The Church of England Pensions Board is under no illusion about the seriousness of the climate emergency or its impacts on the poorest. The question your article (Church of England pension boss’s shares in Shell ‘shocking’, say campaigners, 17 August) ultimately raises is: what is the best way to drive emissions reductions? For some, selling your shareholdings in fossil fuel companies to someone else might be appropriate. But that does not necessarily lead to any emissions reductions, nor is it the only strategy that can be deployed.
The pensions board has made a clear commitment to exit, by July 2023, fossil fuel companies that are not independently assessed as having targets aligned to the Paris agreement. In fact, the board has also gone further and won’t own any debt issued by those companies to invest in any future exploration.
The board’s current investments represent less than a third of 1% of the total fund. Since the chair’s appointment, the fund has reduced the number and size of its oil and gas holdings, disinvesting from the companies not on a transition path while continuing to engage robustly with a small number that have begun to transition.
But the pensions board does acknowledge the symbolism of its remaining ownership. Over the next 11 months it will use its shareholder rights, working with others, to exert maximum pressure on those remaining companies to further increase their climate commitments. The board couldn’t be clearer in its expectation that unless those companies do increase the ambition of their targets, it will sell its remaining shares.
As a church, we are happy to debate which tactics are most effective and, equally, may disagree with certain disinvestment campaigners. But we are united in the seriousness of the issue and the response required to pursue a strategy to achieve a net zero world, not just a net zero church or investment portfolio.
Right Rev Dr David Walker
Bishop of Manchester
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