Guest commentary by Kerri Allen
We live in times where moral ambiguity can have devastating and even deadly consequences. When it comes to the reality of climate change, there is no ambiguity of the disastrous impact of human degradation of the planet. Right now, the first government-funded climate change refugee resettlement is taking place in the contiguous United States. Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw band of Native Americans, has lost 98 percent of its land since 1955. Just in the past two weeks, a Harvard University study estimates that over 4,500 lives were lost as a consequence of Hurricane Maria. Well over a decade following Hurricane Katrina, white New Orleans has recovered; black New Orleans has not. See a pattern here? The devastating effects of climate change are undeniable, as is this disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable communities throughout the globe.
While the effects of climate change are black and white, the appropriate moral response for today is less clear. Next week, Presbyterians will come together as a denomination, with our trust and faith in God to lead us in discerning how we are called to respond to this urgent issue at this moment and time in our life together as Presbyterians. For many of us, it is most frustrating to be Presbyterian when confronting critical justice issues. Our theology and polity demand that we come together in community to discern the direction of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is alive and doing her creative work as we gather together, wrestling, debating and even disagreeing.
I believe the work of the Spirit is tangible in the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment’s (MRTI) report. MRTI is asking the 223rd General Assembly not to “stay the course,” but to provide the opportunity to remain a partner as part of the Climate Action 100+, a newly created collaborative course that brings unprecedented pressure on companies (not just fossil fuel) across the globe that do the most harm to God’s planet. As partners in Climate Action 100+, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is part of a potentially game-changing initiative.
The Climate Action 100+ is a newly-formed coalition of investors created to put additional pressure on the most significant greenhouse gas-emitting companies. With 280 investors around the world with $30 trillion in assets under management, it’s the largest and most ambitious coalition of investors ever assembled. It represents an astounding one-third of invested assets around the world, and the PC(USA), through MRTI, is one of the leaders of this coalition.
The initiative is also time-limited, giving investors – like the PC(USA) – five years to target companies and seek tangible change toward a low-carbon future. The campaign requires investors to commit to engaging with companies that are heavy emitters and calls on their boards of directors to:
- Implement a robust governance framework clearly articulating accountability and oversight of climate change risks;
- Take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their value chain; and
- Provide enhanced corporate disclosure that meets the recommendations of the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure, whose framework aims to reach the ambitious goals of the Paris Accords to limit global warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius.
Companies who do not show significant progress towards these three objectives within five years will face pressure from investors that include divestment.
The PC(USA)’s participation in this global campaign through MRTI augments current engagements and provides a deliberate process to individually monitor progress with companies and take faster action, as outlined in our recent report to the 223rd General Assembly. We monitor companies using our own guideline metrics, a tool developed to evaluate companies’ performance based on the criteria developed by the 222nd General Assembly in 2016. The combination of the enormous weight of this international campaign and MRTI’s robust guideline metrics will make it clear, quickly, which companies are moving towards mitigating climate change and those that are continuing to disproportionately contribute to it.
With the weight of trillions of dollars around the world behind it, the PC(USA)’s participation through MRTI in the Climate Action 100+ is a huge step in this direction. In this effort the PC(USA) through MRTI is leveraging its work plan with a more significant initiative that increases pressure on companies including: Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Petroleum, Valero Energy, Philips 66, Duke Energy, Ford, General Motors and others to take real action toward addressing climate change — or face possible divestment.
I am grateful for the grassroots efforts that have kept this critical justice issue at the forefront of our conversations and engagements. Within our denomination, Fossil Free PCUSA and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship have pushed us and, in turn, pushed companies on this issue. We agree with these voices that change needs to occur. I believe that it is these global grassroots efforts that have contributed to the creation of an audacious coalition of Climate Action 100+, and this is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s creative energy at work in our midst.
KERRI ALLEN is a member of the MRTI environmental and climate change committee and the Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns’ representative to MRTI. She lives in Chicago.