Concern over Church of England Pension Board’s Fossil Fuel Industry Ties | Divestment from fossil fuels

Key members of the Church of England Pensions Board have close ties to the fossil fuel industry, research shows, amid concerns over the organization’s plans to end its investments in fossil fuels. high-carbon companies.

Analysis by DeSmog, the environmental investigation group, found three prominent members of the pension board of the Church Commissioners, the body that deals with Church of England investments, with past or current roles in energy companies, while other important personalities have indirect links.

The Church of England began cutting ties with coal and other high-polluting industries in 2015, then promised in 2018 divest by 2023 from high-carbon companies that were “not aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement”. But as the deadline approached, the organization said it was continuing to “engage” with key oil and gas interests rather than canceling all of its holdings.

Chris Manktelow of the Young Christians Climate Network said that was not enough. “I understand why the church wants to engage, but I don’t think the engagement strategy is working,” he told the Guardian. “The church should move quickly and show moral leadership, but it’s just not moving fast enough. We are not satisfied with this answer [to the calls to divest].”

There are also questions about the church’s approach to oil and gas companies that claim they are on a trajectory to net zero emissions. Some fossil fuel companies – including BP, Shell and ExxonMobil – have outlined strategies for reaching net zero, but many experts consider those plans flawed. ExxonMobil, for example, only plans to reduce emissions from its operationsrather than those resulting from burning the oil and gas it produces.

However, the Church Commissioners recently decided to keep their investment in ExxonMobil. Manktelow said, “We believe the church should reconsider this decision.” Manktelow said he was also “surprised and concerned” about the connections between influential figures in deciding church investments and the fossil fuel industry.

Chris Mather, Chairman of the Church of England Pensions Board, is a former Managing Director of Shell Canada, from which he retired in 2007. During his tenure, the company embarked on an expansion mass in the “tar sands”, which activists say has devastated large swaths of Canada’s wilderness.

Richard Hubbard, chairman of the board’s pensions committee, worked for BP for nearly 30 years, finishing as director of the oil giant’s European cross-border pension scheme before retiring in 2020.

David Nussbaum, a member of the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group and former head of the conservation group WWF, has been a director of Drax since 2017. Drax is once the UK’s largest coal-fired power station and remains the largest source of carbon. carbon dioxide emissions, having changed its boilers to burn trees. A spokesperson for Drax told the Guardian: The forests that Drax comes from are not harvested to provide biomass, they are harvested for the high-value timber used in construction and furniture making. Drax uses some of the by-products left over from logging for these other sectors, by-products such as sawdust, wood chips, tree tops, and lower quality roundwood that is diseased or distorted and cannot be used elsewhere. We have strict sustainability standards that ensure the biomass we use does not contribute to carbon debt or deforestation.

Others with indirect ties include Alan Smith, the church’s first property commissioner, former head of risk strategy at HSBC, the bank that funded more than $100bn (£73bn ) in fossil fuels since the 2015 Paris Agreement; and Dami Lalude, also a member of the Ethical Investing Advisory Group, who worked in the natural resources group at Goldman Sachs bank, which has also provided $100 billion to fossil fuel interests since 2015.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, also has a background in the fossil fuel industry, having worked for oil companies for more than a decade before ordination.

Darrell Hannah, rector of All Saints Church of Ascot and chairman of the Christian climate change charity Operation Noah, told DeSmog he fears decision-making bodies could be compromised.

“We are deeply concerned about the links of the Church of England’s national investment bodies with the fossil fuel industry, which raise important questions about conflicts of interest,” he said. “How can the Board continue to lead engagement with Shell, on behalf of Climate Action 100+ [an investor-led initiative to push big companies to do more on the climate crisis]when the chairman of the pension board is the former CEO of Shell Canada?

The Church Commissioners, the body that looks after the investments that pay Church of England pensioners, said the pledge policy is paying off.

“Church of England national investment bodies felt they had more influence on high carbon industries by being in the room rather than divesting,” a spokesperson said. at the Guardian. “By engaging with high-carbon companies, we can tackle the climate crisis and bring about real change in the world. Our commitment is not unlimited and we explicitly expect that we divest from companies that do not respond to the commitment.

The spokesperson added: “It is no surprise that we want industry and finance experts on our governance bodies to help us make the right decisions. Our board members and backgrounds are disclosed and easily accessible online. They operate to the highest ethical and responsible investment standards. They sit alongside other board members from a variety of backgrounds, including church and other third sector experience. By misnaming these people, it suggests that the decisions of the church are somehow influenced by these associations.

The strategy was making “meaningful progress”, as 20 companies had agreed “to make climate-related changes to stay off our shortlist” since 2020, and another 28 companies were excluded from its investment list for ethical reasons last year.

“We want to achieve a net zero world, not just a net zero investment portfolio.”

This article was modified on February 22, 2022 to add a comment from Drax regarding its use of wood in boilers.

Jerry B. Hatch