Clergy amongst Wells Cathedral protestors demanding Church of England divests from fossil fuels

Ten Christians, including a member of the clergy, have been promised a meeting with a Bishop after they held a protest at Wells Cathedral today to urge the Diocese of Bath and Wells and 14 other Church of England dioceses to commit to divest from fossil fuels and to invest in clean energy before a meeting of world leaders to discuss climate change in November.

The ten, all members of Christian Climate Action, took part in a Eucharist service and then, at the start of the final hymn, processed to the altar and faced the congregation holding banners with the words: ‘No Faith in Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Churches Divest Now’. One person went to pulpit and explained to the congregation why the group was making this peaceful and prayerful protest. At the same time around 2 0people gathered on the steps of the Cathedral with banners showing the same messages.

Protestors gathered inside as well as outside

The activists are demanding that the Church immediately announces its intention to divest from fossil fuel companies and that they complete divestment by end October 2022 ahead of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Eygpt. 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.1. To date, just ten out of 42 dioceses have announced full divestment commitments.2.  17 dioceses do not currently hold investments and the protesters are urging them to announce their commitment not to invest in the future.

Bristol-based Reverend Sue Parfitt, 80, was among those who took part,

‘How could I not take part? I find it deeply shocking that many Dioceses in the Church of England, knowing all that they do as to the lethal effect of fossil fuels on all life on earth, are nevertheless prepared to gain financially through their continuing investment in the industry. The Church in all its forms needs to be taking a prophetic stand and calling on the Government to end all new exploration. How can it do this when it continues to benefit in such a direct and obvious way, as does the Diocese of Bath & Wells?’

The Climate Emergency

Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, said in 2021: ‘If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.3.  That was in May 2021.  A year later, fossil fuel companies are spending over £100 million per day on exploring for new oil.4.

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.

Those taking part in the action at Wells Cathedral acknowledged 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 latest IPCC report states very starkly – humanity is running out of time!

Notes:

1. 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/

2. CofE Dioceses which have made divestment commitments: https://brightnow.org.uk/news/10-church-of-england-dioceses-divest/. Denominations which have made divested or committed to divest: https://brightnow.org.uk/news/divestment-investment-church-land/

3. International Energy Agency calls for end to funding of new fossil fuel projects: https://www.ft.com/content/2bf04fff-5b2f-4d96-a4ea-ff55e029f18e

4. Revealed: the ‘carbon bombs’ set to trigger catastrophic climate breakdown | Fossil fuels | The Guardian

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