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‘Across Africa, climate activists are pleading for people of faith to divest from fossil fuel companies – not only because of climate change, but because of human rights abuses…pollution of scarce water supplies…and political destabilisation being caused’
Tuesday 11 January 2022: Writing in the Church Times, James Buchanan, Operation Noah’s Bright Now Campaign Manager, and Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, leader of Green Anglicans and recipient of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cross of St Augustine, call on the Church of England to divest from fossil fuels due to the industry’s human rights abuses and role in fuelling the climate crisis.
Citing the example of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who rejected the policy of ‘constructive engagement’ with Apartheid South Africa, and in that same spirit called on investors to divest from fossil fuel companies, Operation Noah and Green Anglicans call on the Church of England to ‘make 2022 the year to remove the Church’s moral support of the fossil fuel industry.’
Tutu was an early advocate of divestment and said that ‘climate change is the human rights issue of our time.’ Church divestment from fossil fuels and investment in climate solutions should be ‘the legacy that we leave our beloved “Arch”,’ Mash and Buchanan write.
The Church of England’s policy of engagement, with a collective £55 million still invested in fossil fuel companies at a national level, and with 18 dioceses still funding fossil fuels, is increasingly out of step with the rest of the Anglican Communion. In 2021, six Church of England dioceses and the Church in Wales joined the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Church of Ireland, and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in announcing their full divestment from fossil fuel companies. The Diocese of Truro has divested from fossil fuels and has now invested nearly £2 million in funds that invest directly in renewable energy.
Writing in the Church Times, Mash and Buchanan also call into question the Church of England’s ‘Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI)’ which was created to assess the environmental credentials of oil and gas companies and companies in other sectors. They raise concerns that the TPI risks ‘faith-washing’ fossil fuel companies, giving them unwarranted social licence and political power.
Mash and Buchanan write: ‘For example, in November 2021, the TPI concluded that three oil and gas companies, including French company TotalEnergies, are on a pathway to align with 1.5°C in 2050. This conclusion has been described as “misleading” and “dangerous” by Reclaim Finance, whose research in Bloomberg in September showed that TotalEnergies plans to increase Arctic oil and gas production by 28% by 2030.’
This summer, the Archbishop of Canterbury will host the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of bishops from around the Anglican Communion which takes place once a decade. Green Anglicans and Operation Noah call for the Church to ‘listen to the voices of our sisters and brothers from the global South and indigenous communities’ on divestment and the climate crisis.
In addition to human rights abuses, ‘fossil fuel companies are destroying local ecosystems and biodiversity,’ Mash and Buchanan write. ‘In South Africa, Shell has pursued plans for seismic blasting on the Wild Coast, despite threats to marine life, fishing communities and local communities dependent on ecotourism.’
Former Archbishop of York John Sentamu has described the actions of oil companies in Nigeria as ‘environmental genocide.’
Rt Revd Manuel Ernesto, Anglican Bishop of Nampula in Northern Mozambique, has highlighted the destructive impacts of oil and gas companies, stating: ‘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. This violence only occurs in the areas where gas prospecting is taking place.’
In September 2021, over 20 Anglican bishops from across Africa called for an immediate halt to all new oil and gas exploration in Africa and denounced the ‘new era of economic colonialism by oil and gas companies’ which will have ‘dire consequences for all life on this planet.’