Council Urges Church to Sell Fossil Fuel Holdings
Commissioners of the 42nd General Council are urging the United Church to sell its $8.7 million holdings in fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy co-operatives.
The Bakeapple (Yellow) Commission, one of three decision-making bodies of the Council, heard spirited arguments on both sides of the issue before passing a proposal to “encourage the United Church of Canada Foundation and direct the Executive of the General Council to take active steps to sell their holdings in the 200 largest fossil fuel companies.”
The motion also calls for the reinvestment of the funds into renewable energy.
The commission also called for the United Church pension board to review the extent and rationale for its fossil fuel investments and determine if its holdings “align with the Christian imperative of seeking justice, resisting evil, and living with respect in Creation.”
According to background material on the motion, the United Church of Canada Foundation holds $2.8 million in fossil fuel investments or 5 percent of the portfolio. The Treasury has $5.9 million in fossil fuel stocks or 4.7% of that portfolio.
Several other faith groups have made moves to divest from fossil fuel companies because of the industry’s contribution to climate change.
Jim Hannah of British Columbia Conference said the church needs to speak out about the role of the fossil fuel industry in climate change. “This is about the survival of this planet. This is about the survival of this species. For my grandchildren’s sake I want to do everything I can,” he said. “It’s going to cost us money, it’s going to cost us jobs. We’re going to have to change how we live in this world. We have to do this.”
Erik Mathiesen, the United Church’s Chief Financial Officer, said a lot of research and lobbying is being done by groups in the church on issues such as responsible investing and climate change. “The concern is that commissioners may not have all the information about everything underway,” he said.
Several commissioners said the church should hold onto its shares and use them to influence the policies of fossil fuel companies. David Pollard of Alberta and Northwest Conference said some of the large companies are doing valuable research and development work. He suggested that the church should be affirming companies that are environmentally responsible.
But Manitou Conference youth commissioner Aidan Legault said that the church’s voice hasn’t been heard at the corporate table. “Just being at the table, we aren’t making a difference. The way we can make a difference as a church and say we are not going to stand for any irresponsible environmental management by these companies is by divesting,” Legault said. “We can do it by taking our own money and saying we are going to put it elsewhere.”
Hanna Strong of Montreal and Ottawa Conference said the church would have more say if it held onto its stake. She also urged commissioners not to demonize the people who work in the petroleum industry.
“People work in this industry. In the church I have a very difficult time walking up to someone saying we have divested and you don’t have a job,” Strong said.
“It’s all great to be for the environment but there are humans on the other side of these 200 companies.”