The Church of England is still heavily invested in fossil fuels despite the fact that oil, gas and coal are literally fuelling the climate crisis, but with your help, we can change that. Register for our one-hour ‘Divest the Church of England’ training session, which we’ll hold Zoom on Tuesday 15 March at 5.30pm. Register for this one-hour training session here.
Operation Noah trustee Shilpita Mathews – an environmental economist and official COP26 observer – and Bright Now Campaign Manager James Buchanan share their experiences and reflections from COP26 in Glasgow.
By Shilpita Mathews and James Buchanan
Like many other climate activists from the UK and around the world, we spent several days in Glasgow during COP26, participating in events and praying and acting for climate justice, especially for the vulnerable communities most affected by the climate crisis here and now.
Shilpita spent a week in the Blue Zone (where official COP26 negotiations took place) with the Christian Climate Observer Program (CCOP), while James represented Operation Noah as a panellist at various events, spent time with a group of ‘Pilgrimage2Paris’ pilgrims and organised a webinar with faith partners from across the global divestment movement.
Life in the Blue Zone (Shilpita Mathews)
Climate change is a spiritual issue: My COP26 highlights included meeting former US Vice President Al Gore and his daughter Karenna Gore (Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York) as part of the Christian Climate Observer Program (CCOP). The Gores listened to our climate journeys, shared their experiences and gave advice on connecting faith with climate action. One thing that resonated between this and the talk by Bill Mckibben (see below) was the need for recognising the climate crisis as a moral, ethical and spiritual issue reflecting a crisis within our hearts, one that is manifested in environmental injustices.
Transition is inevitable, justice is not: This phrase resonated from negotiation rooms, to climate marches, to talks by campaigners, to CEO presentations. Despite this, COP26 was a microcosm of larger global injustices. In the Blue Zone, after shadowing the Renew our World campaign for a day, I saw first-hand the rejection indigenous communities received behind closed doors, or how representatives from developing countries were often excluded from discussions on topics most important to them, like loss and damage.
We need to build bridges during a time of crisis: It was very encouraging to spend time with Operation Noah partners at the COP26 Climate Sunday stall in the Green Zone, and to celebrate all of the successes to date. I was particularly inspired by ambitious ecumenical and interfaith climate action at COP26, which was on display at numerous events. In fact, if people of faith, who represent more than 80% of the world’s population, came together, a just transition to limit global average temperature rises to 1.5°C could become a reality.
Finding hope in the road ahead: Thiswas my first COP, and what was most overwhelming for me was the polarisation between the Blue Zone, where negotiations took place, and the fringes of COP26. This is what Lorna Gold of the Laudato Si’ Movement and FaithInvest calls, ‘a tale of two COPs’. While there have been glimpses of hope, with various Blue Zone leaders meaningfully engaging and representing frontline communities, there is a long road ahead. But what gave me hope was the action across non-governmental communities, from the unity shown amongst faith communities, to commitments made by the private sector and academia, to go beyond what has been agreed.
For more of my reflections, you can watch the videos I made from the Blue Zone at COP26 on the Operation Noah Twitter and Facebook accounts.
On the fringes of COP26 (James Buchanan and Shilpita Mathews)
Some of the most encouraging and prophetic actions took place on the fringes of COP26. One major highlight was joining the final day of the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) Relay to COP26 and the closing service at St George’s Tron, in the centre of Glasgow.
It was an amazing achievement – the result of incredible commitment demonstrated by Christians aged 18-30 to organise the Relay to COP26 from the G7 in Cornwall in June to COP26 in Glasgow at the end of October.
We also had some excellent meetings, both planned and unexpected, with partners, campaigners and supporters, as well as old and new friends. Following a multi-faith vigil in George Square in the centre of Glasgow, we were delighted to meet Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism UK. We also met one of our heroes, Bill McKibben, who co-founded 350.org and initiated the fossil fuel divestment movement, as he delivered a lecture at the University of Glasgow.
