A group of Christian climate protesters interrupted proceedings at the Church of England’s General Synod in York on Friday, urging the Church to end its financial backing of the fossil fuel industry.
Seven members of Christian Climate Action called on all dioceses still investing in fossil fuels, the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board to commit to divest, and to invest in clean energy before UN climate summit COP27 in November.
While the Church’s governing body was discussing endorsing a plan for the Church to reach its net zero carbon goal by 2030, protesters went to the front of the assembly holding a banner with the words: ‘Churches Divest Now’.
80-year-old retired vicar Rev Sue Parfitt attempted to give a two minute talk on behalf of the group, but the charity said she was prevented from doing so by security.
Christian Climate Action said a member of Synod, Rev Robert Thompson, not related to Christian Climate Action, took to the podium and requested that Rev Parfitt be able to speak.
He was instructed to stop talking by the Synod chair and the meeting was abruptly adjourned for ten minutes so bishops could speak with the group.
Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury approached Rev Parfitt while the meeting was adjourned and agreed to speak to the group when the session had come to a close.
When Synod ended, Justin Welby left the hall. Members of CCA waited for him outside the center & have just been able to speak to both him & @CottrellStephen about the CofE divesting.— Christian Climate Action (@CClimateAction) July 8, 2022
Please pray, for the sake of us all, that this meeting bears fruit. pic.twitter.com/z2S5N0qpBP
“I find it deeply shocking that many Dioceses in the Church of England, knowing all that they do as to the lethal effect of fossil fuels on all life on earth, are nevertheless prepared to gain financially through their continuing investment in the industry,” Rev Parfitt said in a statement.
“The Church in all its forms needs to be taking a prophetic stand and call on the Government to end all new exploration. How can it do this when it continues to benefit in such a direct and obvious way?’"
A spokesperson for the Church of England said in a statement to Premier: "The Church of England’s National Investing Bodies have taken the view that they have more influence on high-carbon industries by being in the room rather than by disinvesting. By engaging with high-carbon-emitting companies, we can address the climate crisis and bring about real-world change.
"Our engagement is not open-ended, and we are explicit that we will disinvest from companies that are not responsive to engagement by 2023. The strategy is making significant progress, with 20 companies having made climate-related changes to stay off our restricted list since 2020."
In 2018, the Church of England General Synod called for its National Investing Bodies (NIBs) to divest from fossil fuel companies not aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2023, leading to the NIBs setting 2020 and 2023 investment hurdles.
According to Christian Climate Action, it is estimated that the Church of England dioceses, Church Commissioners and Pensions Board currently hold investments worth around £55 million in fossil fuel companies. It added that to date, just 12 out of 42 dioceses have announced a full divestment commitment. And 18 dioceses do not hold investments.
Despite the distruption, the Church of England’s General Synod endorsed detailed plans designed to help the Church to reach net zero carbon by 2030.
The Routemap to Net Zero Carbo by 2030 published last month, encourages cathedrals, churches, schools and theological education institutions to make changes to their day-to-day activities to reduce carbon emissions.
In February 2020, General Synod voted to adopt the ambitious target of 2030, and following a widespread consultation with parishes, dioceses, cathedrals, and the wider Church, the Routemap was drawn up by members of the Environment Working Group.
Introducing the motion, the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, the Church of England’s lead Bishop for the Environment, said: “The 2030 target is hugely ambitious, but the process is as important as the target.
“This work is central to our story with God and creation; central to our story about God and creation. And I see it as a key part of our obedience to God’s call to be stewards of creation. The Routemap before you has been refined in consultation. It’s a pragmatic, it’s a step-by-step approach.
“It charts the territory into an unknown landscape, with the best knowledge that we currently have. But no doubt it will need to flex and adapt as the wider picture changes in the coming years. It focuses first on simple steps that every church community can take. Changing to LED lighting on a renewable energy tariff, reducing draughts, good maintenance - each has a part of how we live this out especially for our rural churches. As does heating people, rather than the angels carved on our church roof bosses.
“If we think of reaching net zero as a list of 10 things, eight of them are fairly straight forward and let’s work together on the other two.”
Members of the Synod are meeting in York for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.