Five Church of England priests were amongst 15 people from CCA who protested outside BAE Systems headquarters in London and Church House in London over both organisations’ links to the fossil fuel industry. They are calling on both organisations to “cut the ties” with fossil fuels.

Rev Jonathan Herbert, Rev Helen Burnett, Rev Hilary Bond and Rev Alison Judge were amongst the 15 people who held a banner outside BAE Systems headquarters in Stirling Square, which said ‘BAE Systems Fuels Climate Suffering’. They also had a banner with the logo of BAE Systems on it depicted dripping in oil, covered their hands in red paint to represent BAE’s complicity in the climate crisis and stuck posters calling out BAE and put handprints on to the glass of the building.

BAE Systems is fuelling climate suffering by (1) providing weaponry used in conflict that amplifies the vulnerability of people at the front line of climate change, (2) providing military and technical support to a regime (Saudi Arabia) that aims to increase oil production during this decade and (3) working against global action to limit fossil fuel use through their contribution to military greenhouse gas emissions.

The four priests were joined by Rev Vanessa Elston as the group gathered outside Church House with a banner that said ‘No Faith in Fossil Fuels’ and held a prayer vigil.

The Church of England’s Church Commissioners, the Church of England’s Pension’s Board and 11 dioceses still invest in fossil fuels. A further 16 dioceses have not committed to not investing in fossil fuels in the future. The Church of England’s strategy of engagement with key oil and gas interests has not worked and the Church should be showing moral leadership in rejecting profiting from investments in companies that continue to fuel climate suffering.

The protests were part of a larger action which saw protests at 13 locations associated with organisations which have links to the fossil fuel industry. The actions follow the conclusion of COP27 in Egypt, which has been widely criticised for the heavy presence of representatives of oil and gas companies.

Gathering in prayer outside Church House

Speaking about the action at Church House, Rev Jonathan Herbert said:

‘Personally, as a vicar who cares about God’s creation, the Church of England has put me in a really difficult position. Whenever I try to encourage others to take action for the planet, I am reminded that my pension is invested in fossil fuels and I am called a hypocrite. I have been protesting for years for the Cof E to divest from fossil fuels, but they continue to refuse.’

Rev Hilary Bond:

‘I am here because I care about young people. The Church of England has said that by 2023 they will have divested from any fossil fuel companies that are not in line with the Paris Agreement. 2022 is coming to an end and I am here to make sure that they do not break that promise. We will have no credibility as a Church if they do.’

Michelle Barnes, 55, from London, said:

‘It’s so embarrassing that there are vast swathes of universities, companies and councils that have divested from fossil fuels, but the Church of England is still in bed with fossil fuel companies. It’s hard to claim any moral integrity or claim that we care about young people when we are funding the destruction of their future.’

Holly Peterson, from London, said:

‘We are in the eleventh hour of this climate crisis. If we don’t take meaningful action now it will be too late. This is not the time for polite conversations with fossil fuel companies. This is a time for turning over the tables of oppressive power.’

Rev Helen Burnett, from Reigate, said:

‘I am deeply disturbed by the lack of leadership from the top on disengaging with fossil fuel companies – though never perfect and always struggling I am doing my best to divest in my personal finances and to encourage my congregation and PCC to do the same, both at a personal and parish level. Yet I have to do this in the full knowledge that the NIB and Church Commissioners continue to engage with fossil fuel giants, Exxon Mobil, Shell and TotalEnergies all of whom continue to increase their exploitation of oil and gas fields. Exxon plans to expand oil and gas production by 45% this year.’

‘On the day after COP27 draws to a close I have to carry the guilt that my Church of England Pension is drawn from shares in fossil fuels, a strategy that so many have lobbied against and that all the data shows us is propelling us towards climate destruction. At this moment people on the frontline of climate breakdown are dying as a result of the CO2 emissions derived from oil and gas profiteering that pays into clergy retirement funds – this cannot be right. When major investment funds like Nest choose to disinvest because of lack of progress on climate targets where is the prophetic voice of the church ? It is silent , continuing to draw profit from shares in destructive practices that are killing our neighbours in much more climate vulnerable communities than our own, including of course our neighbours within the world wide Anglican Communion.

