Faith institutions are largest group in global divestment movement

  • Ellen Teague

Source: Operation Noah

A coalition of diverse and international faith institutions announced divestment from fossil fuels on 12 September and a new milestone was marked. Faith institutions constitute the greatest number of entities contributing to the global movement, with 150 Catholic institutions alone in the total of more than 1,100. Fossil fuel divestment now comes from institutions with $11 trillion in assets, up from a starting point of $50 billion just five years ago.

The recent announcement included 15 new Catholic commitments - among them the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, the English/Scottish Province of the Religious Sisters of Charity and Franciscan Sisters Minoress-as well as seven Protestant institutions - among them the United Reformed Church in the UK, St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, and the United Reformed Church Synod of Wessex, UK.

In addition to divestment within the Christian community, Muslim authorities in the United States and Canada have issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, on fossil fuels. The fatwa calls on Islamic investment managers to develop fossil-free investment vehicles and on individual Muslims to invest in renewable energy.

One of the institutions participating in the announcement, St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, is the first cathedral in the world to divest from fossil fuels. In June this year, the Scottish Episcopal Church General Synod asked the Church's Investment Committee to divest, recognising the "moral imperative to divest fully from fossil fuels."

The announcement comes during the Season of Creation, a global celebration of prayer and action for the environment, and is made just days after Pope Francis said that "now is the time to abandon our dependence on fossil fuels and move, quickly and decisively, towards forms of clean energy and a sustainable and circular economy."

Another of the divesting institutions, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, is located in a region that is particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis. A UN estimate suggests that Eastern Africa has already warmed by an average of 1.3 degrees Celsius over the past few decades. A hotter planet is expected to severely alter the rainfall patterns of Eastern Africa, leading to greater droughts interrupted by periods of extremely heavy rainfall. This spells catastrophe for subsistence farmers. Fr. Paul Igweta, AMECEA's Coordinator of the Promotion of Integral Human Development Department, said, "We as the Church have to advocate for alternative sources of energy . . . it is our duty to take care of the future generations to come."

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager for the UK-based Christian climate change charity Operation Noah, said: "as the scale of the climate crisis and the urgency of action required increases by the day, it is wonderful to see faith institutions at the forefront of the fossil fuel divestment movement, shifting investments out of the problem and into the solution." Operation Noah was involved in compiling the divestment information, alongside the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Green Anglicans and GreenFaith.

"Millions of people are confronting the rising hunger, sickness, and conflict that comes with a warming world, and faith institutions are responding with the clarity this crisis demands. We're divesting from fossil fuels, proving that greed will never triumph over love," said Tomás Insua, Executive Director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Yeb Saño, the Philippines' lead negotiator to UN climate negotiations in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, a storm linked to climate change that killed an estimated 10,000 people, reacted to the news of the Catholic bishops of the Philippines' divestment by saying: "Dirty energy is hurting us, here in the Philippines and all around the world. Coal and other fossil fuels pollute the air we breathe and endanger the climate we share. We deserve better. Divestment from fossil fuels and investment in renewable energy points the way to a safer, fairer future." Saño is a board member of Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Tags: Divest, Operation Noah, James Buchanan, Bright Now, Tomás Insua

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