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Go fossil free

In April 2013, a resolution was passed by the Synod, to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy.  The proposal was an initiative of the Uniting Earthweb Group.  Access this page to read about the decision and for support resources for other organisations and individuals interested in joining the divestment campaign. 

On this page:
1. Resources for Fossil Fuel Divestment
2. NSW/ACT Synod Resolution
3. Rationale accompanying the proposal considered by the NSW/ACT Synod (long version)
4. Rationale accompanying the proposal considered by the NSW/ACT Synod (short version)
5. References in the rationale 

 

1. Resources for Fossil Fuel Divestment

There are hundreds of great resources on the Internet to help you plan your divestment campaign. We've selected a few we have found helpful, especially for churches:

About the Uniting Church Divestment Decision

The resolution and rationale (with links to references) of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW.ACT, to divest from companies engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, can be found below.

Uniting Church to Divest - the original UCA media story on the divestment decision

How Divestment Happens - the inside story of how the Uniting Church in NSW.ACT made the decision to divest from fossil fuels

US Environmentalist sings praises of Synod divestment - report of the meeting between the Moderator of the UCA in NSW.ACT and 350.org founder and spearhead of the global divestment campaign Bill McKibben

Investors urged to dump fossil fuels - ABC Lateline video clip featuring the Moderator of the UCA in NSW.ACT, Bill McKibben and former Liberal Party leader John Hewson

Other Church Resources

Responses to objections to divestment - prepared by the Uniting Earthweb Group.

Frequently asked questions about fossil fuels divestment - prepared by the Uniting Earthweb Group. Useful for all organisations, but especially churches and other religious organisations.  (See also this nice FAQs infographic from Fossil Free MIT.)

Practice and ideology behind inaction on climate change: The role of fossil fuel companies - prepared by the Uniting Earthweb Group.

United Church of Christ (USA) - the UCC voted to divest from fossil fuels in July 2013, becoming the first national organisation in the world to do so. Their Divestment page has lots of great resources for churches, including some video content.

Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) has resources for Australian religious organisations to join in the Go Fossil Free campaign.

GreenFaith USA document on the religious imperative to divest from fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy future.

International listing of known religious divestment efforts.

Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT ethical investment guidelines.

Resources from 350.org

Go Fossil Free - the Resources page on the official divestment campaign website, hosted by 350.org

Global Warming' Terrifying New Math - Bill McKibbon's 2012 famous article in Rolling Stone that launched the global divestment campaign

Debunking Myths About Fossil Fuel Divestment A guide for institutional investors - a helpful primer which covers most of the common questions. A great place to start.

Video Resources

God's Taunt - video of Bill McKibben's sermon on the Book of Job at Riverside Church, New York, 28 April 2013

Desmond Tutu urges Divestment- a short video clip in which Tutu connects the fossil free divestment campaign to its anti-apartheid counterpart

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2. NSW/ACT Synod Resolution

The following resolution was passed by consensus by the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT in April 2013. 

That the Synod:

(i) note

         (a) its previous resolution on climate change, which called for creation care to be integrated into all aspects of  the church’s worship, witness and service;

         (b) the clear evidence that the threat of climate change is not being adequately addressed by our state and federal governments, or the international community;

         (c) that rapid expansion of fossil fuel mining (particularly coal and coal seam gas) in Australia is directly threatening agricultural land, human health and biodiversity;

         (d) that its Ethical Investment Principles call for divestment from companies whose activities  “involve substantial change to the environment, which is not or proposed to be made good at the conclusion of the activity”;

         (e) that to avoid more than a 20% chance of global temperatures rising beyond the ‘extreme danger benchmark’ of 2 degrees, 80% of the known coal, oil and gas reserves will need to remain untouched;

         (f) the global “Go Fossil Free” campaign to divest from fossil fuel corporations, which is based on the very successful global divestment and sanctions campaign against South Africa during the apartheid years; 

(ii) determine as a matter of policy that the Synod should divest from corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels and move instead to investing in renewable energy stocks. 

(iii) request the EIMC identify the companies affected by this policy, and bring a report to the October meeting of Synod Standing Committee (in a session to which the proponents are to be associated), with the expectation that if the policy is not found to be impracticable, it will be carried out.

(iv) require all NSW/ACT bodies whose investments are not managed by Treasury and Investment Services to implement the policy once finalised by Synod Standing Committee. 

(v) request the General Secretary write to other Synods and the Assembly advocating that they also join the divestment campaign. 

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3. Rationale (long version)

In 2008 the NSW.ACT Synod Standing Committee noted that there was “overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is responsible for rapid climate change” and “a commitment to ecological sustainability is an essential part of the church’s discipleship”, resolving to “integrate creation care into all aspects of its worship, witness and service.”  (Standing Committee Minute 249/08SC). 

