Fossil fuels: PCI votes to ‘divest & engage’

5.10.2021 | Mission News, General Assembly, Global Mission, Church in Society, Mission

On its second full day of business today, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland voted to employ a ‘divest and engage’ strategy in relation to companies producing or using fossil fuels.

Following the report of PCI’s Trustees earlier in the day, Members of Assembly discussed and debated the report of the Council for Global Mission. The Council is tasked with enabling the coordination and delivery of global mission as determined by the General Assembly and especially where it is beyond the ability of the local congregation.

While Covid-19 was the focus of a number of resolutions before the General Assembly, including giving thanks for the resilience of PCI’s Global Mission Workers around the world and the faithful witness of its partner churches in the face of ‘devastating variants of Covid-19’ and the wide ranging impact of Climate Change, the General Assembly took a significant step today in agreeing to divest from fossil fuels.

In 2018 the General Assembly passed a resolution commending the Council for Global Mission’s Stewardship of Creation Report on Climate Change. It encouraged congregations to consider how its conclusions might challenge lifestyle choices. The Report provided a biblical and theological foundation to guide PCI as it approaches issues relating to the care of God’s creation and affirmed God’s creation as being good, while reflecting on the importance of God’s people being good stewards of that same creation.

One initiative highlighted today was ‘Climate Sundays’, PCI’s encouragement to its 500-plus congregations across Ireland to set aside one Sunday during the autumn, in the run up to COP26 - November’s global Climate Change conference in Glasgow - to focus on God’s creation and humanity’s responsibility to be good stewards of it.

Focusing on PCI’s investment policies, the Council’s report stated that they ‘…must flow from a biblical basis and theology of creation, a commitment to God’s world and to those whom Jesus Christ described as neighbours. The broad consensus of scientific thought supports the view that fossil fuel production contributes to climate change. It is therefore morally questionable to invest in companies deriving revenue from fossil fuels. PCI’s response should reflect a consistency of witness and provide a lead to church members and wider society. Most importantly, how PCI invest reflects how we value our Heavenly Father’s creation and is an outworking of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’

The ‘divest and engage’ strategy in relation to PCI’s investments, was preceded by a discussion around the Report of the Trustees of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which included a paper on investments in fossil fuels, which gave important background information.

In their report the Trustees explained that the Church already operated ‘a policy which excludes investment in companies in the Alcoholic Drinks sector, the Tobacco sector and the Armaments sector. This policy extends to excluding companies that derive more than 10% of their turnover from any of these sectors.’ It also explained how ‘ethical screening’ was undertaken.

Proposing the resolution to ‘divest and engage’, Council for Global Mission Convener, Rev Dr Liz Hughes said that the Council was asking the General Assembly to adopt a twin track approach, “We are very appreciative of the report the Trustees, who produced their report in response to our original request. We have noted their options but as you can see, we are suggesting a twin track approach – to both divest and to engage…

Quoting the Canadian-born atmospheric scientist Katherine Hayhoe, Dr Hughes said “‘Climate change is not only an environmental issue. Climate change is a poverty issue. It’s a hunger issue. It’s an issue of inequality and injustice.’

“For us as a church to actually profit from an industry which is causing so much harm seriously hinders our ability to call others to account for the abuse and misuse of the earth for which as Christians we believe we are called to be responsible stewards. We hear wonderful talk of zero carbon targets from those industries, but there is very little evidence of actual progress or taking concrete steps to moving to renewable energy…”

Dr Hughes continued, “…as a Council we believe that the only ethical course that makes sense is to divest from those industries that derive more than 10% of their turnover from oil and gas extraction, the coal, oil, and gas majors. At the same time we are aware that there are many other industries which while not involved in extraction, are consumers of fossil fuels. In fact, probably most of us are consumers to a certain extent – every time we get into our car or heat our house for example. I take public transport whenever I can and drive a hybrid vehicle, but I am still a user of fossil fuels.”

In her address Dr Hughes spoke of the Council’s second part of the ‘twin track approach’, “…just as we believe we should we divest from those extracting fossil fuels from the ground, we also believe we should engage with those involved in fossil fuel consumption, transport, industry, construction etc. and advocate with other agencies…with a view to ending fossil fuel extraction funding. And critically, we don’t just ask for targets, we ask for evidence that those targets are being met.

In passing the resolution, the General Assembly agreed to ‘…direct the Trustees to employ a ‘divest and engage’ strategy in relation to companies producing or using fossil fuels, thereby divesting from those that derive more that 10% of their turnover from oil and gas extraction (the coal, oil and gas majors), and engaging with companies that derive more than 10% of their turnover from the use of fossil fuels encouraging them to make clear commitments to the targets for global heating and carbon emission reduction as set out in the COP 21 Paris Agreement; reporting back to the 2022 General Assembly.’

As a result of the relaxation of some Covid regulations, and with the necessary Covid mitigations in place, only voting members are attending the General Assembly for three days of fellowship, worship, prayer, Bible study, debate and decision-making.

Photos: Rev Dr Liz Hughes, Convener of the Council for Global Mission addressing the General Assembly as she proposes the Council's Report, which included the resolution to 'divest and engage'.

The General Assembly will meet in Assembly Buildings until the afternoon of Wednesday, 6 October. Business also took place on Monday evening and will take place on Tuesday evening. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here.   As in previous years, throughout the General Assembly there will be a live Twitter feed. You can follow preceedings via @pciassembly hashtag #PCIGA21.

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