The Church of England has voted to pull investment from firms that are not on track to meet the provisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2023.
The Church’s General Synod passed a motion on Sunday which it said supports its National Investing Bodies’ (NIBs) current approach to tackling climate change, which includes the strategy of engaging with companies rather than prematurely disinvesting from them.
But the NIB – which covers a number of Church investment bodies including the Church of England Pensions Board and the Church Commissioners – has been asked by the Synod in an amendment to assess companies’ progress by 2023 and disinvest from any firm not on track to meet the aims of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The motion was passed in its amended form 347 in favour to four against, with three abstentions, the Church said.
The vote follows an intervention by the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who questioned whether the policy of engaging with firms was working.
Dr Williams told the Daily Telegraph he wanted to see a “red line” drawn with companies, favouring a 2020 deadline.
He said: “So far, like many large institutions, the Church of England has argued for a strategy of engagement and influence from within. But the question has to be asked: how effective has this proved to date?”
Dr Williams asked: “Is engagement working?”
A Church of England spokesman said: “As we said during the debate, our active engagement and voting record provide greater leverage and influence than we could ever hope to achieve by acting alone or by forced divestment and simply selling our holdings.”
Bishop of Manchester David Walker, who is the deputy chair of the Church Commissioners, said during the debate: “Unilateral, wholescale disinvestment from fossil fuel producers in 2020, or beginning in 2020 based on assessments in 2020, would leave our strategy, and influence, in tatters.
“It would not spur companies on to change further and faster. It would do the exact opposite; it would take the pressure off them. Now is not the moment to do that.”
Bishop Walker said the 2023 deadline “accords better with our strategy”.
He said: “It gives engagement the time it needs.”
The vote of the Synod, which is meeting at York University, was praised by Christian Aid.
The charity’s head of UK Advocacy, Tom Viita, said: “Today’s vote by the Church of England Synod shows the bell is tolling for the fossil fuel era.
“This vote puts the oil majors on notice, and strengthens the arm of those pushing the companies to move more quickly to a low carbon future.
“If oil companies continue to drag their heels, there is nothing to stop the church divesting earlier if they, or Synod, are not satisfied with the speed of change.”