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Church investment in fossil fuels

A Coal-fired power plant in Bengal

A position statement from Christian Aid

Churches and faith investors have long aligned their investments with their beliefs and ethics, from challenging the apartheid regime to withdrawing their investments from the arms trade, tobacco, or gambling. As with every part of the churches’ mission, their investments must be guided by radical and sacrificial love.

As leading advocates for action on climate change, it is now time that the churches divest from the fossil fuel industry. Continuing to profit from fossil fuel production is financially unnecessary and morally wrong; investing in the alternatives is the churches’ prophetic responsibility.

The Paris Agreement makes a universal and binding declaration to keep the rise in global temperatures to ‘well below’ 2°C and to aim to limit the rise to 1.5°C. We know that even this rise will cause long-lasting and serious damage to ecosystems, economies and communities across the world, and will reverse much of the progress in reducing poverty which the churches strive to achieve. Rapid and drastic action to reduce emissions is needed across all sectors of the economy to achieve this goal, alongside significant changes in our lifestyles and social norms. There must be an urgent transition to a net zero greenhouse-gas economy by the middle of the century. There is no time to delay.

We cannot support investment in companies with fossil fuel production at their heart. Their business plans are consistent with a 3-5°C rise in global temperatures which would be devastating to people and ecosystems, beyond the limits of societies to adapt, and be a grave injustice and irresponsibility towards our global neighbours. The vast majority of fossil fuel reserves need to remain unburnt. A managed but rapid decline of fossil fuel companies’ production is also essential. Despite years of engagement, they are not making the fundamental and necessary shifts to be part of a low-carbon future.

As there is little room for fossil fuels in a world that achieves the Paris Agreement ambition, investments in companies that produce them are financially risky. In a future that takes the necessary radical action to tackle climate change, almost all fossil fuel assets will become “stranded assets” which present major risks not only to companies and investors, but to the wider financial system and global economy.

As the development agency of our 41 sponsoring churches, Christian Aid listens to the voices of our sisters and brothers who already live with the most challenging realities of climate change. They bring us a message of challenge and hope. The prophetic role of the churches is to provide hope-filled possibilities. Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our times, and hope and moral courage are direly needed. Our hope must also galvanize courageous and necessary action.

We therefore call on churches and faith-based investors to take action by:

  • divesting from fossil fuel producers immediately
  • engaging robustly with those companies in their portfolio that are high emitters but for which diversification is possible, to ensure they have Paris Agreement-compatible business plans by 2020. This may include sectors such as transport, construction and agriculture.

There is not much time to bring about the transition. Action is urgent, and the churches will be falling short if they do not stand firmly among the leaders on climate action. Continued investment towards climate solutions is also vital, whether in renewable energy, efficient buildings, low-carbon transport (especially public transport), more sustainable and resilient agriculture, recycling or other forms of circular economy. But a rapid and drastic end to the production and use of fossil fuels is vital and unavoidable.

Divestment from fossil fuel production would remove the churches’ consent from the industries that have caused, and continue to cause, dangerous climate change. Divestment by the churches would reinforce the moral stance already taken by a growing movement of institutions, investors and young people who no longer wish to profit from the fossil fuel economy. Divestment would increase the pressure on policymakers and company executives to bring about the transition to the clean, just future which the churches seek. It would also signal that the church stands together with those who will work for a 1.5°C world – and everyone who needs that world to come into being.