methodist, Baptist and URC churches, signed Operation Noah’s Ash Wednesday Declaration, which included an advisory call for churches to divest from fossil fuels. The Church Investors Group (CIG) a £12bn group of investors connected with the Churches of Britain and Ireland, cautioned against over-simplifying climate change as an ethical investment issue: “As church investors, we have stewardship responsibilities towards creation, and responsibilities towards the global poor and vulnerable who will be less able to adapt to climate change. But we also have a responsibility to acknowledge that the world’s economy cannot function without energy and that the transition to a low carbon economy is a process that will take time.”