We have nothing against businesses—after all, our parents work there!” she said. “We are just asking for sustainable investment.”
If the children aren’t afraid to “follow the money,” are the adults? Are churches? Are governments?
More than 300 participants in a webinar, “Save Children’s Lives – Responsible Banking Survival Guide for Faith Actors & Partners: How to use our power as bank clients to stop carbon bombs,” tried to answer these difficult questions and find a way forward.
The event, co-planned by the World Council of Churches, UNEP, Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities, and the Laudato Si Movement, was an action-oriented seminar for children’s and future generations’ survival, in light of the latest facts shared by the world’s leading scientists.
Prof. Dr. Patricia Mbote, director of the Law Division of UNEP, opened the webinar by reflecting that faith actors have a moral responsibility to ensure their actions are aligned with their values and beliefs. “These extend to the financial practices as well,” she said. “The finance and banking sectors have a significant impact on the environment and on vulnerable communities,” she said.
But how many people know that?
As Christian climate activist Jessica Bwali, who co-moderated the webinar, asked: “How familiar are you with the role of the bank clients in responding to the climate emergency?”
Through an interactive survey, participants indicated a wide range of knowledge—and all indicated an eagerness to learn more.
More education on this matter is desperately needed, said Paloma Escudero, UNICEF global special adviser to Advocate for Children and Climate Action. “One billion children are at extremely high risk from climate change,” she explained. “Twenty-four out of the 33 countries most impacted by the climate crisis are in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Probing questions brought forth more ideas on how to help these vulnerable children. As Frederique Seidel, WCC programme executive for Child Rights, who initiated and and co-moderated the webinar, asked: “Why is climate-responsible banking a moral imperative?”
Among other reasons, it’s a moral imperative because many banks refuse to admit their role in fostering economic props for a non-sustainable world, said Shawna Foster from the Rainforest Action Network. “Banks are intervening to keep the fossil fuel market alive,” she said. “One way that banks help out fossil fuels when they really don’t have to, is throwing them a life preserver of debt to get them through the bust times.”
Other speakers and participants shared reports, resources, and platforms for people to use as tools to learn more.
An important aspect of learning more about climate responsible banks is being aware of the definition of “fiduciary duty,” said Nikki Reisch, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law. “We’ve been hearing that fiduciary duty is often used as an excuse for inaction,” she said. “But first let me take a step back and explain: what is fiduciary duty as it relates to finance—and responsible finance?” She underlined that the interpretation of bank’s fiduciary must take global warming into account, and the best interest of the children of bank clients.
Many findings were the result of careful research conducted by groups such as the Leave it in the Ground Initiative. Director Kjell Kühne set out to find the biggest fossil fuel projects in the world. “We found 400 such projects around the world,” he said. “Half of them are coal mining, half of them are oil and gas projects. Forty percent of these projects haven’t been started yet, If not stopped, their combined potential emissions would represent twice the global carbon budget that must not be exceeded—thwarting the objectives of the Paris climate agreement and the fight against climate disruption.”
As the webinar ended with a session on how to move forward, speakers and participants voiced their ideas and their sheer determination to act for change.
“Our goal is to move seven billion dollars out of potential fossil fuel investments in the next year—and we can only do that if we do it together,” urged Sophia Cowen from Switch It Green.
Lynne Iser from the Elders Action Network reflected, “I have learned in my work that elders have a moral voice just as people of faith have a moral voice.”
As a result of the webinar, its organizers saw, already, a strengthened collaboration.
Kirsten Laursen Muth, CEO of the Joint Learning initiative on Faith and Local Communities, was a co-organizer of the event. “We hope to continue to engage with our others co-sponsors of this event and to continue to do the work that all of you are doing in this area,” she said.
Dr Iyad Abumoghli, founder and director of the Faith for Earth Initiative, who also co-organized the webinar, described it as “science meeting religion.”
He urged churches and other institutions to not only consider their banks, but their own internal finances. He also described plans for COP28 in Dubai in 2023. “We are facilitating a global movement toward COP28,” he explained. “We’re going to have a high-level faith leaders summit, unifying their voices for another call to action but also to move them forward together, unified in their action for future generations against climate change.”
Seidel described the efforts to stop carbon bombs as one of the most urgent measures for the safeguarding of children. The WCC’s programme Churches’ Commitments to Children will coordinate next steps of the initiative.