‘To be on the right side of history, the Church of England needs to cut its ties with the fossil fuel industry and put clear water between itself and all those who covertly or openly continue to invest in oil.’

Rev Jonathan Herbert with red hands and a notice posted on the window of BAE Systems’ headquarters

Speaking about the action at BAE Systems, Rev Hilary Bond, said:

‘The UK military’s annual carbon footprint is estimated to be around 11million tonnes. To put that in perspective, it is the amount that 6 million cars would emit annually. BAE Systems accounts for about 30% of the UK arms industry’s total emissions.’

Rev Jonathan Herbert, said:

‘The world’s militaries combined, and the industries that provide their equipment, are estimated to create 6% of all global emissions. The death and destruction that companies like BAE Systems creates goes against everything I stand for. A vicious spiral has been created where the military is a driver of climate change and in turn climate change itself increases the likelihood and intensity of war. Add to this that defending fossil fuel reserves has been a driver of wars around the world and you have a recipe for disaster. I can’t stand by and let this spiral continue. We need to break free from fossil fuels and the mass suffering they cause. ‘

Michelle Barnes, 55, from London, said:

‘When people protest arms companies such as BAE Systems, it is usually for the death and destruction that their weapons bring and their arming of oppressive regimes. What is less known is that arms production and the military supply chain is a huge driver of climate change. These companies might have money and power, however we have bravery. As a Christian I am called to take a stand when I see injustice and I just don’t see an end to the destruction these companies are willing to bring. ‘

Phil Laurie, a Quaker from Faversham, Kent, said:

‘Fossil fuel companies and weapons companies are intertwined. For example, oil money finances arms buying in oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. But also conflict over fossil fuels increases the need for arms.’

Susie Peeler said:

‘The continued Saudi assault on the people of Yemen has only been possible because BAE sold them the arms to do it. Saudi pays for all this through revenue from oil. For the sake of people and the planet, oil has to stop, arms trading has to stop. That is why I am protesting today.’

Rev Helen Burnett, from Reigate, said:

‘As a Parish Priest living in Reigate and with a church in Chaldon, I am acutely aware of the enormous privilege of living in an area which is both affluent and peaceful… I cannot ignore the gross injustice of this privilege and the ways in which I am implicated by UK government and business decisions in the grotesque suffering of others. BAE Systems, based in London with a huge manufacturing base in Barrow in Furness is the largest defence contractor in Europe and 7th largest in the world.

‘Between 2015 and 2020 BAE sold £15bn worth of arms and services to Saudi Arabia as well as operating an extensive training and support programme for The Saudi military, a military outfit that supports and defends a regime determined to catastrophically increase its oil production during the next ten years.
So as the planet spirals into climate breakdown BAE actively supplies and supports those whose policies wreak havoc on the lives of most vulnerable people in our world.

‘The least I can do is take a simple trip to London to protest and shine a light on this wicked company whose business is directly implicated in the destruction of both people and planet. Wherever we live, need to cut the ties between these massive corporations and the oil industry which had over 600 lobbyists at the recent COP27 negotiations.’

Speaking about all 13 actions, Extinction Rebellion spokesperson, Sarah Hart, said: 

‘Behind incomprehensible government decisions to double down on fossil fuel development, sign off new oil exploration licenses and allow the big energy companies to rake in record profits, lies a network of companies and organisations that are profiting from this destructive path. 

‘While the rest of us worry about the cost of turning the heating on our government is prioritising the profits of the very companies that are jeopardising our climate and environment. But everyday people are way ahead of politicians. They want to be able to heat their homes and they want a future for their children. 

‘So today, Extinction Rebellion are sending the message that it’s time to cut the ties with fossil fuels or lose the social license to operate in the UK.’