Landmark vote sees Diocese of Oxford become the first to go fossil free

Demonstrators make their way down Sixth Avenue in New York during the People's Climate March on Sunday, September 21.Jason DeCrow/AP/Press Association Images

The Diocese of Oxford today voted to divest from fossil fuels, becoming the first to do so in the Church of England.

By a majority of 52 votes to 37, with seven abstentions, a resolution was passed to make all investments fossil free, and to actively explore opportunities for reinvestment in clean energy alternatives.

The resolution also included a commitment to call on the entire Church to follow suit and divest from coal, oil and gas companies.

Revd Darrell Hannah, Rector of All Saints Church in Ascot Heath who bought forward the resolution at the Oxford Diocesan Synod today, said he was delighted with the outcome of the vote.

"I'm overjoyed. We had a good debate with good points on both sides. People recognise the ambiguities of the issue, the importance of the issue, the urgency of the moment, and I'm very pleased the vote went the way it did," he said.

"Oxford Diocese, true to its history, is challenging the Church of England as a whole to take seriously the threat of climate change and what we as Christians do about it."

Vice-Chair of Christian charity Operation Noah, Mark Letcher, praised local churches involved in the fossil-free movement for taking the issue seriously.

"Following recent commitments from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a national pension fund in Sweden, and the University of Glasgow, the decision today increases the pressure on the Church of England – which still has over £60 million invested in fossil fuel companies – to disinvest," he added.

The Diocese of Oxford joins a growing number of fossil-free faith communities across the globe. Those that have pledged to disinvest include the World Council of Churches, the Church of Sweden, Quakers in Britain and the United Church of Christ in the US.

Several dioceses in Australia and New Zealand have also disinvested.

Ellie Roberts, divestment campaigner for Operation Noah, said: "We are delighted that Oxford has joined faith communities from all regions of the globe in refusing to profit from or provide finance to the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuel companies continue to base their business strategies on ever greater expansion and use of fossil fuel reserves, despite the fact that the vast majority of existing reserves must remain in the ground to preserve the viability of our planet.

"By disinvesting, Churches are sending the clearest possible signal to fossil companies that they need to completely rethink their business strategies now," she said.

"They also demonstrate their commitment to stand with the poorest and most vulnerable communities, who are already suffering the impacts of climate change."

Today's vote follows the Inter-Faith Summit on Climate Change held in New York in September. A statement signed by 30 religious leaders urged international governments to address the impact that rising global temperatures and other environmental changes are having on the word's poorest communities.

"We recognise that climate change stands today as a major obstacle to the eradication of poverty. Severe weather events exacerbate hunger, cause economic insecurity, force displacement and prevent sustainable development," the statement read.

"The climate crisis is about the survival of humanity on planet earth, and action must reflect these facts with urgency."

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has also called on governments – particularly wealthy industrialised nations – to "act and secure a safe world for today's poorest and tomorrow's children".

Speaking earlier this year, he said: "It is those suffering the most who carry the least historic responsibility for our situation.

"With actors who have traditionally dragged their feet taking the lead, and with the urgency for action in developing nations beyond any serious doubt, it is now those who have traditionally been more proactive – European nations in particular – who need to step up to the mark."