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Divest from fossil fuels, say delegates to United Church of Canada’s General Council

Divest from fossil fuels, say delegates to United Church of Canada’s General Council

Participants in the United Church of Canada General Council in Corner Brook, Canada. © The United Church of Canada

13 August 2015

The United Church of Canada, a member church of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has taken the decision 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, the General Council, have passed a proposal to encourage the United Church of Canada “to take active steps” to sell its holdings in the 200 largest fossil fuel companies.

According to background material on the motion, the United Church of Canada Foundation holds 2.8 million Canadian dollar in fossil fuel investments or 5 percent of the portfolio. The Treasury has 5.9 million Canadian dollar in fossil fuel stocks or 4.7 percent of that portfolio.

“We need to take really seriously the need to take bold action on climate change,” says 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 to witness discussion on several motions from across the country 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 says, “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 General Council, GC News, reports that during debate on the issue, some delegates argued that there are large companies which are doing valuable research and development work and suggested that the church should be affirming companies that are environmentally responsible.

However, a youth delegate, Aidan Legault, believes that: “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.”

On the day after the decision, the moderator of the United Church of Canada, Gary Paterson, told General Council 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 wraps up on 15 August.

The WCC Central Committee in its meeting in 2014 denounced investments in fossil fuels, supporting such actions from the churches and affirming its commitment to care for creation and mitigate climate change, as well as affirming its stand on ethical investment.

WCC news release prepared with report from Kristine Greenaway, and files from GC News, the daily news service from the General Council of The United Church of Canada.

Investment in fossil fuels is off the table for the WCC (WCC news release of 17 July 2014)

More information: UCC General Council

Website of the United Church of Canada

WCC’s work on climate justice and care for creation