Some time back, the Church of England committed to tackling "the great demon" of climate change. The best way to do that, however, remained a matter of considerable debate.
As the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown, many were hoping that this influential religious body would sever all financial ties with fossil fuel industries.
It's not quite ready to do that. However, the church, which has a whopping £9bn investment fund, has now announced that it will be divesting about £12m from some of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuels: thermal coal and tar sands oil. Bishop Nick Holtam, the lead Bishop on the environment at the Church of England, welcomed the new policy, and noted the church will also be directly engaging with fuel producers too:"I very much welcome the policy of the national investing bodies and the Ethical Investment Advisory Group of the Church of England in response to the motion that came to General Synod from Southwark Diocese in February 2014. It is thoughtful and has been carefully considered, producing a range of ways to engage with issues of the Church's finance in relation to Climate Change. It marks the start of a process of divestment as well as engagement with fossil fuel companies and better aligns the Church's investment practice with its belief, theology and practice."
This is very good news indeed. And it gets me wondering whether this type of partial divestment might have a bigger impact than cutting out fossil fuel divestment all together. After all, divide and conquer has been a tried-and-tested military strategy for millennia.
Even if producers of the less polluting fossil fuels like natural gas or conventional oil escape the attention of the divestment movement for now, they will nevertheless be watching the spread of divestment—not to mention the global collapse in coal demand—with interest, and more than a little bit of trepidation.
Maybe now, when the church engages them, it might actually have their attention.