British Methodist Church divests from fossil fuel companies

The Green Team from Stirling Methodist Church, who helped champion divestment from fossil fuels. Photo taken in February 2017 by Ric Lander:

On 30th April 2021, it was announced that the Methodist Church in Britain had sold its shares in Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor, two large fossil fuel companies.

Revd Dr Stephen Wigley, Chair of the Joint Advisory Committee on Ethical Investment, said that “Shell, along with its peers, is currently failing to play a substantial enough role in addressing the climate emergency”. David Palmer, chief executive of Epworth Investment Management, said: “The patience of the Church has run out.” Despite long term stakeholder engagement with both companies, the decision was taken to fully divest.

So, how did the Methodist Church in Britain reach this stage? In this article we will look at the British Methodist Church’s journey on the road to divestment.

In 2015, the Central Finance Board (who hold the Church’s investments) began to officially reconsider its investments in fossil fuels with the publishing of a new policy, Climate Change – Implications for Different Fuels.[i] This policy committed the CFB to encourage companies to invest in ways that would reduce emissions. Coal and tar sands were highlighted as particularly destructive forms of fossil fuels, and so companies which invested in them would likely be excluded from any of the church’s investment portfolios.

In 2017, the Methodist conference passed a notice of motion that requested that the church fully divest from any fossil fuel company whose business plans did not align with the Paris Agreement target to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C, by the Methodist conference in 2020.[ii] These decisions would be made on a company-by-company basis. The Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI), who advise the CFB on ethical investment priorities, was asked to report on which companies were compliant with the goals of the Paris agreement. This move was championed by local churches, including the Methodist Church in Stirling. To find out more about the work of Sterling Methodist Church, check out our April resources:

Consequently, on the 2nd June 2020, the Methodist church announced that it had sold its £2 million stake in Total and £15 million stake in BP, concluding that neither company had provided adequate details on how they planned to reduce their emissions.[iii] The remaining four companies: Shell, Repsol, ENI and Equinor were put on notice by the CFB to improve their commitments.

On the 30th April 2021, the Church sold almost £21 million shares in Shell, and an additional £2 million of bonds in Equinor. Both JACEI and the CFB cited the slow pace of change in the industry and the impact the industry has had on the poor and on God’s creation. JACEI and the CFB cannot currently identify any company in the oil and gas sector that meet the stringent criteria that the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment has advised in the light of the climate emergency that we currently face.

21 year old Michael Pryke, Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group and former Methodist Youth President, welcomed the news: “It’s excellent to see the Methodist Church divesting from oil and gas companies. The prophetic voice of the Church has been heard and the reaction has been amazing to witness. But we mustn’t get complacent, as we still have a lot to do to achieve net zero by 2030.”[iv]

The energy sector plays a significant role in national and international carbon output. On our journey to net-zero, the impact of our energy must be a serious factor in our decision making. Holding oil and gas companies to account, in the way that the Methodist Church is doing, is an important part of lobbying for change.