Church of England threatens oil firm crackdown

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oil rigImage source, SPL

The Church of England is to sell its shares in oil and gas firms that fail to do enough to tackle climate change.

It will pull its investment out of firms not on track to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2023.

The General Synod, the church's parliament, voted 347 to four in favour of the symbolic move.

The Church of England said the vote made it clear that "the church must play a leading role on the urgent issue of climate change".

The outcome is weaker than the original vote proposed, which had suggested a deadline of 2020 for assessing firms' progress on tackling climate change.

A Church of England spokesperson said the longer time frame would enable the Church to "push for real change" in the sector.

Ahead of the vote, David Walker, deputy chair of the Church Commissioners, the body which manages the Church's investments, had said selling its investments in gas and oil firms by 2020 would leave its strategy and influence "in tatters".

"It would not spur companies to change further and faster. It would do the exact opposite; it would take the pressure off them," he said at the time.

Image source, Getty Images

The new rule will apply to the Church Commissioners' £8.3bn investment fund, as well as a £2.3bn retirement fund overseen by the pensions board and a further £2bn of other Church of England funds.

The Church Commissioners had around £123m invested in oil and gas firms at the end of last year.

Charity Christian Aid's head of UK advocacy Tom Viita said the vote had put "oil majors on notice".

"If oil companies continue to drag their heels, there is nothing to stop the Church divesting earlier if they, or Synod, are not satisfied with the speed of change," he added.

The Church's ethical investment policy dictates that all investments should be compatible with Christian values.

So it will not invest in companies with the following mix of sales:

  • 10% of turnover from weapons
  • 3% of income from pornography
  • 10% of income from tobacco, gambling, non-military firearms, high interest-rate lending and human embryonic cloning

However in 2013, it emerged that the Church had indirectly invested in payday loan firm Wonga - which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, admitted to being "embarrassed and irritated" about. It has since ended that investment.