California-Nevada Fossil Fuels Screen Resolution Update

February 11, 2015

By Rev. Sharon Delgado
Members of several boards and committees of the California-Nevada Conference have engaged in conference calls with the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (GBPHB) about the 2014 Annual Conference Resolution in support of an investment screen expressing United Methodist Social Principles on the Natural World.  The goal of this process is to develop an informed resolution calling for a United Methodist investment screen on “greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.”  The final resolution will be presented at the 2015 Annual Conference Session, and if passed, will be forwarded on as a resolution to the 2016 General Conference. 
In a related development, GBPHB announced on January 22, that it is going to screen thermal coal out of its investment portfolio.  GBPHB investments in coal, oil, and gas companies include Exxon Mobile, Conoco Phillips, and Occidental Petroleum. 
The primary rationale for creating a fossil fuels investment screen is this: Scientists warn that any warming above a 2°C rise would be dangerous, and governments of the world have agreed to work together to limit warming to that level.[i]  Scientists estimate that humans can emit roughly 565 more gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below 2°C.  But proven coal, oil, and gas reserves, mostly held by fossil fuel companies, total about five times that amount--2,795 gigatons of CO2.  If companies extract and burn all these reserves, there will be no way to limit warming to 2°C, and we will have runaway climate change.  [ii] [iii]
Fossil fuels companies also carry some risks for investors.  There is a risk of sharp losses in the value of stocks held by fossil fuel companies based on an over-valuation of these reserves, which will be unburnable if international agreements to hold warming to 2°C are honored.  If the world transitions to less polluting and more sustainable forms of fuel, this “carbon bubble” could burst, leaving the unburnable carbon as a “stranded asset.”  
Screening out coal, oil, and gas from the church’s investment portfolios will not cause the collapse of the fossil fuels industry.  But such actions by churches, universities, foundations, and other institutions can highlight the urgency of the climate crisis, reveal the moral bankruptcy of the fossil fuels industry, expose the financial vulnerability of investments based on fossil fuel reserves, and demonstrate a way of being that values life more than the financial bottom line. 
See the United Methodist News Service story.
Rev. Delgado is facilitating conversations around the conference and sharing information and resources about climate change, climate justice, fossil fuels investment screens, the Fossil Free UMC movement, and related issues and developments. To contact her, click here.
[i] World Bank Warnings on Why a 4 Degree Rise in Global Temperatures Must be Avoided:
[ii] “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Bill McKibben, Rolling Stones, July 19, 2012--These scientific concepts as written for a mainstream audience:
[iii] See also the original scientific paper, “Greenhouse-gas emitting targets for limiting global warming to 2 degrees C,” Malte Meinshausen, et al, in Nature, April 30, 2009.