United Reformed Church votes unanimously to divest from fossil fuel companies

By staff writers
May 15, 2019

The United Reformed Church (URC) has unanimously approved a proposal to divest from fossil fuel companies. 

The Rev Dr David Pickering, Moderator of the URC National Synod of Scotland, presented the resolution at the meeting of the URC Mission Council, which took place at the High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, from May 13-15 2019.

He was supported in the preparation of the resolution by James Buchanan, Campaign Manager for Bright Now, a campaign run by Operation Noah, a Christian charity working with the Church to inspire action on climate change.

Dr Pickering said: "I think it's fantastic that a prophetic decision was taken today by the United Reformed Church to end investments in fossil fuels and to up investments in renewable energy. As Christians, we are challenged to be good stewards of God's creation and as a Church we have taken a welcome new step."

The URC has now urged its trust bodies to:

  • not invest in fossil fuel companies whose total turnover is more than 10 per cent derived from the extraction and/or supply of fossil fuels, including thermal coal, natural gas and oil
  • complete the divestment required to fulfil this decision by the time the URC General Assembly meets in 2020
  • widen their proactive role as investors, by engaging further with companies whose activities foster significant carbon emissions, for example the electricity and automotive industries, and producers of energy intensive products (e.g. cement)
  • refocus the Church’s investment portfolio by scaling up investment in renewable energy and clean technologies.
  • The URC Mission Council further resolves to:
  • encourage publicity of these actions and the rationale behind them, so that the URC can use its influence to advocate an end to the exploration for new oil and gas reserves, and the managed decline of fossil fuel production
  •  advocate to the UK government and others for action to foster the transition to a net zero carbon economy
  •  encourage URC synods and local URC churches with investments to divest from fossil fuels, and reinvest in clean alternatives
  •  support and encourage churches and church members to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, and so participate in a just transition to a zero-carbon future
  •  request the Resources Centres for Learning to ensure that those being prepared for service and leadership are cognisant of the global and spiritual context of the climate crisis.

 Amanda Mukwashi, Chief Executive of Christian Aid welcomed the motion, saying: "To achieve climate justice we need to ensure an extremely rapid transition out of the use of fossil fuels and the onus must be on those whose emissions are historically the highest, to transition first and fastest. The Church needs to be at the forefront of putting our money where our mouth, and our heart, is."

In 2014, Brighthelm URC in Brighton became the first local church in the UK to divest from fossil fuel companies. In 2015, the URC National Synod of Scotland became the first URC synod to divest.

URC Youth, which represents 18-25 year olds in the United Reformed Church, has played a leading role in pushing the Church to make a fossil fuel divestment pledge.

Natalie Gibbs, URC Youth Co-Moderator, said in a statement during the debate: “We believe that by divesting from fossil fuels we can support God’s creation on a scale that is now needed given our planet’s fragile condition. It will be URC Youth members that have to live through and deal with this volatile future planet if change does not happen now.”

Ahead of the debate, URC Youth member and award-winning vlogger Isaac Harvey produced a powerful film entitled For the Love of Our Planet: Fossil Free Future, highlighting the impacts of climate change on the world’s poorest communities, and calling on the URC to divest at a national level.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/28198)

James Buchanan said: "We are delighted that the URC has decided to divest. This is a hugely positive response to the climate emergency. We hope many other churches will join them in divesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean alternatives."

The United Reformed Church is one of over 1,000 institutions around the world, with more than $8 trillion worth of assets, which have made fossil fuel divestment pledges. They include half of UK universities, faith-based organisations including Quakers in Britain and the Church of Ireland, and health institutions such as the Royal College of GPs.

The decision comes at a time of increasing concern about climate change, with the UK parliament recently declaring a 'climate emergency' and widespread protest, including strikes led by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and 'direct action' campaigns run by Extinction Rebellion, which have been supported by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the group Christian Climate Action.

In April, Operation Noah organised a joint announcement for local churches divesting from fossil fuels. Eight local churches, including three URC churches, as well as the United Reformed Church Synod of Yorkshire, announced their divestment commitments as part of the ‘Easter Declaration for Fossil Free Churches.’

Parliament is due to discuss the “financial and ethical risks of investments in fossil fuel companies” with regard to its pension fund today (15 May)

* Read The United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland’s resolution and accompanying paper Creating a climate of change here

* United Reformed Church https://urc.org.uk/

* Operation Noah https://operationnoah.org/

* Bright Now https://brightnow.org.uk/


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