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Faith institutions call for divesting from fossil fuels

Faith institutions call for divesting from fossil fuels

Photo: Sean Hawkey/WCC, 2017.

18 May 2020

As major challenges for the global economy are predicted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a diverse group of faith institutions is putting the call for a just economic recovery into practice.

Forty-two faith institutions from 14 countries recently announced their divestment from fossil fuels, the largest ever  divestment of its kind. It comes from institutions in Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Myanmar, Spain, the UK, and the United States.

As governments around the world make substantial investments in an economic recovery, faith communities urge them to think long term and focus on a recovery that is low-carbon and just.

Mark Campanale, founder and executive chair of Carbon Tracker, an independent think tank that analyzes the financial impact of an energy transition, said, “A comprehensive economic recovery means taking the long view, investing now in infrastructure that will serve communities for years to come. Fossil fuels do not have a place in the long-term health of humanity. Faith institutions’ commitment to create a better world is leadership that governments should follow.”

Applying lessons learned

Earlier this month, a new report from Operation Noah showed that none of the major oil companies are compliant with the Paris agreement targets. The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. Dr Rowan Williams, said in response to the report, “The current health crisis has highlighted as never before the need for coherent international action in the face of global threat. Can we learn the lesson and apply it to the global threat of climate change? To do so means taking practical and effective steps to reduce our lethal dependence on fossil fuels.”

The multi-faith announcement comes from Methodist, Anglican, Catholic and Buddhist institutions, among others. The group includes the Jesuits in Britain, which divested its £400 million ($517.5 million) equity portfolio from fossil fuels in February 2020.

Illustrating the need for a just recovery, the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace in Bangladesh is among those committing to divest from fossil fuels.

Bangladesh is home to the world's largest refugee camp, where more than half a million people live near the Bay of Bengal. The Bay of Bengal is extremely vulnerable to the greater risk of catastrophic storms that come with climate change. A viral pandemic and a catastrophic storm would bring one of the world’s most vulnerable communities to a halt, illustrating the need to repair the faults that have left economies near the breaking point.

Time to act

Father Endra Wijayanta, director of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission for the Archdiocese of Semarang, in Indonesia, said, “In this COVID-19 pandemic, it is the exact time not only to reflect, but to act. We have to stop our ecological spiral of death. We have to revive our ecological hope, in massive repentance of humankind, by taking the pathway to more sustainable living.”

Faith communities have long taken the lead in the global divestment movement, and have contributed the single greatest number of commitments, with over 350 commitments in the global total of over 1,400. Today’s action by faith institutions puts pressure on governments around the world to enact policies that will lead to a comprehensive and resilient recovery.

Catholics’ participation is especially resonant as today marks the start of Laudato Si’ Week, a global commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change and ecology. After being invited to participate in Laudato Si’ Week by Pope Francis, Catholics have taken up the project to build a more just and sustainable future together. In the last month, 21 Catholic organizations with $40 billion in assets under management committed to invest in companies that align with their values by signing the Catholic Impact Investing Pledge.

A full list of the 42 institutions divesting from fossil fuels and statements from leaders can be found here.

Statements from leaders

Tomás Insua, executive director of Global Catholic Climate Movement, said: “Every dollar invested in fossil fuels is a vote for suffering. These institutions are taking prophetic action to light the way towards a more just and sustainable future because now more than ever, we need to protect our communities and build a just recovery together.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “The decisions we make now will affect the future of humanity for thousands of years. These faith institutions are showing strong leadership in response to the climate crisis, and we urge governments around the world to follow their lead in ending support for fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future.”

Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, World Council of Churches deputy general secretary, said: “We reiterate the urgent concerns of Christians around the world in relation to climate change and its adverse effects on the whole of creation. The moral imperative of fossil fuel divestment and of investing in a low-carbon path to realizing economic, social, and ecological wellbeing and sustainability for the whole creation is more urgent than never.”

Rev. Rachel Mash, coordinator of Green Anglicans (Anglican Church of Southern Africa), said: “The COVID-19 crisis shows us that our current way of living is unsustainable, we are sick because the Earth is sick.  We cannot go back to normal, we must grow back to a new way of sustainable living. As we move into a post COVID-19 era, we must move away from sources of energy that contribute to climate change and air pollution.”

"Extractive corporations, and the banks that finance them, are demanding government bailouts and the dismantling of environmental protections in the middle of a global pandemic and economic collapse. The idea that precious funds should bail out the world’s wealthiest corporations, not the people whose lives are at stake, is hard to fathom. This injustice is wrong,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper. "This is the time to rethink how we relate to one another and the earth. The religious groups announcing their divestment from fossil fuels today are stepping into the breach at a time when nothing is the same and everything has to change.”

Yossi Cadan, Global Finance Campaign Manager at 350.org, said: “Once again, faith groups continue to lead the way and clearly indicate to the rest of the world that any future investments or stimulus funds must exclude fossil fuels and yield long-term structural emissions reductions. The solutions to the economic crisis are the solutions to the climate crisis. The economic downturn must be an opportunity to accelerate the transition needed towards low- and zero-carbon. And any financial intervention, including investors, needs to put people and their livelihoods front and center.”

Learn more about the WCC work on Care for Creation and Climate Justice