The “human activity responsible for rapid climate change” is the release of greenhouse gases (primarily carbon compounds) into the atmosphere, primary from the burning of fossil fuels, and secondarily from agriculture, forestry and land-use changes. Australia has one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints in the world(1), and 74% of domestic emissions can be traced back to burning fossil fuels(2). Australia contributes further to climate change by exporting coal to other countries and is in the midst of massive increase in fossil fuel extraction.  Already the world’s second biggest coal exporter(3), with exported coal contributing more to greenhouse gas pollution than our entire domestic emissions(4), planned mine expansion could see Australia more than double its output by 2025(5). The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and plans to double it again(6).  Mega-mines that are on the cards in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland would more than quintuple ship movements across the Great Barrier Reef, to over 10,000 coal ships per year(7).  The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and plans to double it again.  If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed today, the annual carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning their coal alone would exceed those of the United Kingdom or Canada(8). 

Likewise, the rate of expansion of coal seam gas extraction, mainly in south eastern Queensland and northern NSW, is astonishing.  There are currently about 4,000 coal seam gas wells in Queensland(9), there could be approximately 40,000 by 2030(10). 

The implications of such unfettered expansion, not only for the global climate, but also locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life, are severe. 

Despite their rhetoric of ‘tackling climate change’ no coal or CSG mine application has ever been rejected by the NSW or federal government on the basis of climate impacts(11).

The destructive impacts of climate change are already being experienced now, with only 0.8 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature(12). The Australian Government’s Climate Commission has just released a report about the extreme weather events dominating the 2012/2013 Summer, asserting that “Australia’s Angry Summer shows that climate change is already adversely affecting Australians. The significant impacts of extreme weather on people, property, communities and the environment highlight the serious consequences of failing to adequately address climate change.”(13)  One of the latest reports on current impact of climate change globally is the German Potsdam Institute report to the World Bank at the end of 2012 entitled, “Turn down the heat – why 4°C warmer world must be avoided.” It notes the following heat wave and drought impacts of climate change: 

  • The past decade has seen an exceptional number of extreme heat waves around the world that each caused severe societal impacts. Examples of such events include, the European heat wave of 2003, the Greek heat wave of 2007, the Australian heart wave of 2009, the Russian heat wave of 2010, the Texas heat wave of 2011, and the U.S. heat wave of 2012. These heat waves often caused many heat-related deaths, forest fires, and harvest losses. (p.13) 
  • The drought conditions associated with the Russian heat wave in 2010 caused grain harvest losses of 25 percent, leading the Russian government to ban wheat exports, and about $15 billion (about 1 percent gross domestic product) of total economic loss. (p.15)
  • These climatic trends accumulated to produce four consecutive dry years following 2006 in Syria, with the 2007–08 drought being particularly devastating. As the vast majority of crops in this country are non-irrigated, the region is highly vulnerable to meteorological drought. In combination with water mismanagement, the 2008 drought rapidly led to water stress with more than 40 percent of the cultivated land affected, strongly reducing wheat and barley production.  The repeated droughts resulted in significant losses for the population, affecting in total 1.3 million people (800,000 of whom were severely affected), and contributing to the migration of tens of thousands of families. (p.16)
The future outlook is bleak, with global emissions rising faster than the “worst case scenario” projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the likelihood of avoiding ‘tipping points’ (that will accelerate and lock in warming) becoming ever smaller(14). The “Turn down the heat” report notes that “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”(15)

The current “Ethical Investment Principles and Procedures” for our Synod states: 

In examining investments, all bodies within the Uniting Church will take into account unacceptable levels of social injury, resulting from activities that: [inter alia] 

03 Involve substantial change to the environment, which is not, or proposed to be, made good at the conclusion of the activity;

Companies and oil and gas extraction companies cannot ‘make good’ their changes to the climate through global warming. There is no known way to turn back the clock. 

Research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative has found that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground or sea if we are to avoid exceeding a 2 degree rise in global temperatures(16). This means; put another way, the basic purpose of fossil fuel companies is now a threat to humanity. As Bill McKibbon (founder of 350.org, which has launched the ‘Go Fossil Free’ campaign) notes, there is no flaw in their business plan, “the flaw is their business plan.”(17)

This proposal (and timetable) is part of the global ‘Go Fossil Free’ campaign of divestment from fossil fuel companies, launched by the leading international grassroots climate NGO, 350.org(18). The campaign deliberately draws on the experience of boycotts, sanctions and divestment of South African companies (and companies operating in South Africa) during the apartheid years. Already hundreds of universities and some cities in the USA have begun to divest in these companies or are considering doing so. The United Church of Christ in the USA will consider a similar proposal to ours at their next general assembly, to be brought by the Massachusetts Conference(19).

