United Church of Canada aims to divest from fossil fuels

(Screen capture ForestEthics)

The United Church of Canada, a member of the World Council of Churches, says it is taking steps to sell its 8.7 million Canadian dollar holdings in fossil fuels and invest instead in renewable energy.

Delegates to the church's highest decision-making body its general council, have voted to encourage the United Church of Canada "to take active steps" to sell its holdings in the 200 largest fossil fuel companies.

But the decision, the latest in a movement by faith organizations to combat harmful climate change, was not welcomed by all church members in areas where their incomes depend on the resources extraction industry.

Delegates were told that the United Church of Canada Foundation holds 2.8 million Canadian dollars in fossil fuel investments amounting to 5 per cent of the portfolio, the World Council of Churches reported Aug. 13.

The church's treasury has 5.9 million Canadian dollar s in fossil fuel stocks or 4.7 per cent of that portfolio.

"We need to take really seriously the need to take bold action on climate change," said Ann Russell of the Climate Justice Group of a United Church parish in Toronto, the country's largest city.

"The burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change and is threatening the most vulnerable populations in the world including Indigenous peoples in Canada who are in the front lines of struggles to protect land and water and their livelihoods."

Russell, who is attending the General Council as a visitor, was present during discussion on several motions from across Canada asking the church to divest from fossil fuel investments and to reinvest those funds in alternate sources of energy.

"It will be a long process" Russell said, "but it's a clear directive to the United Church of Canada to work towards a transition to a low carbon economy."

A story from the United Church's daily news service from the meeting, GC News, reported that during debate on the issue, some delegates argued that there are large companies doing valuable research and development work.


It suggested that the church should be affirming companies that are environmentally responsible.

However, a youth delegate, Aidan Legault, said, "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. We can do it by taking our own money and saying we are going to put it elsewhere."

The day after the decision, the United Church of Canada moderator, Gary Paterson, told delegates about messages of pain and disappointment at the decision coming from the region of Canada where many church members earn their living in the resource extraction industry.

Paterson invited people to be respectful and caring of the multiple perspectives on this issue within the church and concluded in prayer for the unity of the church.

The General Council is holding its triennial meeting in Corner Brook on the country's east coast.

The six-day assembly ends on Aug. 15.

The main governing body of the WCC, its central committee, in 2014 denounced investments in fossil fuels, supporting counter actions from the churches.

It affirmed a commitment to care for creation and mitigate climate change, as well as affirming its stand on ethical investment.

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