The RCB invests in ExxonMobil, a company that ‘promoted doubt’ about climate change.

A group of Anglican Bishops and clergy recently called upon the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board to "show moral leadership" by divesting from fossil fuels, and divest from ExxonMobil in particular. See my earlier blog post.

In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, the group cites a recent journal paper analyzing ExxonMobil’s activities from 1977-2014 that concludes: ‘ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science – by way of its scientists’ academic publications – but promoted doubt about it in advertorials.’

The Anglican group's letter concludes, "Now is the time for decisive action. We call on Church of England investors to take the lead and immediately divest from ExxonMobil."

The Church of Ireland in recent years has changed its fossil fuel investment strategy by aligning it to the policy to the Church of England. At General Synod 2017 a motion was passed that committed the RCB to: excluded investments in coal and tar sands, reduce its oil and gas investments and increase investments in green alternatives, support collaborative engagement, and divest from companies that do not take seriously the transition to a low carbon economy.

It is timely to ask a few questions to the Representative Church Body. Does the RCB invest in ExxonMobil? What criteria does the RCB use to consider divestment from a company that does not take the issue of climate change seriously? Has the RCB reduced its investments in oil and gas companies during 2017? Does the RCB vet its investments in unit trusts and bonds to ensure no money is invested in coal or tar sands companies?

The Church of Ireland Gazette picked up the above letter and approached the RCB for a reply. Their response was published in the Gazette on Friday 17 November 2017.

The truth is out, the RCB invests in Exxon Mobil. An oil company well known for blocking votes on climate change at its annual general meetings and exposed as a company that ‘promoted doubt’ about climate change. The RCB says the amount is ‘negligible’, 0.08% of Total Funds under management. According to the Book of Reports 2017 (page 88), the total amount in the RCB Funds was €597m so the 0.08% invested in Exxon Mobil could be as much as €0.5m. Hardly insignificant.

The reply from the RCB also acknowledges, “From time to time the RCB may have exposure to external ‘pooled’ funds where it is not possible to apply these restrictions.” This illustrates a trend towards pooled investments such as The Bank of Ireland 10.1% Pref bond (see page 91 of the Book of Reports).

By taking a hands-off approach this means the RCB can wash its hands when it comes to ethical investments. But there are alternatives. Green bonds provide investors an assurance that their investment will avoid fossil fuel equities. The RCB could follow Christian Aid Ireland's example and put pressure on the banks to improve their ethical investment policies and have a 'big shift' away from fossil fuel investments.

It is time for the RCB to divest from ExxonMobil and pressure the banks in which it invests to clean up their investments too.


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