– oil giant accused of misleading public on climate change dangers
(The Guardian)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.
“The Church of England is uniquely placed to show moral leadership through its investment policies,” says the letter. “Now is the time for decisive action. We call on Church of England investors to take the lead and immediately divest from ExxonMobil.”
Bishop Michael Doe, one of the letter’s signatories, said: “By divesting from Exxon, the Church of England would send a hugely positive signal at a time when a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is urgently required.”
The Church of England divested in 2015 from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands, the most polluting fossil fuels, but continues to hold significant oil and gas investments.
“Clearly we share concerns about ExxonMobil,” said a spokesman for the Church of England. “We firmly believe however that active investors have a role to play and strategic corporate engagement is too powerful a tool to be rendered ineffective by divesting. We remain in private engagement with the company.”
The spokesman said concerns raised by the church and others led to the successful passing of a resolution at ExxonMobil’s 2017 annual general meeting that requests disclosure of its analyses of how global warming will affect the company from 2018.
The church also launched a new policy on investing in extractive industries on Monday. It acknowledges the industries can make a positive contribution to development but also highlights that “extractives companies are particularly vulnerable to poor governance and ethical controversy, and harmful, long-lasting impacts on communities and the environment”.
The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, acting chair of the church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group said: “Strong returns to support our beneficiaries can go hand in hand with robust and transparent ethical investment policies.” The new policy says: “As a last resort, and on a case by case basis, the [church] may disinvest from companies where engagement is rebuffed or is clearly not leading to progress.”
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