Church of Scotland £435m fund won’t sell oil shares

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has rejected calls to divest from oil and gas companies but said it recognised “that the world is in the grip of a climate and ecological emergency …”

Commissioners voted 303 to 263 to defeat a motion brought forward by Rev Gordon Strang, which urged the Church’s Investors Trust to divest from oil and gas companies by the end of 2020.

The Church of Scotland holds shares in BP, Shell and Total.

The Church of Scotland’s Investors Trust has about £435 million in investments, according to its latest annual report.

Strang, from Grantown on Spey, argued that divestment would help transition towards a sustainable, carbon neutral economy.

Strang said: “We simply cannot wait and if we are to have any hope of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions (in Scotland) by 2045 we need to free ourselves of oil and gas and rapidly …

“Young and old are telling us what we already know and they rightly ask the Church ‘where are our moral values?’

“Meanwhile, major oil and gas companies continue to grow their core business and reports suggest that the industry is to spend $4.9 trillion over the next 10 years, exploring and extracting new oil and gas reserves.

“Despite engagement taking place, little is changing.”

Catherine Alexander, chairman of the Church of Scotland Investors Trust, claimed that divesting was the “wrong way” to influence change

“The trustees believe that working with likeminded Christian investors, and trusting in the redemptive power of the Christian message, more progress can be made to engage with companies positively to make the changes needed to transition to a just market economy and tackle climate change.”

William Sutherland, an elder at Mastrick Church in Aberdeen, said 85,000 people were paid off during the last downturn in the oil and gas industry and many were forced to use foodbanks.

Sutherland said: “A balance has to be achieved and many of our members contribute considerably to the church.

“We have to allow time for those companies to change.”

Seonaid Knox, clerk to the National Youth Assembly, said: “It’s extremely disheartening that the General Assembly has yet again voted to continue to invest in fossil fuels.

“It’s deeply frustrating that we have yet again delayed acting on the climate emergency we face …

“While it’s positive that more commissioners were in favour of divesting compared with 2018, the reality is that despite youth and international delegates stressing the urgency of the matter our pleas fell on deaf ears.

“We will continue to push for divestment and for local congregations to reduce their carbon footprint.”

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Mark McSherry
Dalriada Media LLC sites are edited by veteran news journalist Mark McSherry, a former staff editor and reporter with Reuters, Bloomberg and major newspapers including the South China Morning Post, London's Sunday Times and The Scotsman. McSherry's journalism has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, London's Evening Standard and Forbes. McSherry is also a professor of journalism and communication arts in universities and colleges in New York City. Scottish-born McSherry has an MBA from the University of Edinburgh and a Certificate in Global Affairs from New York University.