Sunday 17th October 2021
For immediate release
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Five Christians dressed as penitents whilst a member of the clergy poured fake oil over them outside Lambeth Palace today in protest at the Church of England’s continued investments in fossil fuel industries. Three of the ‘penitents’ then glued themselves to the pavement.
Meanwhile, eight people staged a ‘die-in’ outside the Palace, which involved them lying on the ground in protest while others held banners protesting the Church’s engagement with the fossil fuel industry.
Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, the activists are demanding that the Church immediately announces its intention to divest from fossil fuel companies and that they complete divestment by 31st December 2021. They are also asking the Church to urgently speak out for immediate action to prevent irreversible climate impacts and ensure a liveable planet for all of God’s creation.
It is estimated that the Church of England dioceses, Church Commissioners and Pensions Board currently hold investments worth c. £70 million in fossil fuel companies. To date, just four out of 42 dioceses have announced divestment.
Through a statement read out during the action, those present said:
‘It is our firm conviction that large fossil fuel corporations are incapable of making ‘meaningful sacrifices’, and it is they and political parties across the globe who are heavily influenced, often funded by them, who hold the future of our planet in the balance. We therefore urge the Archbishop to use his influence to announce the immediate divestment from fossil fuels. We also call upon him to urge world leaders meeting at COP26 in two weeks’ time to take bold, unpopular decisions and actions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.’
In a letter handed to Justin Welby as part of the action, Val King wrote:
‘Urgent and radical action is required – we cannot afford to leave the future of God’s creation to market forces and to rely on fossil fuel companies to provide the solution to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. The recent IPCC report makes the case for immediate action crystal clear, as is the warning from UN secretary general António Guterres: ‘There is no time for delay and no room for excuses. This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe.
‘It is our firm conviction that large fossil fuel corporations are incapable of making ‘meaningful sacrifices’, and it is they and political parties across the globe often funded by them who hold the future of our planet in the balance. We therefore urge you to announce immediate divestment from fossil fuels, and we call upon you to urge world leaders at COP26 to take bold, unpopular decisions and actions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.’
The protest follows an action at St Paul’s Cathedral in August which led to 13 arrests. Immediately after Communion at a Eucharist service protestors processed to the altar and faced the congregation holding banners with the words: ‘No Faith in Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Churches Divest Now’. At the same time people gathered on the steps of the Cathedral with banners showing the same messages. Of the four dioceses that have divested one has done so since the action at St Paul’s Cathedral. Those arrested were released and remain under investigation.
Since 2013 most major Christian denominations have made a commitment to divest from fossil fuels including the Quakers, Church of Ireland, United Reformed Churches, Methodist Church. Church of Scotland. Church in Wales and the Baptist Union. The Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church are the only major denominations still investing in fossil fuels. Worldwide, more than 400 religious organisations have made divestment commitments in recent years.
The action comes just two months after a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: ‘that unless there are immediate, paid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.’
In just a few weeks’ time, world leaders will meet in Glasgow at the COP26 conference to discuss the climate crisis. Those involved in the action at St Paul’s Cathedral believe this is our last, best chance to tackle the climate crisis and that the Church needs to lead by example in the lead up to this historic meeting.
Earlier this year the International Energy Agency said that investment in new fossil fuel production must end in 2021 if the global energy sector is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
In 2020 Tearfund published research which shows that nine of ten young Christians are concerned about the climate crisis but only one in ten think their church is doing enough about it.
Those taking part in the action acknowledge that the Church Commissioners have agreed to begin divesting from fossil fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement in 2023. However, they contend that companies like Shell are still committed to future fossil fuel exploration and that there are very few signs that they will align themselves with the Paris Agreement. As the recent IPCC report states very starkly – humanity is running out of time!
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Notes for Editors:
- Christian Climate Action is a community of Christians supporting each other to take meaningful action in the face of imminent and catastrophic anthropogenic climate breakdown. We are inspired by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. Following the example of social justice movements of the past, we carry out acts of public witness, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to urge those in power to make the changes needed. Since November 2018 we have worked closely with Extinction Rebellion and have become known as the Christians in XR. www.christianclimateaction.org.
