The Church’s governing body, the General Synod, voted overwhelmingly to support the new policy yesterday (13 July) which will set new guidelines for the Church’s investing bodies.

The Church plans to divest from companies deriving more than 10% of their revenue from the extraction of thermal coal and tar sands oil.

The move came as part of a wide ranging motion by the Synod to combat climate change, which will also include new initiatives to draw the attention of Church-goers to the forthcoming Paris climate talks in December.

The Church also plans to introduce new environmental training for ministers in ‘ecotheology’.

An ‘ecominical’ matter

The Bishop of Salisbury Nicholas Holtam, the lead bishop for the environment, said: “The science, economics and politics all point in the same direction.

“Climate change disproportionately affects the poorest. They are most vulnerable to increased storms, rising sea level, changing patterns of rainfall, floods and drought. We live interconnected lives. What is bad for our neighbours is bad for us.”

Archbishop Justin Welby spoke in a debate with the Church’s Environment Working Group to consider the Church’s role in combating climate change.

Welby said: “We need an imaginative commitment to new ways of approaching the subject of climate change that does not accept a deterministic or selfish nationalistic policy.” 

He added: “Symbolic action such as use of paper at General Synod, the amount we travel, and disinvestment or the tackling and engagement with companies in certain areas, such as arctic drilling, are equally important.”

Grassroots action

The debate comes after the head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis issued a document of papal teaching calling on the world to act on climate change.

This latest announcement from the Synod was welcomed by the charity Christian Aid, with the group’s director of policy and public affairs Christine Allen stating: ““It was encouraging to see the church calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in favour of renewable energy and backing an initiative which has seen thousands of people fasting and praying for the climate on the first of every month.

“The Church’s commitment to a more just, fairer and sustainable world is evident. Statements at Synod strengthen the church’s grassroots action and high level political engagement.”

Pope questioned

However, comments in a new report from a prominent Catholic peer Lord Donoughue and Anglican Bishop Peter Forster of Chester questioned the messages in Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, suggesting the environmental message could hinder the development of poor nations.

Bishop Forster said: “Pope Francis should certainly be commended for his desire to deal with poverty in the developing world, but it is hard to see how he hopes to do so without economic growth and fossil fuels, both of which he thinks are unnecessary evils.”

Matt Field

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