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Day 2

Climate Change and Fossil Fuels Motion Passed at General Synod

A motion calling on the RCB to ensure that the Church of Ireland further improves the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio has been brought forward at General Synod.

The motion, in the names of Stephen Trew and Kevin Bowers, calls on the Representative Body to support the Environmental Charter passed at General Synod 2015 and acknowledge the motions passed at a number of diocesan synods calling for more action from the Representative Church Body on climate change and fossil fuel investments.

The motion also calls on the RB to exclude companies whose turnover is derived from the production of coal or tar and aim to increase its exposure to green alternatives, reduce its exposure to oil and gas and seek companies with good environmental policies.

The RB is also urged to continue to support collaborative engagement with companies and policy makers for the delivery of this commitment on assisting the transition to a low carbon economy. The motion asks that the RB acknowledge that divestment from companies not committed to reducing the carbon footprint may be appropriate. It calls on the RB to commit to continue to evolve its climate change policy and ensure that its policy remains consistent with that of the Church of England.

Proposing the motion, Stephen Trew said that when it comes to fossil fuel investments we must ask ourselves: What do we value more: a return on our investments, or the welfare of people who are harmed by air pollution and climate change caused by burning fossil fuels?

“Climate change means that drought, heat waves and floods act like giant dominoes and lead to failed harvests, economic collapse, political turmoil, conflict, famine and refugee crises,” Mr Trew said. “Dr John Stott was right when he wrote about climate change: ‘Of all the global threats that face our planet, this is the most serious.’ But I believe there is hope. There is a solution. And with this motion the Church of Ireland sets a course towards the solution.”

He outlined a number of positive steps: the archbishops and bishops had highlighted the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion, the fifth of which pledges to care for creation. He said that the RCB now accepted that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities contributed to climate change and urgent action was needed. The Church’s policy on climate change had improved. Last year investments in coal were excluded from the portfolio.

Mr Trew added that a number of other actions were being taken including the exclusion of companies that extract tar sands as well as items listed in the motion.

“Members of Synod, it is wrong to invest in a fossil fuelled past, and it is right to invest in a low carbon future. Around the world this week there is a global divestment mobilisation (www.globaldivestmentmobilisation.org/uk) and the movement states: ‘It’s not an investment if it is destroying the planet.’ So far $5 trillion has been divested by churches, institutions, and national investment funds and moved to green investments,” Mr Trew said.

“With this motion the Church of Ireland is saying that coal and tar sands investments are not part of its future. It is also saying that unless oil and gas producers take seriously their commitment to a low carbon economy, then we will divest from those companies too.

Positive steps have been taken and we are moving in the right direction,” he added.

The motion was seconded by Kevin Bowers, chairperson of the Investment Committee. He said that the RCB continued to support the transition to a low carbon economy and would continue to evolve its investment strategy alongside other faith based investors.

“The impact of climate change impacts the most vulnerable members of society the most and each one of us has the power to contribute to this transition in our everyday lives (travel, food, heating, shopping, home improvements etc.),” Mr Bowers said.

He outlined the RCB’s climate change strategy from an investment perspective which is based around four principals: divest for the worst, engage with companies, engage with policy makers and invest in clean energy solutions. He said the motion would help progress to continue as the energy transition takes shape.

Discussing the motion Trevor Sargent (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) said it gave him great pleasure to see this motion presented. He said that as one church our responsibility goes beyond this land. He said that the fifth Mark of Mission to safeguard creation is a significant mark of mission. By divestment in fossil fuels we help those who are suffering for our faith, he said.

Also supporting the motion Andrew Coleman (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said that many suffering the effects of climate change were supported by Bishops’ Appeal. He said that through the motion we are helping to tackle the root cause of climate change.

Johnny Coachman (Leighlin) said one of the ambitions of the Church for the next couple of decades must be to help society tackle climate change. He highlighted the situation in the Arctic. He suggested that the Church should ask the government to close the turf burning power stations in the Republic and put scrubbers in the chimney at Moneypoint. He also highlighted the effect of agricultural sprays on insects, in particular bees and asked the Church to intervene.

Jock Saunders (Killaloe) supported the thrust of the motion and said the RCB were to be congratulated for responding to call from Synod over the last number of years. He queried the need for the Church of Ireland to ensure its climate change policy keep up with that of the Church of England.

Arthur McCarthy wondered if it was hypocritical to talk about divesting of oil investments when many churches use oil.

The motion was passed by Synod.