- Statement read out during the action: https://christianclimateaction.org/2021/10/17/statement-read-out-at-lambeth-palace-divestment-action/
- Letter handed into Justin Welby: https://christianclimateaction.org/2021/10/17/letter-handed-to-justin-welby-at-lambeth-palace-17th-october-2021/
- The IPCC says that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying: https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/
- International Energy Agency calls for end to funding of new fossil fuel projects: https://www.ft.com/content/2bf04fff-5b2f-4d96-a4ea-ff55e029f18e
- View the livestream of the action: https://fb.watch/8HTaT02EUb/
- View photos of the action here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1hHmdveYvbPyU2mAqWxWPNIEor3WbNEOp?usp=sharing
- Source of investment data: National Investing Bodies report to General Synod (p.24-26) states that 0.5% of the Church Commissioners’ portfolio is invested in oil and gas companies (i.e. 0.5% of the Church Commissioners’ £9.2 billion portfolio = £46 million) and that the Church of England Pensions Board has £8.9 million invested in oil and gas companies. https://www.desmog.com/2020/07/17/church-invested-18m-fossil-fuels-methodology/
- Tearfund research: https://wearetearfund.org/burning-down-the-house/
- Denominations which have divested: https://brightnow.org.uk/news/diocese-truro-divests-fossil-fuel-companies
Quotes from those involved in the action:
Clare Cooper, 63, a retired physiotherapist, said: ‘The Church needs to be prophetic and ask “What would Jesus do” when faced with the destruction of humanity and the Earth. Immediate fossil fuel divestment would support the stark warnings given by the UN, IEA and the IPCC report. It would also send a clear message of rejection to fossil fuel companies that have no intention of stopping the expansion of their destructive business regardless of so called “green credentials”.’
Val King, 61, Employee-Ownership Consultant, said: ‘We cannot afford to leave the future of God’s creation to market forces and rely on fossil fuel companies to provide the solution for a just transition to renewable energy. Commenting on the recent IPCC report, UN secretary general António Guterres has warned: ‘There is no time for delay and no room for excuses. This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe.
‘It is my firm conviction that large fossil fuel corporations, driven by the needs of shareholders, are incapable of taking action to tackle the climate emergency. The problem is that these corporations have a disproportionate influence on governments across the globe. At this critical point in history, days ahead of COP26, world leaders hold the future of our planet in the balance. While the Church of England profits from continued exploration of oil and gas, they are not able to speak out against the very actions that are contributing to the rise in global temperature.’
Dr Michelle Barnes, 52, former geologist, business woman and climate change activist, said: ‘The lead Bishop on the Environment for the Church of England (Graham Usher) recently said: “We are drawing on the wells of wisdom within our traditions to encourage the leaders of the world to take the bold, prophetic, steps we all need to take.” And yet the Church of England still has a whopping £70 million invested in fossil fuels! I am taking part in this action today to remind the Church of England that they must take a moral lead and divest now, ahead of COP26.’
Paul Cooper, 75, a retired landscape architect, said: ‘I’m doing this action because I want to persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury against his policy of ‘engaging’ with fossil fuel companies to achieve a transition to renewables, and I know he’s had some limited success. But the process of engaging is too slow in relation to the accelerating effects of CO2 on the Earth and everything on it. “Engaging” also implies trusting those you are engaging with and the history of fossil fuel companies shows them up as untrustworthy. Divesting your investments from fossil fuel companies sends a message to them to take transitioning to renewables seriously and is the Church setting a good example.’
Sue Hampton, 65, a Quaker from Berkhamsted, said: ‘In spite of the heartening letter by multi-faith leaders on climate action, the Church of England remains slow to take action in the form of divestment from fossil fuels. The time for ‘engagement’ with these companies surely ran out some decades ago. In a time of extreme, existential crisis, both science and conscience demand something much more radical and urgent: pulling the financial plug. The church can no longer be complicit in climate injustice. It’s not about business or strategy but love.’