The Church of England is facing stiff criticism for its continuing investments in colossal fossils ExxonMobil, Shell, TotalÉnergies, and BP and biofuel giant Drax, with campaigners pointing to close ties between some church leadership, fossil firms, and some of the banks that continue to prop them up.
“The revelations come as the church faces renewed pressure to fully divest from fossil fuels after its biannual meeting earlier this month, where climate campaigners expressed frustration at the church’s ongoing stakes in oil and gas,” DeSmog reports.
In 2018, the church’s General Synod set a 2023 deadline to divest “from all oil and gas companies that are not in line with the Paris Agreement by 2023,” the news story states. “Yet three years later, the church continues to hold shares in Shell, TotalÉnergies, and ExxonMobil—all of which are planning significant fossil fuel expansion.”
Church officials decided to continue their “engagement” with Exxon after it announced a new climate plan that offered no promise of actual emission reductions, followed by a “net-zero” roadmap that ignored the lion’s share of its emissions.
“Our decision to maintain our Exxon holding is part of our ongoing engagement with the company, which saw a successful campaign to replace 25% of their board,” said Bess Joffe, head of responsible investment at the Church Commissioners for England. “We will hold Exxon shares for now to keep our seat at the table. This will give the new directors time to work with their board colleagues to bring about change and address the urgent climate crisis.”
Joffe said the church would dump Exxon if it failed to “demonstrate sufficient progress”, particularly on its massive Scope 3, or downstream, emissions. But she added that “the Church is in the conversion business. We believe that no one is free from sin—including ourselves—but that both people and institutions have the capacity to change and do better.”
“We want to achieve a net-zero world, not a net-zero portfolio for the Church Commissioners,” added First Church Estates Commissioner Alan Smith, a former head of global risk strategy at investment bank HSBC, which DeSmog says has financed more than £81 billion/US$110 billion in fossil fuel activity since the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“As Christians we should engage with those who are not-yet-perfect,” Smith said.
The Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN) called the church’s position a “betrayal”, DeSmog reports, after the Archibishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the institution would “disinvest immediately” from companies that fail to meet its climate test.
DeSmog points to close connections between the Church of England and the fossil sector.
• Welby worked in the oil industry for more than a decade in the 1970s and 80s.
• Clive Mather, who has chaired the church’s pensions board since 2019, is a former Shell CEO who oversaw the company’s expansion into the Canadian tar sands/oil sands.
• Richard Hubbard, chair of the board’s pensions committee, spent nearly 30 years at BP, ultimately serving as director of the company’s European cross-border pension plan.
• David Nussbaum, a member of the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG), is on the board of Drax, whose biomass plant in North Yorkshire is the country’s biggest single source of carbon pollution.
• EIAG member Dami Lalude previously worked in the natural resources group at investment banker Goldman Sachs, which has poured more than $100 billion into the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement, according to BankTrack research released in 2020.
The Church declined to comment on those connections, DeSmog writes. “The Church of England’s national investing bodies have taken the view that they have more influence on high-carbon industries by being in the room rather than by divesting,” a spokesperson said. “By engaging with high carbon emitting companies, we can address the climate crisis and bring about real world change.”
YCCN’s Chris Manktelow countered that “engagement is not working. The Church of England needs to fully divest from these companies to care for God’s creation and show moral leadership.”