After a debate lasting over 2 hours at its annual General Assembly, the Church of Scotland narrowly voted against divestment from oil and gas companies today.

Around 1,000 people were present at a packed Assembly Hall in central Edinburgh.

53% of commissioners voted for continued engagement with oil and gas companies, whilst 47% backed one of two motions for divestment from oil and gas. If just 19 people had voted differently, there would have been a majority in favour of divestment.

The Church of Scotland committed to divest from coal companies in 2016. Its investment fund is believed to be valued at £443 million. (1)

The official Church report stated: “It is deeply uncomfortable for the Church, as a caring organisation concerned about climate justice, to continue to invest in something which causes the very harm it seeks to alleviate.” (2)

An official motion proposed that, following an assessment, divestment should begin in two years. The Reverend Jenny Adams proposed a grassroots motion to begin divesting now. These two motions combined received 47% of votes.

The Church agreed in 2016 to engage with oil and gas companies for a two year period to see if they were taking sufficient action on climate change. A motion supporting continued shareholder engagement gained 53% of votes. (3)

Reverend Jenny Adams proposed a motion to begin divestment now. She said:

“The evidence suggests that oil and gas companies have little intention of changing fast enough to get close to making the Paris Climate Change agreement. There is a need for climate emissions to peak by 2020 and if we just keep talking, too much time passes and change is not coming fast enough.”

However she added: “To hear the Church overwhelmingly back the need to tackle climate change, wherever they stood on the argument for divestment, was positive.”

Ric Lander, Friends of the Earth Scotland said:

“To those suffering from the abuses of oil companies around the world it’s a blow that the Church of Scotland didn’t start divesting from oil companies today. However, during a debate infused with depth, urgency and sincerity there was bountiful support for radical action on climate change and a speedy and just transition to a 100% renewable economy.

“The Church must now consider how it can most effectively use its time and money to offer a response befitting of the strength of feeling in the Assembly.”

James Buchanan, Operation Noah, campaigns for UK Churches to divest from fossil fuels. He said:

“While we are disappointed with the outcome of the vote at Church of Scotland General Assembly, we are encouraged by the level of support for divestment from oil and gas companies and the consensus on the need for climate justice. Churches, along with other investors, should divest from fossil fuels to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and ensure that the vision of the Paris Agreement becomes a reality. The time to act is now.”

Within the last month, a group of Catholic organisations with combined investments of over €7 billion, including SCIAF in Scotland, committed to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel companies. The Church of Ireland also committed to end its investments in all fossil fuels less than two weeks ago.

On 19 April the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Right Rev Dr Derek Browning, joined other faith leaders in Scotland to call for the Scottish Government to make its forthcoming Climate Change Bill more ambitious (4).

This week brings significant attention to fossil fuel companies.

On Monday the BP AGM in Manchester faced protests over the company’s operations in Argentina and Colombia (5).

At Shell’s AGM on Tuesday, 94.5% of shareholders rejected a resolution calling on the company to set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Outside the meeting the company faced protests connected with legal action being taken by thousands of people in the Netherlands regarding the company’s contribution to climate change (6).

Contact :
James Buchanan, Operation Noah: 07801 570653
Friends of the Earth Scotland Media Line: 0131 243 2715

Free to use photos

Rev Jenny Adams (first on left) with supporters of fossil fuel divestment, including members of the Church of Scotland National Youth Assembly. Click to enlarge. (Free to use photo by James Buchanan)
https://foe.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Free-Photo-Rev-Jenny-Adams-first-on-left-with-supporters-of-the-counter-motion.jpg

New College, Edinburgh, where the Church of Scotland General Assembly is being held this week. Click to enlarge. (Free to use photo by Ric Lander)
https://foe.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Free-Photo-New-College-General-Assembly.jpg

Notes

  1. According to the Times the Church of Scotland’s investment fund is valued at £443 million. It is not known how much of this is currently invested in fossil fuels. (Source: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/church-fund-urged-to-drop-oil-vt3wbl7wc)
  2. https://www.gapublications.co.uk/docs/17_Report-of-Church-and-Society.pdf
  3. The debate on oil and gas divestment split three ways:
    128 commissioners voted for the official motion, to divest from 2020 following an assessment
    135 commissioners voted for a counter-motion to begin divesting now
    300 commissioners voted for continued engagement with oil and gas companies
    563 people voted in total with 263 voting for one of the two divestment motions (47%).
  4. http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/news_and_events/news/2018/faith_leaders_unite_in_urging_the_scottish_parliament_to_pass_an_ambitious_new_climate_change_bill
  5. https://waronwant.org/media/press-release-bps-manchester-shareholder-meeting-faces-protest-over-fracking-and-human-rights
  6. https://www.foei.org/press/shell-legal-action-netherlands-climate-change and https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/05/netherlands-more-than-50-lawsuits-loom-large-as-shell-holds-agm/
  7. Worldwide, $6.1 trillion (£4.5 trillion) has been divested from fossil fuels by more than 880 organisations, including faith organisations, universities, local councils and charitable trusts. Eight Scottish institutions have committed to fully divest from fossil fuels, including the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland.
  8. Friends of the Earth Scotland is
    * Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
    * An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
    * Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups. www.foe.scot
  9. Operation Noah is a Christian charity working with the Church to inspire action on climate change. http://operationnoah.org