The diocese of Oxford, one of the Church of England’s 41 dioceses in England, has voted to disinvest from fossil fuel companies and called on the Church as a whole to do the same.
The vote was passed by the diocesan synod – the Church’s local assembly – on 15 November.
The diocese has also committed to exploring opportunities for reinvesting in clean energy alternatives.
The diocese owns approximately £65m (€82.1m) of glebe funds – used to pay clergy salaries – which are invested through Newton Investment Management both directly and through several managed funds, and £2.8m in other trust funds, principally invested in [the Church’s] Central Board of Finance funds.
These portfolios include investments in the oil and gas sector and other companies that produce coal, in proportions that are in line with the respective shares of the UK All Share Index and global indices.
However, staff pensions will not be affected at present, as they are managed by the Pensions Trust and/or the Church of England Pensions Board.
The Rev. Darrell Hannah, who brought forward the motion, said: “Oxford Diocese is challenging the Church of England as a whole to take seriously the threat of climate change and what we as Christians do about it.”
However, John Tattersall, chair at Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance, said in a background paper the diocese’s investment advisers had estimated an immediate annual cost of disinvestment from coal and tar sand companies in terms of yield and additional management expenses – because of the increased proportion of the portfolio that would be invested directly – of around £115,000.
The advisers estimated that, in the longer run, disinvestment from all companies producing fossil fuels would cost the diocese up to £214,000 per annum, or approximately 1.1% on the annual share that would need to be requested from parishes.
The motion also called on the General Synod – the Church’s Parliament – to debate a similar motion on disinvestment, which could, if passed, apply to the Church Commissioners’ £6.1bn endowment fund and the Church of England Pensions Board’s £1.6bn-worth portfolio.
If there is sufficient support, the motion will be considered by a future meeting of the Synod.
But Richard Burridge, deputy chair of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, which advises the Church on ethical investment, said: “There are many ways of practising ethical investment, including active engagement with companies and policymakers.
“The recommendation to divest immediately from all energy stocks is just one of a number of options, rather than being a silver bullet that will end the multiple threats of climate change.
“Carbon emissions remain so embedded in our economic system that the EIAG’s ethical investment policy recommendations will need to be sophisticated.”
The EIAG’s own policy review on climate change and investment is expected to be published in the first half of 2015.