Reflections on our COP26 event: Fossil Fuel Divestment, Climate Justice and a Just Transition for All (James Buchanan)
Operation Noah’s main event at COP26 took place on Monday 8 November and was organised in partnership with Laudato Si’ Movement, Green Anglicans, World Council of Churches, GreenFaith, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund, SCIAF and Eco-congregation Scotland. The event was entitled, Fossil Fuel Divestment, Climate Justice and a Just Transition for All.
The panel of speakers included Lorna Gold (Chair of Laudato Si’ Movement), Mark Campanale (Founder and Executive Chair of Carbon Tracker), Rt Revd Olivia Graham (Bishop of Reading), Pastor Ray Minniecon (Australian indigenous Anglican pastor) and Sally Foster Fulton (Head of Christian Aid Scotland). I also joined the speaker panel.
The event included several inspiring and challenging contributions, especially from Pastor Ray Minniecon. Lorna Gold, Chair of Laudato Si’ Movement, wrote about the event: ‘Everyone should watch this – from start to end. Most honest and uncomfortable event I attended at COP26.’
COP26 conclusions: A missed opportunity, but scope to build momentum in 2022
The world needs to phase out of all types of fossil fuels: The outcomes of COP26 have been widely covered in the media, with much of the focus being on the last-minute proposal from India and China to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ coal. Yet the world needs to phase out oil and gas too, not only coal – starting with the wealthiest nations that have contributed most to the climate crisis. Furthermore, the US and China had already agreed to the ‘phase down’ wording in a joint agreement issued days before.
There has been less attention given to the hugely disappointing announcement days before COP26 that the $100 billion in climate finance promised to developing countries would not be met until 2023, despite the wealthiest nations having pledged at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 to meet the target by 2020. This is an abdication of moral responsibility and did little to build trust with nations most affected by the climate crisis. Many of these countries said that they would reluctantly sign the Glasgow Climate Pact, in spite of inadequate financing for loss and damage.
One of the most positive developments during COP26 was the launch of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, an alliance launched by Denmark and Costa Rica to phase out oil and gas production. Among the countries to sign up were France, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden, as well as Wales, Quebec and Greenland. The group has committed to setting an end date for oil and gas extraction.
The time is now for Churches to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions
There has never been a more important time to call on UK Churches to divest from fossil fuel companies and invest in climate solutions, such as renewable energy. This will send a clear signal to our governments – here in the UK and around the world – about the urgent need to move beyond fossil fuels and rapidly cut emissions.
In 2022, Operation Noah’s Bright Now campaign will continue calling on UK Churches – including the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church and Catholic and CofE dioceses – to join the vast majority of UK Churches in divesting from fossil fuel companies. We will continue our collaboration with partners around the world and seek to amplify voices from the global South, including indigenous communities, especially ahead of the Lambeth Conference that begins in July 2022.
How you can respond
Thank you to all of you who have supported Operation Noah and our Bright Now campaign in 2021. We are grateful for your support as we continue the campaign for fossil free Churches and investment in climate solutions in 2022! Here are three practical ways to respond:
Divest your church with Operation Noah’s Bright Now campaign: Read our reflections on what COP26 means for Church investments in fossil fuel companies on the Bright Now website.
Apply for new roles at Operation Noah: Finally, watch this space for exciting developments as we scale up our work on investment in climate solutions and nature-based solutions! We are currently recruiting for a new Bright Now Campaign Manager and Bright Now Campaign Officer to join our growing team. You can find out more about both of the roles and how to apply here.
Cameron Conant reflects on fossil fuels and the recent flooding in London.
By Cameron Conant
On Sunday, I joined a group of my fellow parishioners and campaigners in Walthamstow, London for a meeting about our ‘Just Transition’ climate campaign, which aims to make London a greener, fairer city. We ordered food, got the meeting space well-ventilated and – mindful of Covid transmission – worked out how we might hold most of the meeting outside. But, unfortunately, it was raining. Not just raining, actually, but something beyond raining. A deluge. It soon became clear that not only would we not be meeting outside, but that something dangerous was happening.
