Ahead of Synod vote, Tearfund welcomes Diocese of Oxford proposed amendment on divestment

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Photo by Antonio Garcia on Unsplash

 

This Sunday (8th July), the Church of England’s (CofE) General Synod – their formal decision-making body – is meeting. A key amendment to a motion being proposed by the CofE National Investing Bodies (NIBs) is due to be discussed, calling for stronger action on divestment from fossil fuels. The Bishop of Oxford is calling for this amendment and explains it well in his blog, but the key point is strengthening the language to put pressure on fossil fuel companies to adopt business plans in line with the Paris Agreement by 2020. If companies don’t do this, then divestment would begin to take place.

There have been attempts to estimate how much fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to meet the Paris Agreement, but the fact of the matter is, to be successful, we have to achieve net zero carbon emissions by mid-century for a high chance of limiting dangerous temperature rise. This means a move away from fossil fuels to 100% clean energy. Back in 2015 the Governor of the Bank of England warned investors about stranded assets and the “‘potentially huge’ losses from climate change that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas ‘literally unburnable’”. He went on to say that “once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”

To date, the CofE’s NIBs have made some impressive progress in engaging with companies through the Transition Pathway Initiative – a joint initiative with the Environment Agency Pension Fund that tracks the progress companies are making in addressing climate change. For example, last year the CofE succeeded in getting a resolution passed by 62% of ExxonMobil’s shareholders to make the company report on how its business model will be affected by global efforts to limit the average rise in temperatures to below 2°C. The CofE has also previously divested from all thermal coal and tar sands investments – some of the most polluting fossil fuels. This type of action is to be congratulated. Tearfund therefore supports the Oxford amendment to refine and strengthen the NIB’s hand and build on the success to date. The amendment bolsters the call for divestment where companies don’t align themselves with the Paris Agreement by 2020. If this amendment is accepted, every company that the CofE invests in will need to prove “an unequivocal path by 2020 to aligning its business investment plan with the Paris Agreement to restrict global warming to well below 2°C”.

Tearfund has been advocating on climate change for more than 25 years, and when I was speaking to Daniel in January this year, an enterprising and hardworking man from the village of Kilimatinde in Tanzania, I was struck anew about the devastating impacts climate change is having on people in poverty that we work with. He is working hard to develop his small farmstead but his land is dying. The fruit on his papaya and mango trees are not growing properly. His cashew nuts aren’t swelling as they should do and his piglets are skinny. Daniel planted a whole field of chilli plants; they have all withered and died. The rains are late, and with each passing day the situation gets worse.

I know all too well the need to help poor communities both adapt to the impacts of an already changing climate and mitigate against increases in greenhouse gases.  One of Tearfund’s recent priorities has been to get more investment in clean energy. Our Big Church Switch scheme, run with Christian Aid and the Church of England, enabled 110 churches to switch to 100% renewable electricity, and the existence of this scheme helped influence the Church of England’s ‘Parish Buying’ scheme to move over to a 100% renewable electricity tariff in October 2017 – switching a further 1,878 churches. We’ve also succeeded in getting around 700 individuals to switch their homes to 100% clean electricity.  Our current campaign calls on the World Bank to increase their investment in off-grid renewable energy for the poorest people around the world.

As the UK marks the 10 year anniversary of the Climate Change Act this Autumn, we have to recognise our responsibility in the UK to step up action urgently to achieve zero emissions by 2050. And so I welcome the amendment being proposed by the Bishop of Oxford and pray for a healthy debate on Sunday.

 

Dr Ruth Valerio is Tearfund’s Global Advocacy and Influencing Director.

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