MORE THAN 200 retired and active clergy in the Church of England, including 10 bishops, have signed an open letter to the Church of England’s Pensions Board and Church Commissioners, calling on the National Investing Bodies to divest from all fossil fuel companies at this July’s General Synod, the C of E’s governing body. 

The letter states, “As the climate crisis deepens, divesting clergy pensions from fossil fuels is a matter of conscience and one that the Pensions Board must now urgently address. No company planning to extract new oil and gas can possibly be in compliance with the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at limiting global heating to 1.5°C – a goal that can only be achieved if emissions are nearly halved by 2030.”

The letter – co-sponsored by the Rev John Nightingale (Canon Emeritus at Birmingham Cathedral) and the Rev Vanessa Conant (Rector of St Mary’s Walthamstow and Area Dean, Waltham Forest) – has been signed by 226 clergy, among them, 10 bishops, including former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Dr Rowan Williams. Other bishops to have signed the open letter include the Rt Rev Lynne Cullens, Bishop of Barking, Diocese of Chelmsford; the Rt Rev Arun Arora, Bishop of Kirkstall, Diocese of Leeds; the Rt Rev Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester, Diocese of Oxford; and the  Rt Rev Dr Joanne Grenfell, Bishop of Stepney, Diocese of London.

Following a motion passed at the 2018 Church of England General Synod, the National Investing Bodies have said that they would divest from all fossil fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement by 2023. Major fossil fuel companies are now scaling back their climate pledges, with Shell announcing last week that the company would keep oil output steady or higher into 2030. Last month, the Church of England took a step towards divestment, with the Church Commissioners and Pensions Board both voting against directors of fossil fuel companies in which they still owned shares.

An announcement on fossil fuel divestment from the Church of England is expected imminently. Pressure is now building for the Church of England to divest from all oil and gas companies – not just some – at or before the Church of England’s General Synod (7-11 July) given that, as the open letter states, “every major fossil fuel company continues to underinvest in renewables and explore for new oil and gas, with 20 of the largest fossil fuel companies – including some in which the Church of England still owns shares – planning to spend nearly $1 trillion on new oil and gas by 2030.”

The divestment movement has grown rapidly in the Church of England:.Until 2020, none of the Church of England’s 42 dioceses – which each have their own investments separate to the Church Commissioners and Pensions Board – had made a formal commitment to divest from fossil fuel companies. At present, 24 dioceses have made divestment commitments.

The letter’s co-sponsor, the Rev Vanessa Conant, said, “Recent wildfires in Canada and the smoke that blanketed American cities is a stark reminder that the climate crisis isn’t a philosophical concept, but a real and present danger that will impact all of us, especially countries in the Global South that have done the least to cause the problem. But the climate crisis doesn’t just happen – we fund it, our politicians legislate it and fossil fuel companies extract it.

“As a Church, we have a responsibility to confront all of the ways in which ecological destruction gets normalised, and this must begin by removing our money from the fossil fuel industry. As fossil fuel companies continue to overheat the planet, underinvest in renewables and explore for new oil and gas against scientific warnings, Church of England clergy can no longer accept that our money should be invested in fossil fuels, any more than we can accept that it should be invested in weapons, high-interest loans or tobacco.’

* View the full letter and list of signatories here.

* Source: Operation Noah