Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams calls for Church of England to sell its fossil fuel holdings

Writing for the Daily Telegraph today, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Chair of Christian Aid, has said the time has come for the Church of England to stop profiting from fossil fuel companies.  On Sunday, the Church’s General Synod will vote on an amendment by the Diocese of Oxford which proposes the Church of England sell holdings in these companies by 2020 if they have not aligned their business plans with the targets of the Paris Agreement.

Citing a ComRes poll conducted in October last year, where 78% agreed that it was morally wrong to invest in companies whose activities intensified climate change, he writes: “Morally wrong: profitable or not, certain kinds of industrial activity are now widely seen as simply not acceptable by many in the population, especially among the under 30’s.”

He adds: “So where in all this is the Christian Church with its historic claim to offer a moral compass for society?  This weekend, the General Synod of the Church of England will debate its holdings in some of the world’s largest – and most criticised – oil and gas companies, thanks to a motion from local churches in the Oxford diocese.  It will not be the first church to raise the issue.  The Lutheran Church of Sweden, the Anglican Church in Southern Africa and the World Council of Churches have already agreed that they will not risk profiting from the suffering of their brothers and sisters around the world as a result of environmentally irresponsible behaviour by extractive industries.”

Challenging the status quo, he raises the question of whether the current approach from Church investors is bringing about the needed change fast enough:

“So far, like many large institutions, the Church of England has argued for a strategy of engagement and influence from within.  But the question has to be asked: how effective has this proved to date? At the AGM of Shell in May a resolution was put forward by church-based investors calling for the setting of clear carbon emission reductions along Paris lines.  The motion was opposed by the management and received only 5.5% of the votes.  Is engagement working? At the same time, it is clear that Shell and similar companies are apprehensive about disinvestment – and about the looming threat of litigation based on adverse environmental effects.

“This weekend’s debate is an opportunity for the Church of England to encourage our society to take control of a question which threatens to overwhelm us before it is too late.”

Joe Ware

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