The roof of the church hall (our meeting space) began to leak almost everywhere. After we used every bucket we could find, we grabbed the plastic containers our take-away food had arrived in to collect the rainwater that was pouring into the building. While we were fortunate to be in a building set on relatively high ground, many of my neighbours in Walthamstow were not so lucky and would soon find their lounges, front rooms and kitchens submerged in a foot or more of water.
In the end, Walthamstow and other parts of London got weeks, perhaps months, of rain in a few hours, with some roads impassable, Tube stations out of service. Of course, we know that with climate change, these sorts of events will become increasingly common for a very simple reason: warmer air holds more water.
Walthamstow got off lightly compared to other parts of the world – Germany had just experienced deadly flooding, as had Belgium, China and India – but what made my situation this past Sunday particularly ironic was that I found myself bailing water out of my Church of England church hall due to a weather event that the Church of England – my denomination – was ensuring would become more frequent.
Sadly, two of the Church of England’s investment bodies – the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board – still collectively have tens of millions of pounds invested in fossil fuels, the very industry that, quite literally, is fuelling the climate crisis. Despite some clever attempts to rebrand themselves as renewable energy companies, none of the big fossil fuel companies are Paris-compliant; indeed, all have plans to extract more oil, gas and coal than the International Energy Agency says can be safely burned. And yet, remarkably, the Church of England’s Church Commissioners are not merely invested in fossil fuels, but are specifically invested in ExxonMobil, a company that has continually resisted investing in renewable energy, ran a years-long public disinformation campaign to stall action on climate change and was recently caught on camera admitting that they still work behind the scenes to stop climate legislation.
While I can’t say that the Church of England directly flooded my church hall – Walthamstow has flooded before, and it’s difficult to tie any single weather event to human-driven climate change, let alone measure the impact particular investors might have on overall carbon emissions – we know that putting more carbon into the atmosphere loads the dice and makes it more likely that the world will ‘roll’ certain weather outcomes. I also can’t say the Church of England’s Church Commissioners or Pensions Board are bad people with bad intentions; both believe investor activism will lead to a reduction in emissions, which they say is their goal.
However, it’s time to admit that, despite good intentions, fossil fuel investor activism has failed: after years of engagement, fossil fuel emissions have yet to show any sustained signs of decreasing; fossil fuel companies are still not Paris-compliant; and the climate crisis is becoming ever more serious. Handing fossil fuel companies, whose primary interest is to protect their assets (which are mostly fossil fuels), what effectively amounts to a blank cheque in the hope that these companies will do something other than what they were set up to do, hasn’t produced the change we need.
For these reasons and more, I would implore my fellow Anglicans to join me in calling on the Church of England to divest from all fossil fuels immediately, and to take that same amount of money and invest it in climate solutions. And I would implore any church or diocese (and only 3 of 42 Church of England dioceses have divested) to join Operation Noah’s Global Divestment Announcement in October. Together, we can tell the Church of England’s Church Commissioners and Pensions Board that we literally can’t live like this, and that their financing of the climate crisis must stop.
Cameron is a writer, consultant, campaigner and Operation Noah Trustee.
Operation Noah Patron, Bishop David Atkinson, has written a new book exploring the Psalms.
What did the
Psalmists of Israel believe? How did they practice their religion? What impact
did their faith in God had on the way they handled the struggles and
uncertainties of life? How does this speak to us today?
A Light for the Pathwayexplores some themes which underlie the faith of the psalmists; for example, covenant, creation, law, justice, humanity, suffering, lament, restoration and pilgrimage. Holding these together is the overarching theme of God’s steadfast love throughout their history. The psalms are prayers and praises, often used in temple worships, some intimate and personal, many corporate and full of thanksgiving. Some are celebrations of the kingly rule of God over all creation. How do we Christians today approach this ancient hymn book, which is full of poetic imagination and deep spirituality? How can it help our own journeys on our pathways of faith and hope? This side of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, can we hear in the psalms words of comfort for our struggles of faith, as well as joy in our worship, in today’s confusing world?
