THE Church of Scotland has come under criticism after rejecting a call to withdraw £22m worth of investments from oil and gas companies.

Green MSP Ross Greer said it was a “dire decision” after the annual gathering of Kirk leaders in Edinburgh voted against a motion for a two-year timetable to pull out of investments in such firms, opting instead to move to persuade energy companies to adhere to climate targets.

While those arguing in favour of seeking to press energy firms over their environmental responsibilities said it would be easier with a seat at the table, opponents said that process would take too long.

HeraldScotland: Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer

West of Scotland MSP Mr Greer, above, also a prominent member of the Kirk's National Youth Assembly, said: “I feel for all of those within the Church who have led the calls for full divestment and I know that this debate is far from over."

The motion lodged by Rev Jenny Adams, which called for the Church’s Investors Trust and Pensions Trustees to “withdraw from investing in fossil fuel firms within two years", failed to secure majority support.

Mrs Adams said the business model of oil and gas companies show no sign of change and oil production and exploration is increasing.

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The Church said around 8 per cent of the Church of Scotland’s Investors Trust £272.2 million Growth Fund - around £22m - is invested in oil and gas companies.

Mr Greer - who at 24 next week is the country's youngest MSP - also questioned policies allowing investment in companies which can derive up to 15 per cent of turnover from alcohol, gambling, tobacco and armaments stocks.

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He said: "Whether it’s the arms trade or fossil fuels, the Church should have no investments in industries which cause such misery across the world.

"It’s time to ditch the 15 per cent rule.

"We either stand opposed to a dodgy industry or we do not, these fudges are just not satisfactory.”

Many commissioners spoke in favour of divestment including Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, head of Christian Aid in Scotland, who urged the assembly to be bold as the “eyes of the world were watching”.

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Others highlighted the direct impact that divestment could have on the livelihoods of people who work in the oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland.

They backed the counter motion which instructed the Church and Society Council to continue to have dialogue with firms to “seek alignment” with the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

It was proposed by former Moderator, Very Rev Albert Bogle, who argued that the Church would be much more influential in affecting meaningful change if it had a seat at the negotiating table.

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Rev Jenny Adams, above, said she was “very disappointed”.

Mrs Adams said: “The evidence suggest that oil and gas companies have little intention of changing fast enough to get close to making the Paris Climate Change agreement.

“There is a need for climate emissions to peak by 2020 and if we just keep talking, too much time passes and change is not coming fast enough.”

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Mr Bogle, who leads an online church though a organisation called Sanctuary First, insisted that his counter motion was not meant to derail the idea that the Church takes climate change “very seriously”.

He said: “We do and we need to make a change very quickly.

“However, I thought the method was not the best way - divesting does not give us the opportunity to influence people."

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Mr Bogle, above, added: “My motion is designed to encourage people to engage in dialogue and influence people at all levels within society.”

Mrs Adams also said: “To hear the Church overwhelmingly back the need to tackle climate change, wherever they stood on the argument for divestment, was positive.”

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The assembly also separately expressed “grave concern” at incidences of homophobia at school - with 90 per cent of young LGBT people being bullied - as it unanimously moved a historic motion calling on the Kirk to work with the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, which is lobbying for issues related to the LGBT community to be taught in schools to help tackle prejudice.

Rev John Nugent, of St Fergus Church in Wick, said it is "the first time a major Church council has committed to working with others on addressing the evil of homophobic prejudice in our society".