In our view, our church’s “commitment to ecological sustainability” must be expressed not only in words/pronouncements but also in the embodying of those words in the life and actions of the church.  In the words of James, we are called to be “doers of the word, and not hearers [or pronouncers] only” (James 1:22). And Christ himself commended “everyone… who hears these words of mine and acts on them” (Matt 7:24).  This proposal seeks to align our church’s professed commitment to ecological sustainability with our actions in the world.

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4. Rationale (short version)

In 2008 the NSW.ACT Synod Standing Committee noted that there was “overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is responsible for rapid climate change” and “a commitment to ecological sustainability is an essential part of the church’s discipleship”, resolving to “integrate creation care into all aspects of its worship, witness and service.”  (Standing Committee Minute 249/08SC). 

Australia has one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints in the world. 74% of domestic emissions can be traced back to burning fossil fuels. Australia contributes further to climate change by exporting coal to other countries and is in the midst of massive increase in fossil fuel extraction.  Already the world’s second biggest coal exporter, with exported coal contributing more to greenhouse gas pollution than our entire domestic emissions, planned mine expansion could see Australia double its output.  The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and plans to double it again.  If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed today, the annual carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning their coal alone would exceed those of the United Kingdom or Canada. 

Likewise, the rate of expansion of coal seam gas extraction, mainly in south eastern Queensland and northern NSW, is astonishing.  There are currently about 3,500 coal seam gas wells in Queensland, there could be approximately 40,000 by 2030. 

The implications of such unfettered expansion, not only for the global climate, but also locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life, are severe. 

Despite their rhetoric of ‘tackling climate change’ no coal or CSG mine application has ever been rejected by the NSW or federal government on the basis of climate impacts.

The destructive impacts of climate change are already being experienced now, with only 0.8 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature. The future outlook is bleak, with global emissions rising faster than the “worst case scenario” projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the likelihood of avoiding ‘tipping points’ (that will accelerate and lock in warming) becoming ever smaller. The German Potsdam Institute report to the World Bank at the end of 2012 entitled, “Turn down the heat – why 4°C warmer world must be avoided”, notes that “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.

The current “Ethical Investment Principles and Procedures” for our Synod states: 

In examining investments, all bodies within the Uniting Church will take into account unacceptable levels of social injury, resulting from activities that: [inter alia] 

03 Involve substantial change to the environment, which is not, or proposed to be, made good at the conclusion of the activity;

Companies and oil and gas extraction companies cannot ‘make good’ their changes to the climate through global warming. There is no known way to turn back the clock. 

Research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative has found that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground or sea if we are to avoid exceeding a 2 degree rise in global temperatures. This means; put another way, the basic purpose of fossil fuel companies is now a threat to humanity. As Bill McKibbon (founder of 350.org, which has launched the ‘Go Fossil Free’ campaign) notes, there is no flaw in their business plan, “the flaw is their business plan.

This proposal (and timetable) is part of the global ‘Go Fossil Free’ campaign of divestment from fossil fuel companies, launched by the leading international grassroots climate NGO, 350.org. The campaign deliberately draws on the experience of boycotts, sanctions and divestment of South African companies (and companies operating in South Africa) during the apartheid years. Already hundreds of universities and some cities in the USA have begun to divest in these companies or are considering doing so. The United Church of Christ in the USA will consider a similar proposal to ours at their next general assembly.

In our view, our church’s “commitment to ecological sustainability” must be expressed not only in words/pronouncements but also in the embodying of those words in the life and actions of the church. This proposal seeks to align our church’s professed commitment to ecological sustainability with our actions in the world.

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5. References

(1) Garnaut, Ross (2008) “The Garnaut Climate Change Review,” Chapter 7: Australia’s emissions in a global context, Available: http://www.garnautreview.org.au/chp7.htm, accessed 1 April 2013.

(2)  Figure 3, Australia’s 2009 emissions profile, in Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (undated) “Australian National Greenhouse Accounts: National Inventory Systems Overview," Available: http://www.climatechange.gov.au/climate-change/emissions/~/media/climate-change/emissions/factsheets/NGA-FactSheet-1-NationalInventoryOverview-20120213-PDF.pdf, accessed 1 April 2013.

(3) Australia exported 284Mt of coal in 2011, following Indonesia, which exported 309Mt.  From World Coal Association (2012) “Coal Statistics,” Available: http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/, accessed 1 April 2013.

