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.
This week, from 19th-21st 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.