Today, 36 faith institutions from 11 countries announce their divestment from fossil fuels. It comes from institutions in Brazil, Argentina, India, the Philippines, Uganda, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, the UK and the United States. These commitments highlight the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives in response to the growing climate crisis.
This announcement comes from Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist institutions, among others. The group includes the Church in Wales, with more than £700 million ($975 million) of assets under management, which voted to divest from fossil fuels at its Governing Body meeting in April. It also includes the Diocese of Bristol and the Diocese of Oxford, the first Church of England dioceses to announce their divestment from fossil fuels, as well as the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Catholic Diocese of Hallam and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
The global divestment announcement takes place as the UK prepares to host the G7 Summit in June and the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November. As governments around the world continue to invest significant sums in economic recovery packages, it is vital that these investments support a just and green recovery from Covid-19. Yet, as the UN has stated, only 18% of the Covid-19 recovery spending announced by the world’s 50 biggest economies in 2020 can be considered green.
The announcement comes a day before the Royal Dutch Shell AGM is set to take place, on Tuesday 18 May. Shell has been coming under considerable pressure as a result of its plans to increase gas production by 20 per cent in the next few years. The Methodist Church announced it had divested its remaining fossil fuel holdings at the end of April, including £21 million of shares in Royal Dutch Shell, citing Shell’s ‘inadequate’ climate plans. The Church of Scotland recently announced that it had also sold its remaining shares in oil and gas companies.
The announcement takes place during Laudato Si’ Week, a celebration of the progress the Roman Catholic Church has made on its journey to ecological conversion following Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and ecology. As well as the Catholic Diocese of Hallam, six Catholic dioceses in Ireland and several religious orders are announcing their divestment commitments.
Faith communities have long been at the forefront of the global divestment movement, and have contributed the single greatest number of commitments. Out of the global total of over 1,300 divestment commitments made to date, more than 450 are from faith institutions.
A full list of the 36 institutions divesting from fossil fuels and statements from leaders can be found here.
Statements from leaders:
Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org, said: “When faith communities divest from fossil fuels, it is a powerful reminder of both the practical and the moral depth of the climate crisis. There is no way to stand up for the most vulnerable people on earth, and to safeguard the rest of Creation, unless you’re willing to take on the fossil fuel industry.”
Rt Revd Dr Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St Davids in the Church in Wales, said: “Every part of the world is now feeling the effects of climate change. At our Governing Body meeting in April, the Church in Wales declared a climate emergency, pledged ourselves to reach net-zero carbon emissions ideally by the end of this decade, and took the decision to divest from fossil fuels by the end of the year. Whilst these decisions are a major step forward for us, we recognise that there is still much to be done, and we hope that the actions of the churches will encourage governments and industry to work towards alternatives which will help to arrest and overcome the disastrous global warming which is affecting us all.”
Rt Revd Ernesto Manuel, Anglican Bishop of Nampula in Northern Mozambique, said: “Fossil fuel investments increase climate change and impacts on those most vulnerable, and also destabilise communities. We have seen how over 700,000 people in Northern Mozambique have been displaced – many fleeing for their lives in terror from insurgents. Dozens have been beheaded, even children as young as 12. This violence only occurs in the areas where gas prospecting is taking place. Locals are not consulted and nor do they benefit, only suffering the impacts of rising prices, pollution and loss of land. We plead with the international community – take your money out of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy which is decentralised, benefits local people and does not contribute to climate change.”
Revd Dr Dave Gregory, Convenor of the Baptist Union’s Environmental Network and former Baptist Union President, who is a former meteorologist at the Met Office and the European Weather Centre, said: “It was inspiring to hear so many voices from across the generations and different parts of the Baptist Together family recognising the importance of the decision to divest from fossil fuels, and agreeing that this was the way we need to walk with Jesus together in the face of the climate and environmental crisis which for many in our world is an immediate climate emergency.”
Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol in the Church of England, said: “In taking seriously our response to the climate emergency, I’m pleased to be able to share that the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) has made this commitment to disinvest from fossil fuels. Care for creation is a core mark of mission for the Church, and this is an important step towards realising our net zero carbon aims.”
