THE Church of Scotland could turn its back on harmful oil and gas exploration investments, in support of climate justice.

While the kirk admits they have profited from its fossil fuel holdings in the past, it is now “deeply uncomfortable” with its support of the industry.

A report of a two-year internal inquiry for the kirk's general assembly, which opens next weekend, calls for an end to oil and gas extraction, to protect the environment and help deliver the Paris agreement on climate change.

It follows a decision by Edinburgh University this year to sell its own oil and gas shares.

The report by the kirk's church and society council states: "It is deeply uncomfortable for the church, as a caring organisation concerned about climate justice, to continue to invest in something which causes the very harm it seeks to alleviate.

“While we have profited from oil and gas exploration in the past, we now understand financing future exploration and production will take us away from fulfilling the Paris agreement and delay the transition to a low-carbon economy."

Church and society council convener Rev Dr Richard Frazer, who was a minister in Aberdeen for 10 years, told the Sunday Times: "It's important to pay tribute to the incredible work that has been done over the years by people working in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen and recognise that it has been dangerous work with many sacrifices. But I think the evidence is clear that a transition to a low-carbon economy is something we need to do with a degree of urgency."

A recent industry report found that oil and gas exploration in the North Sea is at its lowest level since the early 1970s but prospects are improving, with a rising oil price leading to more firms returning profits. Around 600m barrels of oil and gas are produced from the North Sea each year and up to 16 oil and gas developments are expected to be approved this year, worth about £5bn.

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of industry body Oil & Gas UK, said demand for energy was forecast to rise and that oil and gas would still be required in the years ahead.

She added: "It's important that investors continue to support the oil and gas industry to ensure energy needs continue to be met and also to help drive the change required to transition to a lower-carbon economy."