The faith community may soon follow the lead of the United Church of Christ when it comes to shareholder activism and fossil fuel company divestment to lessen the impact of climate change. Last July, the church was the first mainline denomination to pursue divestment from fossil fuel companies as one strategy to combat climate change. A year later, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches announced Thursday, July 10, that it plans to pull all its investments in fossil fuels because it has determined the investments are no longer ethical.
The UCC is a member church in the World Council of Churches, an ecumenical group that comprises 345 churches and 590 million members.
It was a "Hallelujah" moment for the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo when she learned the news. Jaramillo is an officer of the church and executive minister of the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries.
"The recent decision of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches regarding fossil fuels is a powerful affirmation of a similar action taken last year by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ," Jaramillo said. "We must educate ourselves about the issue of climate change and make a personal commitment to do our part. As we face this critical reality, it is especially important for people of faith to join the widespread movement, working together to preserve the sanctity of all God’s creation."
The decision by the WCC came during the week-long Central Committee Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, July 2-8. The organization has opted to no longer fund oil, gas or coal, and is recommends that its member churches do the same.
The announcement by the WCC Central Committee doesn’t require its member churches to divest, but the UCC is already steps ahead in some ways.
The UCC announced its intention to divest from fossil fuel companies and pursue other strategies, such as shareholder activism, a year ago during General Synod 29. The resolution calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil-fuel-free investment vehicles, and the identification of "best in class" fossil fuel companies.
Settings of the UCC have put the General Synod resolution on divestment and other strategies into motion recently. On July 2, United Church Funds announced an October launch date for a new investment fund that will be free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels.
"Fossil fuels are a dead end in two senses," said the Rev. Meighan Pritchard, the UCC minister for environmental justice, in a commentary essay. "They exist in a finite supply, and more importantly, they are causing climate change, which makes our planet less hospitable to many species, including our own."
Also during the Central Committee gathering, the WCC announced it will gather for an Interfaith Summit on Climate Change in September in New York City. More than 30 religious leaders will take a united stand to encourage international and political leaders to address concretely the causes and consequences of climate change.
The move by the WCC signals an emerging concern in the faith community about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change. Union Theological Seminary in New York became the first seminary in the world to nix oil, gas and coal investments from its $100-million endowment in June. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly voted June 29 to divest from holdings in fossil fuel companies listed on the Carbon Tracker list.
Pritchard added that moving away from fossil fuels in our lives — from heating homes to fueling automobiles — will be a challenging task.
"The transition will not be easy, but it needs to happen quickly," Pritchard said. "As people of faith who care about our planet and our neighbors — including future generations and other species — let us lead the way with faith, hope, and love."