Damian CarringtonEnvironment editor
Tuesday 7 November 2017 07.00 GMT
The Church of England should “show moral leadership” and immediately sell its investments in the oil giant ExxonMobil, according to a group of bishops and other clergy.
ExxonMobil is accused of misleading the public for decades over the dangers of climate change – the oil company denies the allegations – and has funded climate change denial, making its presence in the church’s £7.9bn investment fund of particular concern, the group argues. Investment funds worth more than $5tn have already committed to divest from fossil fuels.
Archbishop Justin Welby, the leader of the Church of England who worked for a decade in the oil industry before becoming a priest, described climate change as a “moral crisis” on Saturday. “Climate change is pushing us toward disaster,” he wrote in the New York Times. “It is not a distant danger – it is already with us. As we continue to burn fossil fuels, its effects will only grow.”
The latest UN climate change negotiations began in Bonn on Monday and Welby also sent a personal message to Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, who is overseeing the talks. Welby said the 85 million people in the worldwide Anglican communion that he leads “support your work to ensure that issues of climate change are recognised as an urgent priority requiring immediate attention”.
However, the Church of England argues it should remain an ExxonMobil shareholder so it can continue to engage with the company and influence it to change.
In a letter to the Guardian, also sent to the church, a group of five bishops and dozens of clergy said: “While many of us believe that the Church of England should divest from all fossil fuel companies for ethical reasons, we are especially concerned about the Church’s continued investment in US oil and gas company ExxonMobil.”
They cite a recent journal paper analysing ExxonMobil’s activities from 1977-2014 that concludes: “ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science – by way of its scientists’ academic publications – but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public.” The company is facing legal action in the US over the issue. The company’s directors have also advised shareholders to vote against all resolutions on climate change since 1990, the letter’s authors said.