(4) Estimated emissions from the combustion of coal exported in 2011 was 711 megatons of CO2-equivalent, compared with 551 megatons of domestic emissions (excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry) for the year to June 2012 (Hepburn, John (2012) “Implied cumulative emissions commitments from existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure investments in Australia,” paper presented at the Second Australian Earth System Outlook Conference Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 26- 27 November 2012).

(5) As estimated by the Australian Government’s Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics (BREE) (2012) “Australian bulk commodity exports and infrastructure – outlook to 2025,” Available: http://www.bree.gov.au/documents/publications/_other/Export-Infrastructure-Report.pdf, accessed 1 April 2013.

(6) The export capacity of the Newcastle coal port (Port Waratah Coal Services, PWCS) was 66 megatons per annum in 1997.  Following further expansion by PWCS and the development of a new coal terminal by the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG), current export capacity is 166 megatons per annum (113Mtpa PWCS and 53Mtpa NCIG) (see Port Waratah Coal Services (undated) "Newcastle and the history of coal" Available: http://www.pwcs.com.au/pages/history.php, and NCIG (undated) “History,” Available: http://www.ncig.com.au/Home/History/tabid/89/Default.aspx, both accessed 1 April 2013). Capacity is projected to be 330 megatons per annum in 2020 if a fourth terminal (T4) is developed by PWCS (see Hunter Community Environment Centre (2012) “Sick of Coal,” Figure 2, p.6, Available: http://www.hcec.org.au/sites/default/files/Sick_of_Coal_web.pdf, accessed 1 April 2013).  For details of approved expansions and the proposed T4 project, see NCIG (undated) “Current Expansion: Stage Three - 66 Mtpa,” Available: http://www.ncig.com.au/ProjectDevelopment/tabid/142/Default.aspx, PWCS (undated) “Kooragang Expansion,” Available: http://www.pwcs.com.au/pages/projects/kooragang_expansion.php, and PWCS (undated) “PWCS Expansion – Project T4,” Available: http://www.pwcs.com.au/pages/projects/t4.php, all accessed 1 April 2013. 

(7) Greenpeace (2013) “Cooking the Climate, Wrecking the Reef: The global impacts of coal exports from Australia’s Galilee Basin,” p.47, Available: https://p3-admin.greenpeace.org/australia/Global/australia/images/2012/Climate/Galillee%20Report(4.2MB).pdf, accessed 3 April 2013.

(8) “Cooking the Climate, Wrecking the Reef,” p.12.

(9) APPEA (2013) “CSG Industry data, Q4 2012,” p.2, Available: http://www.appea.com.au/csg/about-csg/fact-sheets.html, accessed 1 April 2013.

(10) ABC News (2012) “What’s the promise of coal seam gas?,” see heading “How big is the CSG industry?” Available: http://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/coal-seam-gas-by-the-numbers/promise, accessed 1 April 2013.

(11) Personal communications with Greenpeace, Sunrise Project and Frontline Action on Coal campaigners.

(12) Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics (2012) “Turn down the heat: Why a 4oC warmer world must be avoided.” Washington: The World Bank, p.xiv-xv, Available: http://climatechange.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/Turn_Down_the_heat_Why_a_4_degree_centrigrade_warmer_world_must_be_avoided.pdf, accessed 1 April 2013.

(13) Climate Commission (2013) “The Angry Summer,” p.1, Available: http://climatecommission.gov.au/report/the-angry-summer/, accessed 1 April 2013.

(14)Plumer, Brad (2011) “Global CO2 emissions rising faster than worst-case scenarios,” The Washington Post, 4 November 2011. Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/global-co2-emissions-outpacing-worst-case-scenarios/2011/11/04/gIQA74r1mM_blog.html, accessed 4 April 2013.
 
(15) “Turn down the heat”, p.xviii
 
(16) Carbon Tracker Initiative (2012) “Unburnable carbon: are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?” p.2, Available http://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/08/Unburnable-Carbon-Full1.pdf, accessed 1 April 2013.
 
(17) As quoted in Clark, Pilita (2013) “US pension fund eyes selling oil holdings,” The Financial Times, 30 January 2013. Available http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/73fedbf2-6af2-11e2-9871-00144feab49a.html#axzz2PAg1XLMG, accessed 1 April 2013.
 
(18) http://gofossilfree.org, accessed 1 April 2013.  Information for religious institutions is available at http://gofossilfree.org/religious-institutions/.
 
(19) Go Fossil Free (2013) “MA United Church of Christ passes divestment resolution,” Available: http://gofossilfree.org/ma-united-church-of-christ-passes-divestment-resolution/, accessed 1 April 2013.

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