United Church votes to sell off its fossil fuel assets

The United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, has voted to sell its fossil fuel assets and commit financially to funding an economy based on renewable energy.

Canada's largest Protestant denomination to sell off $5.9M in holdings

The United Church says it will sell off its holdings in fossil fuels and buy renewable energy investments. (Matt Young/Associated Press)

The United Church of Canada, the country's largest Protestant denomination, has voted to sell its fossil fuel assets and commit financially to funding an economy based on renewable energy.

The United Church General Council, which is meeting in Corner Brook, N.L., voted 67 per cent in favour of the move on Tuesday.

"Given the lack of political and industrial leadership to address climate concerns in a way that matches the scale of the problem, we wanted to signal that we are so serious about averting climate crisis that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is," said Christine Boyle, general council commissioner and a longtime climate advocate.

The move will mean selling off about $5.9 million in holdings, or 4.7 per cent of the United Church of Canada treasury.

Climate change and justice

The Church of England voted to sell off its coal and oilsands assets last summer, and the World Council of Churches has also committed to cutting its fossil fuel holdings.

After Pope Francis urged action on climate change earlier this summer, he faced calls from supporters to divest Vatican fossil fuel holdings.

The United Church executive has been directed to focus on the Top 200 oil, gas and coal companies as listed by the Carbon Tracker index.

The motion made was to ask the executive to "take active steps" to divest its portfolio, said Jeanne Moffat, a leader with the Trinity-St. Paul's United Church climate justice group, which helped support the motion.

She said no timetable was imposed, as the church will need time to determine what is involved financially in selling these assets and to choose suitable replacements that would help advance an economy based on renewables.

Moffat said she believes her own church, in downtown Toronto, was the first faith community in Canada to divest its fossil fuel assets when it made a similar decision in February 2014.

The move was motivated by the "need to live with respect in creation," part of the United Church creed, and by considerations of social justice, Moffat said.

"For a number of years we had looked at the question of climate change and its impact on the vulnerable," she said in an interview with CBC News.

"We see this as not only an environmental issue, but also a justice issue."

A Toronto conference put forward the motion. Conferences are the regional bodies representing groups of churches.

During the debate, United Church members voiced concern for people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere who will need support to transition away from economies dependent on fossil fuels.

There was also opposition from some who suggested a more constructive approach would be to engage with fossil fuel companies as active shareholders.

The initiative includes a resolution to re-invest those assets in green renewable energy.

The United Church has previously sold off its holdings in tobacco and investments related to gambling.