America’s growing fossil fuel divestment movement may now be working with a higher power, as the first major US religious body has voted to divest its pension funds and investments from fossil fuel companies.
The United Church of Christ (UCC), a group of Protestant churches dating back to the 1600’s, approved a series of actions to divest its institutional investments from fossil fuel companies at its annual convention. UCC represents over 1 million members across nearly 5,200 US congregations.
Divestment didn’t happen overnight for UCC – the resolution took a year of internal negotiation to be approved with 72.5% of the vote – but it’s an important step for UCC’s mission of faith. “This resolution calls on each and all of us to make difficult changes to the way we live each day of our lives, in order to be part of the rescue of Creation,” said Don Hart, President of United Church Funds (UCF).
UCC Targets Fossil Fuel Divestment By 2018
UCC’s decision follows similar divestment action by several US cites and colleges, and targets fully divesting by June 2018. The successful resolution was introduced by the Massachusetts Conference and backed by 10 of the UCC’s other conferences.
UCF, the church’s investment fund manager, will create and promote investment vehicles without fossil fuel interests within 18 months. In addition, UCC will conduct research to analyze the climate impact of investments and identify any “best in class” fossil fuel companies.
By the UCC’s 2015 annual convention, the church will prepare a plan to ensure it divests from any public equities or corporate bonds in fossil fuel companies except those “best in class” options.
Even though the “best in class” option exists, UCC’s main divestment proponent Reverend Jim Antal considers the idea an “oxymoron” and doesn’t think the possibility exists. “I am close to 100% confident that within five years we will hold no fossil fuel stocks,” Antal told the Associated Press.
Climate Change Action For Every Congregation And Member
In addition to the organizational divestment, UCC’s resolution also includes climate advocacy action at the individual level. All congregations and members will commit to reducing fossil fuel use in their lives and places of worship, demand climate policy action from legislators, demand transparency on climate legislation lobbying, create educational programs to highlight the dangers of climate change, and push for shareholder climate action efforts with major corporations.
UCC also passed a separate resolution to go carbon neutral on the same day as its fossil fuel divestment decision. All church buildings will now conduct energy audits on their facilities as a first step toward reducing emissions, with additional action to follow.
Will Other Churches Follow Suit?
While UCC may be the first major religious body to decide to rid itself of fossil fuel investments, it’s most likely not going to be the last. Divestment movements are underway at nine other institutions in the US, Canada, and Australia, and the UCC resolution could serve as an example for other churches to consider.
“This resolution becomes a model for all faith communities who care about God’s creation and recognize the urgent scientific mandate to keep at least 80% of the known oil, gas, and coal reserves in the ground,” said Antal. “By this vote, we are amplifying our conviction with our money.”