Don’t walk, stay and talk: Divest or engage? Part two
In the November issue of Reform, Operation Noah called for Churches to stop investing in fossil fuels. Here, the United Reformed Church’s investors respond
There is no arguing with the fact that global warming presents the human race with a massive and urgent challenge. We agree that this is a significant justice issue, because its harmful effects are and will be felt most acutely by individuals, communities and nations least able to deal with them. Any proposed solutions need to take account of these social justice questions, and not make matters worse.
There are, however, very serious differences of opinion about how to respond to this challenge in ways that will achieve the greatest change in the shortest possible time. Academic research continues to demonstrate that well planned engagement leads to better outcomes for all stakeholders in a business. This includes its staff and its local environment, as well as those with a financial interest.
The United Reformed Church has had a set of ethical investment principles since March 2010. They endorse the strategy of direct engagement with companies and provide that ‘as a last resort, the URC will consider selling its shares in a company on ethical grounds.’ In November 2015, Mission Council considered specific ethical investment guidelines on climate change issues, debating a report on the subject and approving a new appendix of the ethical investment guidelines.
General Assembly and Mission Council can advise the various parts of the URC family on how to invest their money, but the legal responsibility for the actual investment decisions lies with the trustees of the individual bodies. These might be local church elders or members of a synod trust; centrally, they are the trustees of the URC Trust and the URC Ministers’ Pensions Trust. It is not surprising, in relation to a complex and controversial issue such as climate change, that different parts of the URC family will reach different conclusions about the best way forward, depending on what action they can realistically take…
John Piper is Deputy Treasurer of the United Reformed Church. Dick Gray is chair of the URC’s investment committee. Richard Nunn is chair of the URC pensions board. The ethical investment guidelines approved by the URC in 2010 are available at bit.ly/URCinvest10. The fossil fuel investment guidelines from 2015 are at bit.ly/URCinvest
This is an extract from an article that was published in the December 2018 / January 2019 edition of Reform