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World Council of Churches to divest from fossil fuels

World Council of Churches to divest

The World Council of Churches had decided to pull its investments from fossil fuels. Jocelyn Kinghorn, 2013

In another huge win for the divestment movement the World Council of Churches (WCC), consisting of over 300 churches and representing half a billion Christians worldwide, has decided to pull its investments out of fossil fuels.

The umbrella group, which includes churches from across 150 countries, including the Church of England by not the Catholic Church, has agreed to phase out its own holdings in coal, oil and gas and encourage its members to do the same.

The decision has been welcomed as a “major victory” by divestment campaigners who say the decision by the WCC’s Central Committee – which is made up of dozens of influential religious leaders from around the world – could resonate far and wide.

Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a campaign supporting the divestment effort, said:

The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves – and that there’s no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels.

This is a remarkable moment for the 590 Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today “this far and no further.

The report of the council’s finance policy committee, published on the final day of the council’s central committee meeting in Geneva said it “considered that the list of sectors in which the WCC does not invest should be extended to fossil fuels.”

It is not clear whether this decision will apply to only the council itself, which has a comparatively small investment fund, or whether the move will spread to its members as well, which have much larger investments.

Guillermo Kerber, who coordinates the WCC’s work on care for creation and climate justice said:

There was an explicit wish at the Finance Committee to include fossil fuels as one of the sectors where the WCC will not invest in, based on decisions to divest from fossil fuels taken by member churches in different parts of the world.

The general ethical guidelines for investment already included the concern for a sustainable environment, for future generations and CO2 footprint. Adding fossil fuels to the list of sectors where the WCC does not invest in serves to strengthen the governing body’s commitment on climate change as expressed in various sessions of the Central Committee.

The WCC Central Committee meeting also saw the announcement of an interfaith summit to coincide with the UN Secretary General’s climate summit to be held in New York in September, where leaders from across faiths will come together and call for strong climate action.

The latest decision from the WCC follows a host of similar announcements from faith groups in recent weeks.

In the US, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly committed to divest, while the University of Dayton became the first Catholic institution to join the campaign.

The Church of Sweden has also come out in favour of divestment.

Also in the US, the United Church of Christ in the US has also endorsed divestment, while the Quakers in the UK have done the same.

Regionally, Lutheran, Quaker, and Episcopal denominations have also joined the effort in the US, while in New Zealand and Australia, the Anglican Church has led the way, with many local dioceses and the entire Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia committing to divestment.

One of the most powerful advocates for fossil fuel divestment has been Nobel Peace-Prize winner and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tim Ratcliff, 350.org’s European Coordinator said:

The World Council of Churches may be the most important commitment we’ve received yet. It opens the doors for churchgoers around the world to encourage their institutions to live up to their values and divest from companies that are destroying the planet and our future.

In the UK, the announcement will likely put more pressure on the Church of England – one of WCC’s wealthiest churches – to commit to move its £5.5 billion portfolio of investment away from dirty fossil fuels.

While the Church has said it unable to comment on what the WCC’s decision means for it own investments, it has already set up a subgroup to take advice on climate change and investment.

The move followed a prolonged, and on-going campaign to get the church to divest.

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