I am fortunate (if you like big cities) to live within driving distance of Manhattan. So when I read an e-mail from the new moderator of FFPCUSA Abby Mohaupt “inviting YOU (me) to join us (her) in their work," which included attending the quarterly meeting of MRTI at Madison Avenue Church in NYC, I accepted the call.
It is indeed a call that started with my being a Ruling Elder Commissioner at the 222nd General Assembly this past summer. I was on Committee 9, Environmental and Immigration. I voted for divestment, but the Minority Report with a more moderate approach was approved by the body of General Assembly.
The body of General Assembly agreed to:
Direct MRTI to pursue its focused engagement process on climate change issues with all corporations, particularly with those in the oil, gas, and coal sectors, and report back to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) with recommendations, including possible selective divestment if significant changes in governance, strategy, implementation, transparency and disclosure, and public policy are not instituted by the corporations during the engagements of MRTI and ecumenical partners.
Looking back at this decision, I was disappointed because this issue needs immediate action. However, I did want to find out how MRTI was going to plan on following this directive. I wanted to represent Committee 9 who wrestled with the overtures relating to fossil fuel. I wanted MRTI to see a presence.
What I did find was:
- A devoted, intelligent group of people from different agencies of PCUSA and three members at large.
- True concern about bringing results to GA 223.
- Environment and Climate Change was first on the agenda.
- Worries that “pastors will have no pensions."
- Concerns for “cheap energy for a developing world"
- Talk of “lower carbon future; greenhouse gas reduction not going very well."
- A limited number of companies that MRTI will be able to deal with realistically.
- Companies like Hess (who they met with the next day) only work on extracting and refining fuel, so they can only be encouraged to following the Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gases not switching to alternative forms of energy.
- They partner with Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
- They struggled with how they could monitor a company’s progress (and what the goals should be).
- These negotiations are not the “only tool to deal with climate change." Reduction of consumption was mentioned among others.
Here is some basic information I found to get me up to speed on MRTI and the Paris Agreement.
From PCUSA Web-site (excerpts) Mission Responsibility Through Investment:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) believes that church investment is more than a practical question. It is also “an instrument of mission and includes theological, social and economic considerations” (183rd General Assembly, UPCUSA, 1971). Through dialogue and meetings with company management, shareholders try to directly encourage more responsible levels of corporate citizenship. If initial attempts at dialogue or communication with a company fail, institutions or individuals can file a shareholder proposal, to be voted on at that company’s annual shareholder meeting. A shareholder proposal is a recommendation or request that a company and/or its board of directors take a particular action relevant to company policy. MRTI is involved in shareholder advocacy to encourage companies to protect the most vulnerable, care for creation, and promote peace.
The Paris agreement (from WHO)
The Paris Agreement, adopted on 12 December 2015, marks the beginning of a new era in the global response to climate change. The world now has a global climate agreement - that will have a major public health policy impact as countries take action. As stated in the agreement, “the right to health”, will be central to the actions taken.
The Agreement not only sets ambitious aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming well below 2°C, it also commits countries to strengthen adaptation. This includes implementing plans that should protect human health from the worst impacts of climate change, such as air pollution, heat waves, floods and droughts, and the ongoing degradation of water resources and food security. It commits countries to finance clean and resilient futures in the most vulnerable countries.
Through monitoring and revision of national contributions every five years, the world will begin to see improvements not only in the environment, but also in health, including reductions in the more than 7 million deaths worldwide that are attributed to air pollution every year.
To build on this historic opportunity, WHO, and the Government of France, holding the Presidency of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will jointly host the Second Global Conference on Health and Climate: “Building Healthier Societies through implementation of the Paris Agreement." (This was held this past July.)
My overall impression of the meeting was that as well-intentioned as every committee member was and no matter how much hard they will work in the next two years the report to the 223rd General Assembly will show little progress.
Yes we need to take personal and corporate responsibility for our over consumption and encourage others to do so also but this is a complex issue. Until governments make the appropriate laws to safeguard our environment and retrain our workforce, I don’t see the energy industry changing much.
GA 222 did approve reading and studying “Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home”, the encyclical letter of Pope Francis which I will conclude with a quote from: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels-especially coal, but also oil and to a lesser degree, gas-need to be progressive replaced without delay…..Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world.”
Time for strong action to move politicians and business is now. Divestment would make an enormous statement that PCUSA can’t in good conscience profit from fossil fuels.