Church of England Fleshes Out Plans for Fossil Fuel Divestment

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Oil and gas companies have until 2023 to make 'Paris compatible' plans, or face divestment.

When the Church of England vowed to fight the "great demon of climate change" back in 2014, it was mulling fossil fuel divestment only as a backstop if outreach to energy giants failed. It has since divested from some of the dirtiest fossil fuels, dropping thermal coal and tar sands interests in particular, but it maintained a preference for outreach and engagement when it comes to oil and gas.

Now the Church is updating its position, and it's moving closer to crunch time for all fossil fuels. Business Green reports that the General Synod—the Church's governing body—247 to 4 for a motion that give oil and gas firms until 2023 to develop plans that are in line with the Paris Climate Agreement's commitments to decarbonization, or face divestment from the Church.

Of course any such move from a major religious body carries major moral significance. But it also carries significant financial heft too, potentially impacting up to £123m in assets that the church currently holds. By itself that's not a huge amount of money as far as fossil fuels are concerned, but warnings are growing louder that over reliance on fossil fuels could lead to a major financial crisis within decades. I'm increasingly convinced that morally-led divestment efforts like this one will soon converge with simple financially-driven decision making by investors to diversify or even get out of fossil fuels entirely while they still can.

In fact, come to think of it, it wouldn't shock me if the Church's desire to engage with these companies leads it to hold on longer than many more hard-nosed investors who simply see better returns or more stable long-term prospects elsewhere.