Twenty Christian institutions divest from fossil fuels

By agency reporter
January 10, 2020

In an 'Epiphany Declaration', 20 UK churches, dioceses, religious orders and Christian institutions have announced their divestment from fossil fuels. They join the growing 'Fossil Free' divestment movement, where faith institutions make up 29 percent of divesting organisations – the greatest proportion of divestment commitments globally. The global total of assets under management of divesting institutions has now surpassed $12 trillion.

The institutions announcing their divestment as part of the joint announcement include two Catholic Dioceses (Middlesbrough and Lancaster), the United Reformed Church Synod of Wales and South Western Synod, several local churches and two Catholic religious orders. The announcement was made on the day the Christian world celebrates the feast of Epiphany, at the start of 2020 – a vital year for climate action in the UK, especially with the COP26 coming to Glasgow in November.

Among those announcing their divestment commitments, there are some significant firsts. The Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster are the first Catholic dioceses in England and Wales to divest from fossil fuels. Ivybridge Methodist Church and Stirling Methodist Church are the first local Methodist churches in the UK to commit to go fossil free.

As a result of pressure from Churches and increased demand from clients, several investment management companies have begun offering 'fossil free funds' to institutions that no longer wish to invest in fossil fuels. CCLA Investment Management announced last July that its 'COIF Charities Ethical Investment Fund' would have completed divestment by 1 December 2019, and Epworth Investment Management (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church) will also launch a fossil free fund in early 2020.

Last week, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said that although cuts to investment in oil and gas companies are beginning to take place in the financial sector, the process is not moving fast enough. Carney made clear that all companies and financial institutions must consider their justification for continued investment in fossil fuels, warning of the increasing risk of 'worthless' assets in the sector.

Bishop Terry Drainey, the Bishop of Middlesbrough, said: "With growing awareness of people's concerns for the care of our common home, supported by the Trustees and Council of Priests of the Diocese, and after thorough scrutiny of diocesan investments and with support from Operation Noah, the Diocese of Middlesbrough has decided that now is the time to divest from fossil fuels. The evidence and the urgency of the climate crisis are all around us. However, as Pope Francis points out very clearly in his Encyclical Letter on The Care of Our Common Home, Laudato Si', nothing will succeed if we do not begin with personal conversion, a change in lifestyle, a change of mindset."

The Rev Simon Walkling, Moderator of United Reformed Church Synod of Wales, said: "We have decided to divest from fossil fuels in response to the growing climate crisis. This is part of the Church's desire to respond to the climate emergency and act for the future of our children and grandchildren, as well as the many people around the world who are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change."

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager for Operation Noah, said: "It is wonderful news that so many Christian organisations have made the decision to divest from fossil fuels, including the first Catholic dioceses in the UK to divest. We hope many more Churches and other institutions will join them out of concern for those most affected by the climate crisis – especially people living in the world's poorest communities."

The institutions making divestment commitments as part of the Epiphany Declaration are:

Diocese of Middlesbrough (Catholic); Diocese of Lancaster (Catholic); Congregation of Jesus, English Province (Catholic); Presentation Sisters, English Province (Catholic); United Reformed Church Synod of Wales; United Reformed Church South Western Synod; Lavington URC, Bideford (United Reformed Church); Redland Park URC; Bristol (United Reformed Church); Northern College (United Reformed Church/Congregational); Ivybridge Methodist Church, Devon; Stirling Methodist Church, Stirling,(Methodist Church in Scotland); Devonport Baptist Church, Plymouth; St Luke's Holloway, London (Church of England); Pudsey Parish Church, Leeds (Church of England).

The churches of the Parish of Alston Moor: St Augustine of Canterbury, Alston; St John the Evangelist, Garrigill; St John the Evangelist, Nenthead; Holy Paraclete, Kirkhaugh; St Jude, Knaresdale; St Mary & St Patrick, Lambley (Church of England).

Other statements from leaders:

Sister Frances Orchard CJ, Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Jesus: "Our decision to divest from fossil fuels was motivated by our concern for our planet and climate justice for all who inhabit our world, especially those living in poverty. We had previously supported engagement with oil and gas companies, as we were impressed by the efforts of our investment managers to put pressure on those companies to change course. However, our younger members were rightly questioning our strategy, and our investment managers also become exasperated by the lack of integrity of the companies they were engaging with and agreed that the time had come to divest. We believe that divestment from fossil fuels is the right decision given the urgency of the change we need to see."

The Rev Ruth Whitehead, Moderator of URC South Western Synod: "The South Western Synod covers a beautiful part of God's creation and we are very aware of our responsibility to be wise stewards. We therefore made the decision to divest from fossil fuels and also challenge everyone in the life of the synod to ask themselves how best to respond to the climate emergency by cutting our carbon footprint. We are hopeful that as Christians we can help to build a more sustainable economy for the good of all God's children."

The Rev Richard Dimery, Vicar of Pudsey Parish Church, in the Diocese of Leeds: 'We have decided to divest from fossil fuels because as Christians we want to take seriously our response to the climate crisis. As a church we are trying to improve our environmental responsibility and this is an action of integrity which speaks clearly to the need to change the way we live, act and speak about our world."

Jon Cape, Green Team Leader at Stirling Methodist Church: "Stirling Methodist Church has given unanimous support to divesting from fossil fuels, and supports the request by Methodist Conference to divest from any oil and gas company not aligned with the Paris Agreement targets by 2020. This is a necessary and prudent response to the climate emergency, both to protect God's creation and to protect the value of our investments. We hope that the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church will complete divestment from fossil fuels this year. Scotland will host the critical UN climate talks (COP26) later this year and, as one of the first Scottish churches to divest, we hope that many more Scottish churches will join us this year in divesting from fossil fuels, and that together the Churches will play a leading role in speaking out for climate justice."

* Operation Noah https://operationnoah.org/

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