Greenhouse Pioneer: Canon Christopher Hall, Pension Activist

Canon Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall, the retired canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford is a different kind of activist.

When heis not tending to his cottage garden in Banbury, or spending time with his children and grandchildren, he is using his small pension shares in big stock market companies – namely Shell – to make his voice heard and protest against their greenhouse gas emissions.

Everybody who has a private or company pension does own a share of almost all the stock market giants; a fact that goes unnoticed by most, due to the convoluted chain of people that stand between pension trustees and the companies themselves.

Companies like Share Action are working to change this, pushing for improvements in corporate environmental and human rights behaviour by working with investors and individual pension fund managers to engage with and put pressure on the corporations in which they hold shares. In recent years they have campaigned on issues including tar sands, climate change, destructive mining projects and access to generic medicines in developing countries.

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We spoke to Canon Hall about why he got involved with ‘Pension Activism’ and what he feels he has achieved.

Tell us about your mission?

My responsibility as a small shareholder in Royal Dutch Shell has been to ask the board awkward questions since 1995.

What motivates you?

Initially to voice the grievances of the Ogoni Peoplewho have suffered for 50+ years from Shell’s extraction of oil from the Niger Delta.Ken Saro-Wiwa (Leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) was a real inspiration to me. Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by the operations of the Royal Dutch Shell company. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce environmental regulations on the foreign petroleum companies operating in the area.

His execution in 1995 provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years. Maria, his widow asked me to preach at his memorial service in St Martin-in-the-Fields. Since then, I have felt it important to use my voice to raise urgent issues about the threats to the planet of Shell’s ‘business-as-usual’ model.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

On behalf of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility I proposed shareholders’ resolutions at Shell AGMs in London in 1997 and The Hague in 2006. It was a ‘success’ that of the total votes cast in 1997 259m [16.9%], and 563m [17.2%] were against the advice of the Board. This year a consortium of major investors, including local authorities and churches, have tabled similar motions at both the BP and Shell AGMs on climate change risk, and both Boards have recommended acceptance.

What are the challenges you face?

Royal Dutch Shell is a registered British company but its HQ is in The Hague where AGMs are now held. In spite of earlier assurances that UK shareholders would not be marginalised, the Board has stopped simultaneous streaming of the AGM to a London venue. This makes it harder personally to lobby directors and executives in the UK.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

Supporting a local farmer who has applied for planning permission for a 5MW – 30 acre – solar farm, to which the Parish Council has registered objections on specious grounds.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

Aim to become a SuperHome. The 16th century cottage I live in with my wife is one of 190 pioneering eco homes within the UK. Over 25 years we are reckoned to have reduced our domestic carbon-footprint by 64%.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you do?

Outlaw fracking in the UK.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?

Photo-voltaic cells – we have a 2.4kw installation.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

Fritz Schumacher who said : “People dismiss me a a crank. But what is a crank ? It is but a small instrument which causes revolutions.”

Further reading on Canon Hall and Share Action – Telegraph Article