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Uniting Church Leads on Divestment from Fossil Fuels

November 18, 2013

My published article on the commitment to divest from fossil fuels by the NSW Synod of the Uniting Church.

The NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church will withdraw all its investment in fossil fuel stocks over the next three years.

In April, 400 people at the Synod meeting unanimously agreed to a resolution to “divest from stocks and shares in corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, and to redirect investments into renewable energy”. At the October meeting of the Synod’s Standing Committee, the implementation strategy and timing was presented by church investment managers and approved.

“We’re the first church in Australia to do this and the reaction in the community is exciting,” says Mission Development Manager at the Uniting Church Paddington and a proponent of the original divestment proposal Justin Whelan. “This is leadership from the church and there’s a lot of respect for it.”

“The General Secretary will now write to other Synods to ask them to do the same,” says Whelan.

Across Australia there is also mounting pressure on universities and other public institutions to divest from fossil fuels as part of the Go Fossil Free global campaign that aims to move public institutions’ and individuals’ investments out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. In New Zealand, five dioceses of the Anglican Church have now committed to divest. There is growing pressure around the world for colleges and universities to sell off their fossil fuel stock and for superannuation funds to offer fossil free investment options.

The Go Fossil Free campaign started in the United States and is led by 350.org leader Bill McKibben, who modelled it on the influential global campaign against South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s that eventually ended apartheid. “It’s wrong to profit from wrecking the climate,” he says. “If the fossil fuel industry carries out its business plans, the planet will tank. Exxon alone, one company, has 7 per cent of the carbon in its reserves necessary to take us past that red line. What these numbers show is that the fossil fuel industry is now a rogue industry, determined to do things that everybody who studies this knows are unwise, unsafe, crazy.”

McKibben recently toured Australia as part of a “Do the Maths” tour to demonstrate how close the planet is to reaching two degrees warming. The numbers at the heart of McKibben’s argument show that if Exxon and other companies simply sell what is in their reserves, they will drive up the planet’s temperature more than two degrees. The global coal, oil and gas industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as the planet can afford to burn to prevent two degrees warming. A recent report from the Climate Institute shows that Australia’s current coal export plan would produce 30 per cent of the carbon needed to push global warming beyond that two degrees.

Exxon doesn’t dispute McKibben’s numbers and an industry-funded expert from MIT University confirmed them, as well as saying that at the current rate of emissions, the planet’s temperature will probably have risen five degrees by the end of the century. “We’re already deep in a hole, and the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, you stop digging,” says McKibben. “To change path demands structural shifts on a massive scale.”

More Information – The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change is a interdemoninational network of church leaders acting on the threat of climate change. Image

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