Religious call for radical action to tackle global warming at London conference

  • Ellen Teague

Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, James Buchanan, Dr Lorna Gold

Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, James Buchanan, Dr Lorna Gold

Around 50 representatives of religious orders, Catholic groups and investment experts attended a conference yesterday, titled 'Fossil fuel divestment for a zero carbon future'.

Hosted by the Mount Street Jesuit Centre in Central London, the conference heard Dr Lorna Gold of Trócaire and Vice Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, say we need "radical and urgent change" to keep average global temperatures below the threshold of 1.5 degrees given in the Paris Climate Agreement. Fr Martin Poulsom SDB, Chair of the Livesimply Coordinating Group and Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University, suggested that the 1.5 threshold is possible "if the energy transition" speeds up, and that can be supported "by divesting from fossil fuels".

Lorna Gold felt large scale divestment and programmes to prompt the "ecological conversion" called for in Laudato Si' are important and effective initiatives. She described the process of supporting the Irish bishops in their 2018 announcement of divestment of all their investments in fossil fuels, including setting up a Laudato Si' working group of Catholic eco-experts such as Columban theologian Sean McDonagh and Sr Catherine Brennan of Eco-congregation, also John Sweeney, a Catholic climatologist. The Irish bishops were the first episcopacy in the English-speaking world to take this radical step and they said they were doing it in response to Pope Francis' call in his 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si' to move away from fossil fuels "without delay".

Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the JPIC Commission of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome, spoke of the new UISG campaign 2018-2020, 'Sowing Hope for the Planet'. A key element will be promoting divestment from fossil fuels by religious orders and supporting Pope Francis in his mission to "hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor." She spoke of the importance of responsible stewardship, that "it is not enough to do good things by ourselves; we need to do these things with others."

The conference also heard Mark Campanale, founder of the independent think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, underline that we cannot burn all the proven fossil fuel reserves in the world as well as avert dangerous global warming. As well as supporting divestment he identified two signs of progress on alternatives to fossil fuels as "electric cars, which will be cheaper than the combustion engine in two years" and "it will soon be cheaper to build new solar plants than coal plants".

Sian Ferguson of the Ashden Trust, Mark Leonard Trust and JJ Charitable Trust, said: "we have had a wake up call today and heard how you can move your investments" but she warned that the corporate culture of the big fossil fuel companies is hard to shift. "The fossil fuel companies are delaying policies on climate change, particularly in the United States, and business models are not changing" she said, and "more is still being spent on exploration for oil, gas and other fossil fuels than on renewables". She urged that divestment become a stronger global movement, and that religious groups have a part to play in investing their money according to the sort of sustainable and just society they want in the future.

The conference heard how divestment has already accomplished quite a bit in just a few years. It has kept the spotlight on climate change; challenged institutions on their investment goals; pushed the envelope on the limits of impact investing; and helped to activate politically people and groups who might have otherwise remained on the sidelines.

More than 1,000 organisations around the world including Caritas Internationalis, the Passionists in England & Wales, and the Columban Missionaries internationally have taken the step of divesting from fossil fuel companies in response to the global threat of climate change. Fr Martin Newell of the Passionists and Ellen Teague, a Columban co-worker presented examples of the divesting process. Both stressed the tension between the urgency of the environmental crisis and the slow process of divestment, which should be completed within five years of the initial announcement.

Religious orders present were invited to find out more about joining the next Catholic divestment announcement in May 2019. The conference rounded off with a Creation Mass. James Buchanan of Operation Noah's Bright Now Campaign has offered to be a resource for further information. Sponsors of the conference included CAFOD, Operation Noah, Global Catholic Climate Movement, National Justice & Peace Network, Conference of Religious and Association of Provincial Bursars.

For more information email James Buchanan on: [email protected] - tel: 07801 570653


Operation Noah

Bright Now - the campaign for fossil free Churches

Global Catholic Climate Movement

Internation Union Superiors General

See a further report, and videos from the day here:

Tags: Environment, Fossil Fuel, Divestment, Farm Street, Lorna Gold, Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Martin Newell, Ellen Teague, Fr Martin Poulsom SDB

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