With no discussion, the Presbyterian Mission Agency board approved a recommendation Feb. 5 that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continue working to convince businesses to try to limit global warming. The recommendation does not suggest that the PC(USA) divest from fossil fuel companies.
The board voted to support a recommendation from the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee, which asks the 2016 General Assembly to call on “all corporations to increase their efforts to address climate change through vigorous action.”
Here’s what it doesn’t recommend: that the PC(USA) divest yet its holdings from fossil fuel companies – the 200 publicly traded oil and gas companies from the Carbon Underground list.
This issue is sure to be contested at the General Assembly in Portland in June, as overtures already have been sent both for and against fossil fuel divestment.
The Presbytery of San Francisco has submitted an overture seeking divestment from fossil fuel companies, while an overture from the Presbytery of New Covenant in Texas calls for an alternative to divestment.
In December, 195 nations gathered at the United Nations Paris climate summit reached an historic international accord intended to lower greenhouse gas emissions. And Pope Francis issued the papal letter “Laudato Si” (“Praise Be to You”) describing global warming as a worldwide problem rooted in greed and apathy, and urgently calling for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”
MRTI is making recommendations now on climate change because the 2014 General Assembly referred to it an overture from the Presbytery of Boston seeking divestment. That 2014 overture – with concurrences from 11 other presbyteries and support from the advocacy group Fossil Free PCUSA– asked the General Assembly to instruct the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and to liquidate any investments it already held in those companies within five years. Instead of doing that, the assembly voted 469-110 to refer the overture to MRTI – and in response, MRTI now is making these recommendations.
The MRTI recommendations suggest that the 2016 General Assembly ask businesses to:
- Integrate management of climate change risks and opportunities into their business strategies. That strategy would include a commitment “to manage operations in a manner consistent with the internationally agreed upon goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
- In making business and investment decisions, set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, use renewable energy sources and choose new technologies capable of reducing the company’s carbon footprint.
- Work in support of “cost-effective policy measures to mitigate climate change risks and support low carbon investments,” and be transparent about the company’s lobbying efforts and political spending.
The MRTI recommendations encourage individuals, congregations and the PC(USA) to continue working to reduce their carbon footprints.
The recommendations also ask the assembly to direct MRTI to continue its process of engagement with all corporations, particularly with oil, gas and coal firms, and to report back to the 2018 assembly with divestment as a possible outcome if “significant changes” aren’t made through the process of engagement with MRTI and its ecumenical partners.
Presbyterians clearly aren’t in agreement about what’s the most effective and moral way to respond to global warming.
Last fall, a group calling itself Faithful Alternatives to Fossil Free Divestment, based in the Synod of the Sun, held a symposium in Houston to discuss both climate change and divestment alternatives. A document prepared for the consultation agrees with the seriousness of the climate change problem, but questions whether divestment from coal and petroleum companies is either effective or ethical.
On Feb. 4, a representative of Fossil Fuel PC(USA), Dan Terpstra, spoke to the board’s justice committee, commending MRTI’s rationale but stating that “we in FossilFree PCUSA are bewildered and deeply discouraged by the recommendations. … In June of 2014, General Assembly referred the subject matter of our overture to MRTI for action and discernment, noting a deep concern about ‘both the need for action and the need to remain in dialogue.’
“By preserving the status quo; by offering no new action; and by kicking the can down the road for another two years, this report fails to meet the mandate of General Assembly,” the group contends.