The United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, has voted to sell its fossil fuel assets and commit financially to funding an economy based on renewable energy.
The United Church General Council, which is meeting in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, on the grounds of Memorial University, voted 67 per cent in favour of the move on Tuesday, August 11th, 2015.
The vote was held by the 42nd General Council, the United Church’s highest body, which meets triennially to determine the denomination’s priorities. Climate justice, whereby the world’s most vulnerable populations avoid disproportionate harms of climate chaos, stands as a clear priority for Canada’s largest protestant denomination.
“The United Church of Canada has voiced its concern about human-induced climate catastrophe for decades. Given the lack of political and industrial leadership to address climate concerns in a way that matches the scale of the problem, we wanted to signal that we are serious about averting climate crisis, and that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is,” shared Christine Boyle, the General Council Commissioner, and long-time climate advocate. “Many in the United Church see Jesus as a friend of the poor and an advocate for the marginalized. Today we have committed to journeying in his footsteps, raising our moral voices to address the burdens of climate chaos that disproportionately affects those living on the margins.”
The denomination has addressed the climate crisis several times at previous General Councils. This is the first time it has committed to moving its investments away from fossil fuels the same way it moved away from tobacco and gambling companies years ago.
“The United Church of Canada has lived into the policies that it has developed over the past 20 years on climate justice, and is taking prophetic leadership,” said Jeanne Moffat, a leader with Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church’s climate justice group. “We should see this as a symbol of hope for the climate justice movement.” Folks from across Canada have worked on this for years, finding inspiration from a similar initiative to end apartheid in South Africa and from what the World Council of Churches and other faith communities across the globe are doing to transition to a sustainable future.” The motion made was to ask the executive to “take active steps” to divest its portfolio, said Jeanne Moffat, a leader with the Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church climate justice group, which helped support the motion.
Jeanne Moffat further added that there is no timetable imposed as part of the decision to divest from fossil fuels, as the church will need time to determine what is involved financially in selling these assets and to choose suitable replacements that would help advance an economy based on renewables.
Jeanne Moffat said she “believes her own church, in downtown Toronto, was the first faith community in Canada to divest its fossil fuel assets when it made a similar decision in February 2014.”
The move was motivated by the “need to live with respect in creation,” part of the United Church Creed, and by considerations of social justice.”
The motion for the 42nd General Council to divest away from fossil fuels, follows motions at Conferences across the country. At Conference in May 2015, oil-rich Alberta voted to articulate a vision of Canada without fossil fuels. Both Toronto Conference and Manitou Conference also sent divestment proposals to General Council. The move will mean selling off about $5.9 million in holdings, or 4.7 per cent of the United Church of Canada treasury.
During the debate on the issue, commissioners voiced concern for people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere who will need support to transition away from economies that are presently so dependent on fossil fuels.
The General Council Executive will now chart the path for the Treasury to sell its holdings of the world’s 200 largest fossil fuel companies, and to take active steps to re-invest those assets in green renewable energy co-operatives. Currently these holdings constitute $5.9 million, or 4.7% of the United Church of Canada Treasury. General Council, which opened on August 8th, 2015, continues until August 14th. http://fossilfreefaith.ca
The United Church of Canada’s General Council is a denomination-wide gathering which meets every three years to elect a new Moderator and to approve new church policies. In addition to 356 delegates called commissioners, approximately 250 guests, observers, youth, children, staff, and volunteers will be present for the week-long gathering. Commissioners are selected by the church’s 13 regional Conferences and represent an equal number of lay people and ministry personnel.