Operation Noah questions church survey on fossil fuel divestment

By agency reporter
10 Dec 2013

The Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has shown itself to be biased and ill-informed when it comes to fossil fuel disinvestment, says Operation Noah.

The EIAG is reviewing its policy advice on climate change for the Church’s national investing bodies. As part of the process it has just produced a survey asking if, and how, the Church of England should reduce the carbon emissions of its investments, and in particular whether the Church should disinvest from fossil fuels.

Operation Noah, who are currently campaigning for churches to disinvest from fossil fuels, today released a statement questioning the survey: ‘we find [it] biased and ill-informed, containing both leading questions and false choices. It suggests that EIAG has a clear agenda against fossil fuel disinvestment, and makes it difficult for stakeholders to express their views effectively’.

The statement questions the assumptions behind a lot of the questions in the survey. Though EIAG suggest that the £8 billion of investments held by the Church of England investment bodies (which pay clergy pensions and fund the work of the Church) must be managed in the financial interests of the beneficiaries of the funds, they fail to mention that the Church of England’s own ethical investment policy accepts a duty to avoid ‘profiting from, or providing capital to, activities that are materially inconsistent with Christian values’. Operation Noah argues that this must surely include activities that encourage the use of fossil fuels.

Operation Noah also questions the presumption in the survey that disinvestment from fossil fuels would be financially difficult. Publicly listed fossil fuel companies, with reserves valued in trillions of dollars on the world’s stock markets, will have to leave most of their assets in the ground if we are to keep global warming below 2°C. Their shareholders risk being left with stranded assets – worthless fuel stocks that regulation will prevent from being burned, or can only be consumed at unimaginable cost to us all. Either result will be a disaster for investments and pension funds.

We do not have a choice as to how we respond to climate change, as the survey implies. "This is simply not true!" says Isabel Carter, Chair of Operation Noah.

"Climate change threatens everything on earth, and its impacts are already being felt in extreme weather events around the world". Participants are asked to indicate what level of temperature increase they think we can live with (ranging from 1 – 6°C). Operation Noah’s statement argues that this is naïve at best. Currently world governments have committed to limit global warming to below 2°C to avoid catastrophic climate change (and even this would be ‘disastrous’ according to recent research). A 4°C temperature rise would be far from that of a flourishing creation.

If we are to get off the trajectory towards a 6°C rise in temperature which we are currently on, we all need to act very quickly. The longer we leave it, the more rapid and thus more painful, the drop in emissions will need to be. The survey asks who is most responsible for acting, but Operation Noah asserts that there is no one solution for a problem of this magnitude. Solutions will and must come from multiple fronts. However, those in positions of power through wealth or moral authority have a particular responsibility to act and to lead. And this certainly includes the Church.

Through the Bright Now campaign, Operation Noah is calling on Churches to disinvest from fossil fuels – on a theological, moral, scientific and financial basis. Mark Letcher, Operation Noah campaigner says: "This survey seems intended to exclude disinvestment from fossil fuels as an option by suggesting it would be too difficult both financially and morally. This is both unfair and untrue, as Bright Now shows. We welcome a constructive debate on these issues, but to enable that to happen, stakeholders need genuine and open opportunities to express their views, and this survey does not do that."

* To read the full statement visit http://brightnow.org.uk/action/church-england-biased-survey-fossil-fuel-...

[Ekk/4]

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