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Bishops and clergy call for fossil free pensions from Church of England

Posted in: News
Date posted: 9 May 2017

PRESS RELEASE: Three Church of England bishops are among the signatories to an open letter sent to the Church of England Pensions Board, asking them to divest from fossil fuel companies and to invest in renewable alternatives.

The letter highlights the urgency of the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement on climate change, which commits countries to action that will limit increases in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius and aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius, and emphasises that current levels of fossil fuel use are incompatible with the Paris targets. It also questions whether the targets and timescales of the Church of England’s Transition Pathway Initiative go far enough to prevent dangerous temperature rises.

The letter is signed by a group of 30 clergy who currently receive or contribute to pensions from the Church of England.  They include Michael Doe, Assistant Bishop in Southwark Diocese, Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and Maurice Sinclair, Assistant Bishop in Birmingham Diocese.

The campaign was begun by Rev John Nightingale, a retired vicar from the Diocese of Birmingham, who said: “I was shocked to discover that fossil fuel companies are taking us towards irreversible global warming. Having worked in a developing country I know what havoc climate change is causing. I’m sad to find our respected Pensions Board supporting them, but glad to find colleagues who share my point of view.”

James Buchanan, divestment campaigner for Operation Noah, said: “We support this campaign by clergy who wish to see their pensions divested from fossil fuels, and believe this shows the strength of feeling within the Church of England about the importance of moving towards a fossil free future.”

Notes for editors

1. The letter to the Church of England Pensions Board coincides with the Global Divestment Mobilisation organised by divestment campaigners 350.org (5–13 May). Faith partners on the initiative include:

Operation Noah, which has recently published a booklet Divest your Church aimed at local churches who want to take action at grassroots level.

Quakers in Britain, which committed to divest from fossil fuels in 2013. This week, Quakers in Britain announced 19 more divestment commitments, representing over a quarter of Quaker meetings in Britain.

Christian Aid, which is calling on high street banks to make the Big Shift away from fossil fuels and towards a zero carbon future.

2. The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Sir,

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND PENSIONS BOARD

As clergy receiving or contributing to pensions from the Church of England, we are troubled that part of our pensions comes from investments in fossil fuel companies, who show no sign of taking seriously the recommendations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015.

The Paris Agreement commits countries to hold the increase in the global average temperature to ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius…and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels’. However, the world’s carbon budget for meeting the 1.5 degree target will be used up within four years (as calculated by Carbon Brief) if we continue to use fossil fuels at the current rate. Any temperature rise above 1.5 degrees is likely to precipitate a further process of global warming which would be irreversible.

Despite the urgency of the situation, Shell and BP have not so far shown how they will align their operations with the Paris targets and ExxonMobil shareholders rejected all resolutions on climate change (including the one proposed by the Church Commissioners) at the company’s AGM in 2016.

Conscious of our responsibilities as clergy and, in some cases, grandparents, we ask the Pensions Board to divest from fossil fuel companies and to start investing in renewable alternatives. We would point out that divestment may prove the prudent financial choice as it will avoid the risk of stranded assets.

We welcome the Transition Pathway Initiative launched by the Church of England in January but we fear that the targets and timescales of this engagement policy will bear fruit too late to prevent the 1.5 degree target from being exceeded, with dangerous consequences for the planet.

At the very least an alternative in the short term would be to allow pensioners to opt into a separate fund that excluded fossil fuels.

We invite others who think as we do to join us in writing to the Church of England Pensions Board.

Yours sincerely,

Bishops Michael Doe, Richard Harries and Maurice Sinclair

Twenty-seven clergy as follows:

Tom Ambrose (Ely), Francis Buxton (Wales), Keith Claringbull (Birmingham), Charlie Cleverly (Oxford), Jim Cox (Birmingham), Andy Delmege (Birmingham), Barbara Doubtfire (Oxford), Gavin Douglas (Wales), Jessica Foster (Birmingham), David H Garner (Birmingham), James M. Gibbs (Birmingham), Olivia Graham (Oxford), Meg Guillebaud (Birmingham), Margot Hodson (Oxford), John Hughes (Oxford), Hugh Lee (Oxford), Andrew Lenox-Conyngham (Birmingham), John Morrison    (Oxford), David Nash (London), John Nightingale (Birmingham), David Parry (Oxford), Emma Percy (Oxford), Matthew Rhodes (Birmingham), Thomas Seville (CR Mirfield), Tim Stead (Oxford), Chris Turner (Birmingham), John Wilkinson (Birmingham)

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