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Churches step up action on climate change

Posted on: December 13, 2016 2:58 PM
The Revd Dr Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, supporting the climate change divestment campaign.

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Church of England is to launch a new data analysis tool to help investors monitor companies’ climate-related risks. The move comes as a student-led campaign to persuade institutions to withdraw investments from fossil fuels has reached $5.2 trillion USD (approximately £4.08 trillion GBP). Meanwhile, a group of bishops in the US-based Episcopal Church have questioned President-elect Trump’s decision to appoint climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In May, the Church of England’s national investment bodies adopted a new climate change investment policy that had been drawn up by the province’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group. The policy excluded two groups of companies from potential investment: those that derive more than 10 per cent of their revenues from the extraction of thermal coal or the production of oil from tar sands.

The policy also committed the church’s investment bodies to active engagement on climate change issues with companies they invest in. Today, a C of E spokesman told ACNS that as part of its engagement policy, a new Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) will be launched in January 2017 to help investors keep track of companies’ climate related risks.

Pioneered by a partnership between the Church of England, the UK Environment Agency Pension Fund and the London School of Economics, the TPI will provide investors with accurate data to help them judge a company’s actions on climate change. The tool is currently undergoing testing ahead of a public launch anticipated in the middle of January. It will focus initially on companies in the mining, oil and gas, automotive and electricity sectors before being rolled out to other sectors. A number of investors have already been signed up to use the tool.

Yesterday, the Divest-Invest Campaign held press conferences in London and New York, to announce the latest figures on climate change divestment. According to the campaign, churches and other faith-based groups account for some 23 per cent of the total; a further 23 per cent is represented by charitable groups. Anglican churches in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Australia,
Canada, Southern Africa and England are amongst those who have made moves in this area.

The Divest-Invest Campaign says that 688 organisations and 58,000 individuals around the world have committed to divesting their money from fossil fuels.

Welcoming the announcement, the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, said that: “The burning of fossil fuels is leading to climate change which will increase poverty and hunger. We are on the cusp of a transition to green energy and divestment is a practical action that churches can take to encourage this transition to take place more quickly.”

In his current role as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt has filed numerous law suits against the US Environmental Protection Agency, including a legal bid to halt President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

In an open letter to President-elect Trump, the bishops of Western Massachusetts, Douglas Fisher, and Massachusetts, Alan Gates, alongside a suffragan and two retired bishops, challenge the appointment of Pruitt as EPA administrator.

"The Episcopal Church stands strongly for the protection of the environment,” they said. “We respect the facts of science. We support laws and policies that address the reality of climate change. We are in the process of divesting our financial interests in fossil fuels. . .

“Our respect for government leaders and our reverence for the earth as God’s creation impel us to write to you to express our dismay” about the appointment of Scott Pruitt. “We wonder why a person who has consistently and adamantly opposed all laws and policies that provide even minimal ‘protection’ to the environment should be trusted with leading such an agency.”

The bishops say that climate change is a matter of national security, and – quoting senior US military intelligence officers – say that climate change is a ”threat multiplier” that is “already creating instability around the world and will likely create significant security challenges in the years ahead.”