British Quakers have resolved to end all investment in fossil fuel companies and have begun steps to sell all the shares in question. They are the first major church denomination in the UK to make such a decision, increasing pressure on other churches to follow suit.
Things have moved rapidly since Quaker representatives recommended divestment at a meeting last week. It was expected that the final decision would have to wait until later in the month, when the Quaker trustees met. But the trustees devolved the decision to their Investment Committee, who gave the go-ahead on Tuesday (8 October 2013).
Quaker shares in companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction or exploration will now be sold.
Their trustees will also review the organisation’s entire investment policy. It is thought that there may be more investments in renewable energy.
After internal discussion and disagreement in recent years, the Quakers - also known as the Religious Society of Friends - have resolved that investing in fossil fuels is incompatible with the commitment they made in 2011 to become a sustainable low-carbon community.
Quakers have been praised by the Christian environmental group Operation Noah, for being the first Christian denomination to divest from fossil fuel extraction. Operation Noah’s recent report, Bright Now, says “For the sake of humanity’s survival, we cannot afford to invest in fossil fuels any longer.”
The decision has also been welcomed by the anti-capitalist network Christianity Uncut. The network backs Operation Noah’s Bright Now campaign, which calls on all Christian organisations to divest from fossil fuels.
Britain Yearly Meeting, the formal body of Quakers in England, Scotland and Wales, currently has about £21 million invested in the stock market, including in Statoil and BG Group. As at 30 September 2013, BG Group represented 2.73% of the portfolio by value, while Statoil accounted for 1.12%.
Quakers also hold many investments through Area Meetings, as their regional organisations are known. Area Meetings are not obliged to follow the national body’s decision, but in practice many are expected to do so.
The minute of the meeting recording Quakers’ wish to disinvest stated, “We want to invest in renewable energy and energy-saving schemes. Action we will take as individuals, as meetings and as Britain Yearly Meeting Trustees should aim to minimise damage and strengthen our advocacy position.”
It added, “We have expressed our difficulties, especially since we all depend in many ways on fossil fuels, but we need to make positive steps towards the change we want to see.”
The decision has encouraged people within other denominations who are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. The Church of England's General Synod is likely to debate such a move in 2014, following a resolution passed by the Diocese of Southwark earlier this year.
Quakers emerged out of radical Christian groups in the mid-seventeenth century, with an emphasis on the conviction that all people can experience the Holy Spirit directly and inwardly. Today the denomination includes about 23,000 people in Britain and over 300,000 worldwide.