THE CHURCH COMMISSIONERS for England, which manages the Church of England’s £10.3 billion endowment fund, has announced it will exclude all remaining oil and gas majors from its portfolio, and will exclude all other companies primarily engaged in the exploration, production and refining of oil or gas, unless they are in genuine alignment with a 1.5°C pathway, by the end of 2023.

Last week, over 200 Church of England clergy – including 10 bishops – sent an open letter to the Church Commissioners and Pensions Board, demanding a fossil-free pension in light of the ‘deeply unethical’ activities of the fossil fuel companies.

Pressure on the Church of England to divest from fossil fuel companies has been building over the last several years as increasing numbers of Church of England dioceses – which each have their own investments – have made divestment commitments. Over half of the 42 Church of England dioceses have now pledged to exclude fossil fuel investments.

In 2018, the Church of England General Synod passed a motion calling on the CofE’s National Investing Bodies to divest from all fossil fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement by 2023, though until the announcement on 22 June, there were still questions as to how the Church of England would determine compliance and whether or not it would divest from all oil and gas companies.

Operation Noah has campaigned for years to get the Church of England’s National Investing Bodies to stop funding fossil fuels. Reacting to the announcement, the Rev Dr Darrell Hannah, Chair of Operation Noah, said: “Operation Noah celebrates the Church of England’s decision to divest from all fossil fuel companies, which we believe should send shockwaves around the world, making it clear that these companies are not operating in good faith and not preparing for the global transition to renewable energy.

“Overheating the planet and underinvesting in renewables while exploring for new oil and gas against scientific warnings, fossil fuel companies are an increasingly dangerous investment. In fact, a day is fast approaching when oil and gas assets will lose tremendous amounts of value as the world electrifies and decarbonises at pace.’

“Investor engagement has worked in other sectors, but it has never really worked with fossil fuel companies, and we trust that today’s announcement by the Church of England will encourage many others to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions. Faith groups have consistently led the way on divestment, restricting fossil fuel investments more than any other sector. Today’s announcement by the Church of England – an institution with significant global reach, assets and influence, and which spent years engaging with some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies – makes it clear that divestment is now the way forward; it also means that nearly every major denomination in the UK has now divested from fossil fuel companies.’

“Today is also an appropriate time to pay tribute to Operation Noah supporters, Church of England clergy and grassroots campaigners who, for many years, have worked to make divestment in the Church of England a reality. Divestment campaigners have cycled hundreds of miles, prayed outside places of worship, circulated letters, submitted motions and pleaded with Church leaders to stop funding fossil fuels. The world changed today thanks to their efforts.”

Also commenting on the announcement, Jennifer Larbie, Christian Aid’s Head of Global Advocacy, said: “As an investor that takes its ethical responsibilities seriously, the Church of England’s decision to divest from fossil fuel companies is a damning indictment of the harm these corporations are doing to the world.

“Over the years the support of Church investors has emboldened oil and gas companies and given them the social license and political capital to influence politicians around the world. That time has ended. For decades many fossil fuel companies have known the harm their activity is causing yet they continue to spend millions lobbying governments to block efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Profiting from climate suffering caused by fossil fuels should carry the same stigma as investing in smoking or arms dealing.

“It is telling that the Church of England, which has worked tirelessly to engage with the oil and gas industry and shift it onto a sustainable approach, has decided that these companies are beyond the pale. If ever there was a sign that the UK Government needed to step in and tax fossil fuel profits to pay for the damage they have caused, this is it.  It’s only right that the polluters should pay.”

* Read the Church of England’s announcement in full here.

* Sources: Church of England, Christian Aid and Operation Noah