Rt Revd Ralph Heskett, Catholic Bishop of Hallam, said: “The Diocese of Hallam divested of the most damaging fossil fuel companies many years ago. In recent months, we have decided to divest of the remainder of our investments with fossil fuel companies and instructed brokers to actively seek opportunities for investing in companies involved in renewable forms of energy. The Diocese continues to review our actions and investments to care for our common home.”
James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “As the UK prepares to host the G7 and COP26 this year, it is hugely encouraging to see so many Churches and faith groups announcing their divestment from fossil fuels. We urge governments around the world to follow their lead by ending support for fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future.”
Tomás Insua, Executive Director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, said: “Our common home cannot take any more dirty fossil energy, so today’s announcement is great news. It’s heartening to see how Catholic institutions are implementing the Vatican’s fossil fuel divestment guidelines, in tandem with so many other faith-based institutions. I hope it inspires many others to follow suit, decisively responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church has fully divested from fossil fuel companies, after selling its remaining shares in Shell and Equinor.
The decision followed advice received from the Methodist Church’s Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI) earlier this month, that no oil and gas companies are currently aligned with the climate change targets set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Central Finance Board divested from coal and tar sands in 2015.
The Methodist Church has sold almost £21m in shares in Shell, as well as selling around £2m of bonds in Norwegian oil company Equinor.
David Palmer, Chief Executive of the Central Finance of the Methodist Church, which oversees £1.3bn of investments, said: ‘The patience of the Church has run out.’ He added: ‘The pace of change across the oil and gas sector has been inadequate and we welcome the recommendation of JACEI to disinvest.’
Revd Dr Stephen Wigley, Chair of JACEI, commented: ‘The Committee has determined that the slow pace of corporate change means that the oil and gas sector is failing to meet the targets set by the Paris Accord. Shell, along with its peers, is currently failing to play a substantial enough role in addressing the climate emergency.’
The decision comes after the Methodist Conference and Methodist Council both supported resolutions on fossil fuel divestment last year.
The 2017 Methodist Conference passed a motion calling for divestment from any fossil fuel company that had ‘not aligned their business investment plans with the Paris Agreement target of a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees’ by the 2020 Conference.
The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church previously announced in June 2020 that it would divest from BP and Total.
In the same month, 260 Methodists, including 114 ministers and former Presidents and Vice Presidents of the Methodist Conference, signed a letter calling for the Central Finance Board to complete divestmentfrom all fossil fuel companies. The group highlighted recent Transition Pathway Initiative and Carbon Tracker analysis, showing that no oil and gas companies had aligned their business investment plans with the Paris Agreement goals.
The Methodist Council passed a resolution on divestment in October 2020, after the Methodist Conference: ‘The Council supports the request that JACEI recommends that the Central Finance Board… disinvests before the 2021 Conference from all oil and gas companies which are not currently aligned with the Paris Agreement target of a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees.’ The issue had been referred to Council by the Methodist Conference in July 2020.
Michael Pryke, Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group and former Methodist Youth President, welcomed the news: ‘It’s excellent to see the Methodist Church divesting from oil and gas companies. The prophetic voice of the Church has been heard and the reaction has been amazing to witness. But we mustn’t get complacent, as we still have a lot to do to achieve net zero by 2030.’
Martha Rand, Vice Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group, who proposed the motion on divestment at Methodist Conference as a representative of the Methodist Youth Assembly, said: ‘I’m overjoyed to hear today that the Central Finance Board has fully divested from oil and gas. As Methodists and Christians, it is vital that we show our concern for God’s world and our siblings around the globe through action as well as words. This is a brilliant and important step we have taken. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen, especially Operation Noah and everyone in the Methodist Zero Carbon Group.’
James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, a Christian climate change charity, said: ‘This is a hugely significant and welcome step by the Methodist Church in responding to the climate emergency, especially as the UK prepares to host COP26 in November. We thank all the Methodists who have campaigned tirelessly to make this happen. We hope other Churches will join them in supporting a just and green recovery by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future.’