New report calls on Churches to urgently divest from fossil fuels

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A new report from Operation Noah, the Christian climate change charity, is calling on Churches in the UK to urgently divest from fossil fuels in response to the climate emergency.

Church investments in major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant? shows the gap between the business plans of major oil companies and the Paris Agreement targets, which commits to limit global average temperature increases to well below 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels, and aims for 1.5°C.

The report draws on research from a variety of key sources, including Carbon Tracker’s Breaking the Habit report and the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) 2020 State of Transition Report, both of which demonstrate that none of the major oil companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement targets.

It is published as several major oil companies are set to hold their AGMs, including Shell (Tuesday 19 May), BP and ExxonMobil (Wednesday 27 May) and Total (Friday 29 May). It shows that Shell and BP intend to increase oil and gas production by 38% and 20% respectively between 2018 and 2030, when global carbon emissions must fall by 55% by 2030 in order to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, according to the 2019 UN Emissions Gap report.

The report highlights that Shell and BP plan to spend huge sums on exploration and extraction of new reserves between now and 2030 ($149 billion and $71 billion respectively), when scientists are warning that the majority of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.

It also draws attention to the fact that BP and Shell, which spend most among the major oil companies on lobbying against climate action, belong to trade associations such as the American Petroleum Institute that have successfully lobbied for weaker environmental regulation during the Covid-19 crisis. The report strengthens the calls for bailouts to support workers, but not oil and gas corporations.

Several UK Churches have already completed the process of divestment from fossil fuels, including Quakers in Britain, the Church of Ireland and the United Reformed Church. In others, such as the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church, Church bodies have made divestment recommendations, which should be acted on as a matter of urgency. Two Catholic dioceses in England and Wales have so far divested from fossil fuels, and the report calls on the remaining dioceses to join them – and 150 other Catholic institutions around the world – in making divestment commitments.

The 2017 Methodist Conference called for the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church to divest from oil and gas companies whose business investment plans were not aligned with the Paris Agreement target of a global temperature rise well below 2°C by 2020. In light of the research outlined, the report calls on the Methodist Church to divest from all fossil fuel companies now.

The Church of England General Synod in July 2018 voted to begin divestment in 2020 from oil and gas companies that are ‘not taking seriously their responsibilities’ in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and complete divestment from those not on track to align with the Paris Agreement by 2023. The report argues that none of the major oil companies are taking their responsibilities seriously, and the divestment process must begin now.

James Buchanan, Operation Noah’s Bright Now Campaign Manager, said: ‘All major oil companies continue to spend huge sums on the exploration and extraction of new fossil fuel reserves, as well as lobbying against climate action. The evidence is overwhelming that none of these companies are ‘Paris compliant’. We strongly encourage Churches to demonstrate moral leadership at this key moment in history by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future.’

Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, said: ‘The current health crisis has highlighted as never before the need for coherent international action in the face of global threat. Can we learn the lesson and apply it to the global threat of climate change? To do so means taking practical and effective steps to reduce our lethal dependence on fossil fuels, and this report challenges the Churches to take these steps as a matter of urgency.’

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