Faith institutions launch new wave of fossil fuel divestment

| November 17th, 2020

Today, 47 faith institutions from 21 countries, including nine institutions from the UK, announce their divestment from fossil fuels as a practical response to the climate emergency.

Participating institutions include five Catholic religious orders in the UK, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, two United Reformed Church Synods, local Anglican and Methodist churches and American Jewish World Service. (See link to full list of participating institutions below.)

This week, from 19-21 November, Pope Francis has convened the ‘Economy of Francesco’, an online conference involving more than 1,000 young adults, which will explore innovative ways of shaping a sustainable economy. This conference builds on an announcement in June, when the Vatican recommended in its first-ever operational guidelines on ecology that all Catholic organisations divest from fossil fuels.

Fr Dermot F Byrne MHM, Regional Representative of Mill Hill Missionaries (British Region), said: “Our members have always worked among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Africa, Asia and South America, and the pursuit of social equality and justice has always been a serious priority for us. Concern for what Pope Francis reminds us is ‘our common home’ has to be part of that pursuit. As our numbers decrease worldwide, there can seem to be little that we can do to make an impact, but divestment from fossil fuels is a practical choice that is open to us all and may have far-reaching results. Consequently, we feel that such divestment is in line with Catholic social teaching and the spirit of the present age, and we are happy that we, as a Region, are able to make this small contribution.”

Sr Catherine Lloyd RSCJ, Provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart (England and Wales Province) said: “The Province has actively engaged in reducing its carbon footprint for a number of years as the impact of the climate crisis became more apparent and urgent. After reflecting on our own values and the charism which underpins them, we have actively engaged with our fund managers to divest our investment portfolio of fossil fuels. Hopefully, we are making a contribution to working towards a future which is more sustainable and carbon neutral.”

The announcement coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement on climate change. The UK government faces increasing pressure to demonstrate global leadership on the climate crisis ahead of the UN climate talks (COP26) taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. Faith organisations participating in the announcement amplify calls for the UK government to end support for fossil fuels overseas and act more decisively, having failed to meet its climate targets according to the Committee on Climate Change.

Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, recently advocated for Catholic leaders to play a more active role when he addressed hundreds of people in a webinar on Catholic investment for an integral ecology. He said: ‘The most urgent, most serious material threat to this world is a moral question… The defence of creation is the most fundamental fact of the Christian faith.’

In September, it was revealed that Shell plans to resume oil and gas exploration in the Arctic for the first time since 2015, despite pressure from faith investors and others that has exposed the inherent weakness of the fossil fuel industry. Shell has cited divestment as a material risk to its business.

Today’s divestment announcement means that more than 400 religious institutions have now committed to divest.

Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “The economic power of faiths, turned to responsible investments and the green economy, can be a major driver of positive change, and an inspiration to others, as we rebuild better.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “It is hugely encouraging that so many faith institutions have stopped investing in the fossil fuel industry. Churches need to divest from fossil fuel companies as a practical response to the climate emergency ahead of COP26 next year. The UK government urgently needs to end subsidies for fossil fuels at home and overseas.”

The Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in England said: “As Sisters of the Holy Cross in England, Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, has encouraged us to focus on care of creation. For some time, we have been urging our investors to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels… We have realised that engagement with these companies only has limited success. We have now informed our investors that we have decided to completely disinvest from fossil fuels, and thus work towards a zero carbon future.”

The Congregation of Our Lady, Canonesses of St Augustine (UK Delegation) said: “According to our founders, our aim is to ‘do good to all and harm to none’ (St Peter Fourier) and ‘to do all the good possible’ (Blessed Alix Le Clerc). How can we put this into practice when we hold investments in oil and gas and we don’t go for investments that ‘promote a more just distribution of this world’s goods’ (from our Constitutions, 166)? ‘In our times the whole world has become our neighbour'(ibid, 3). One little way of loving our neighbour out there was for us to divest from oil and gas, which we did this February. And we’ve a long way to go yet.”

The Sisters of St Andrew in England gave the following statement: “At our last General Congregation in January 2017, one of the three main themes was ‘Justice, Peace and Safeguarding of Creation’. The final document states: ‘…we are in close interdependence with all of Creation. What happens in one part of our world has an impact on the rest of the planet.”

“Deepening this awareness led us to have a closer look at our investments here in England. We realised that part of our financial resources were actually financing more fossil fuel extraction and burning. We were thus contributing to the worsening of the climate crisis and its devastating impact on the poorest peoples of our human family, as well as the destruction of vast areas of wildlife on our beautiful planet Earth. We therefore decided to make the commitment to divest from fossil fuel and invest in funds that support constructive ecological, social and peace initiatives. This is one more important step on our journey of ‘integral ecological conversion’ (Laudato Si’).

“We pray that this step may contribute to the healing and wellbeing of our world and the flourishing of our Earth Community.”