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Chair’s annual report, 2014

Posted in: News
Date posted: 10 June 2014

We held our 2014 AGM and Supporters’ Day in Birmingham on 7 June 2014. Operation Noah chair Isabel Carter summarised our achievements during the past year and our hopes for the future in this report.

Why are we all still struggling? Why do we need to meet like this, talking about how to have more impact and making plans to influence Church and political leaders? Why is it, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is happening and is unquestionably largely due to humankind’s burning of fossil fuels, that so many in our society believe they have the ‘right’ to choose whether or not to believe the scientists – and, indeed, the evidence of change all around? All of us here today wonder why it is that we are not excitedly comparing different technologies and different approaches to low carbon living and rejoicing in the massive steps that our political leaders are taking towards a zero carbon future. Is that a hollow laugh?

As James 5:7-8 reminds us, we certainly need patience. However, like dragonflies who bide their time waiting for the right moment to emerge and fly, we have had plenty of ‘moments in the sun’ during the past year and an AGM is always a really good opportunity to look back and reflect.
This time last year we met in London, listening to Ann Pettifor and Paul Bodenham. We were celebrating a recent legacy from Elizabeth Rendall, planning for the launch of Bright Now and planning on how to take forward the Ambassadors idea.

The Bright Now campaign was launched in September 2013 at a media launch in London; the key aims of the campaign are to call on the Churches and the Christian community in the UK to:

  • disinvest from companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels;
  • take a leading and influential role in public debate on the ethics of investment in fossil fuels; and
  • support the development of clean alternatives to fossil fuels through their investment policies.

Since the launch, momentum for disinvestment from the fossil fuel sector has continued to grow and there have been a number of key and very positive developments, including:

  • The decision in October 2013 by the Quakers to disinvest from fossil fuels.
  • Participation by two members of the ON Board – Siobhan Grimes and Giles Goddard – in the ‘Fossil Free UK’ tour in October 2013 with Bill McKibben of 350.org. We helped to co-organise the tour with 350.org and People and Planet.
  • A resolution by the Diocese of Southwark – calling for Church of England investment policy to be aligned with their policies on climate change and for disinvestment from fossil fuels to be considered – was debated in the Church of England General Synod in February 2014. It was passed with an overwhelming majority of Synod members and has led to the formation of a working group on climate change.
  • Preparation of six separate resolutions on disinvestment by Methodist churches for debate at the Methodist Conference this summer.
  • Decisions by churches in New Zealand, Australia and the United States to disinvest from fossil fuels.
  • The decision by Brighthelm Church and Community Centre in Brighton to disinvest from fossil fuels.
  • A resolution passed by Bracknell Deanery Synod calling for disinvestment from coal and tar sands and phased disinvestment from oil and gas.

We are starting to see indications from churches of all denominations of a recognition that retaining investments in fossil fuel companies is at odds with their policies on climate change. But we are also encountering concern and nervousness about switching away from the current approach of engagement as the sole means of influencing fossil fuel companies, as well as a reluctance by church leaders to speak publicly about this issue.

That’s why it’s so important that local churches and individuals continue to make it clear that they want national Churches to take their money out of fossil fuels and to support the clean energy alternatives.

Feedback from those advising Churches on their investments is that Bright Now and the actions of individuals and local churches are being noticed, and that they are helping to shift the agenda and create a platform for those with responsibility for managing funds who want to see those funds taken out of fossil fuels.

Global support has also come, with calls for disinvestment by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and by Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The BMJ also recently had a powerful editorial (March 2014) calling on health professionals to call on their organisations, drug companies, hospitals and universities to disinvest completely.

We wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has worked so hard to help us plan, launch and run Bright Now – members of the board, staff, volunteers and supporters. As a small organisation we are dependent on their contributions and hugely grateful for all they have done. In particular we want to thank David Atkinson, who is stepping down from the board this year, for his major inputs over the years and in particular for leading the development of the Ash Wednesday Declaration.

Future plans

I am delighted to report that in May we heard that a funding application to the Oak Trust in the USA had been successful. The funding means we are now able to take on a part-time campaigner for two years. The recruitment process is under way and we are developing and planning the strategy for the campaign over that period.

We are continuing to work with 350.org and People and Planet, with whom we organised the ‘Do the Math’ lecture tour with Bill McKibben.

Elsewhere, the Bracknell Deanery as well as a number of Methodist churches have brought forward resolutions calling for disinvestment (nationally) from fossil fuels. This is hugely important, and we are working to encourage many more to follow suit. Not only are these actions raising the issue of disinvestment publicly but they are really helping to build the momentum for the campaign, which in turn encourages others to join.

We also recognise that there are many individuals who want to take action right away, so today we are launching a new strand to the Bright Now campaign. We are inviting individuals, as well as local churches, to help us lobby the Church of England by writing directly to the Church Commissioners. It’s an opportunity for ordinary Christians to communicate directly with those who have the responsibility for managing millions of pounds worth of investments.

We have provided templates and guidance on how to do this on the Bright Now website (which you will hear about today) and we would like as many of our supporters as possible to take the opportunity to write to Andreas Whittam Smith (the First Church Estates Commissioner), calling for a change in investment policy. And in a digital age we still believe that a hard copy letter makes a statement, which is why we are encouraging supporters to send letters via the post if they are able to.

We have always had a presence at Greenbelt, sharing a stall with Christian Ecology Link. This year we’re delighted that two of our board members, Ruth and Siobhan, have the opportunity to speak on climate activism.

The Climate Coalition (Stop Climate Chaos) relaunched in April. Each participating organisation is asked to provide a slogan beginning with the phrase, ‘For the love of …’ A suggested one for ON was ‘For the love of God, God’s Planet, God’s People.’

A really positive development has been (largely through Giles Goddard’s initiative) the establishment of an effective networking opportunity for Christian organisations working on climate change. It now has a name: ‘Faith for the climate’. At the first meeting, five priority areas of work were agreed – and Operation Noah is leading on two of these five: disinvestment (not surprisingly!); and the establishment of a day/year of prayer and fasting in the build-up to the Paris UN climate conference in Dec 2015, when it is hoped that the replacement to Kyoto will be signed.

In a couple of weeks we will be launching a new website – thanks to considerable effort from Penny Dakin Kiley, who has worked with the designer to put it together. That will really help in getting our message across. Another simple way of doing this is to tell more folk about the ON newsletters which Kate Allardyce puts together. These are a great way of helping ensure people are well informed about what we do. Please use our sign-up forms whenever you have the opportunity to speak about Operation Noah.

Thank you again for your continued support. We look forward to a really positive day together, with the opportunity to share information, insights and experience, launch the letter-writing campaign, discuss how to take direct action against fracking, and shape future opportunities, such as the Methodist conference, the Ambassadors and the year of prayer and fasting.

Supporters' day
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