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Church to divest from corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels

The Uniting Church today put its money where its mouth is on climate change.

A day after calling on the New South Wales Government to act to protect farming land, water resources and conservation areas from mining, the church's Synod of New South Wales and the ACT has determined as a matter of policy that it should divest from corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels.

The Synod, meeting at Knox Grammar School, Sydney, also required all Synod bodies whose investments are not managed by its Treasury and Investment Services to implement the policy.

The General Secretary of the Synod will write to other Uniting Church synods and its national Assembly advocating that they also join a divestment campaign.

At previous meetings the Synod had called for creation care to be integrated into all aspects of the church's worship, witness and service, saying the threat of climate change was not being adequately addressed by state and federal governments or the international community.

It said that rapid expansion of fossil fuel mining (particularly coal and coal seam gas) in Australia was directly threatening agricultural land, human health and biodiversity.

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".

One member of Synod, Zac Hatfield Dodds, said the church was well past the point of wondering whether it was ethical to invest in climate change.

Synod requested the Ethical Investments Monitoring Committee to identify the companies affected by the new policy, issues that arise from divesting from those companies and how the policy could be carried out.

Alternative investments in renewable energy are to be pursued.

The proposal was brought to Synod by Justin Whelan, Mission Development Manager at Paddington Uniting Church, and Dr Miriam Pepper, a founding member of the church's ecology network, Uniting Earthweb.

They wanted the church's "commitment to ecological sustainability" to be expressed not only in words or pronouncements but also by embodying those words in its life and actions.

The proposal sought to align the church's professed commitment to ecological sustainability with its actions in the world.

Synod heard that Australia had one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints in the world and that 74 per cent of domestic emissions could be traced back to burning fossil fuels.

Australia contributed further to climate change by exporting coal to other countries and was in the midst of massive increase in fossil fuel extraction.

If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed, 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 New South Wales, was astonishing. The implications of such unfettered expansion, not only for the global climate, but also locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life, were severe.

Synod was told that the destructive impacts of climate change were already being experienced, with only 0.8 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature. The future outlook was bleak, with global emissions rising faster than the "worst case scenario" projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Research by the Carbon Tracker Initiative has found that 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground or sea if exceeding a 2 degree rise in global temperatures is to be avoided.

Mr Whelan said, "This means the basic purpose of fossil fuel companies is now a threat to humanity."

The proposal was part of the global "Go Fossil Free" campaign of divestment from fossil fuel companies.

Article originally printed in Insights Magazine.