First Catholic dioceses in England divest from fossil fuels

  • Operation Noah

Ivybridge Methodist Church divestment - image Sophie Phillips

Ivybridge Methodist Church divestment - image Sophie Phillips

The Diocese of Middlesbrough and the Diocese of Lancaster have today announced their commitment to divest from fossil fuels, becoming the first Catholic dioceses in England and Wales to divest. Their divestment announcements are made together with two Catholic religious orders - the English Provinces of the Congregation of Jesus and the Presentation Sisters - alongside 16 other local churches and Christian institutions in the UK.

They join more than 160 other Catholic institutions around the world that have already committed to divest from fossil fuels. Faith institutions constitute the greatest number of organisations contributing to the global 'fossil free' movement - which now stands at a total of over $12 trillion of assets divested globally.

The announcement is made on the feast of the Epiphany, and at the start of a key year for climate action globally, and particularly in the UK, with the COP26 conference to be held in Glasgow in November 2020.

In September 2018, UN Secretary General António Guterres said: "Climate change is the defining issue of our time - and we are at a defining moment. We face a direct existential threat… If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us."

In his pontifical message to government negotiators meeting in Madrid at COP25 last month, Pope Francis similarly declared that the climate emergency is a 'challenge to civilisation' needing 'a clear, far-sighted and strong political will, set on pursuing a new course that aims at refocusing financial and economic investments toward those areas that truly safeguard the conditions of a life worthy of humanity on a healthy planet for today and tomorrow.' For these Catholic institutions, the response to this Papal call, especially in the light of Laudato Si' in 2015, has been the commitment to divest from fossil fuels.

Last week, the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said that although cuts to investment in oil and gas companies are beginning to take place in the financial sector, the process is not moving fast enough. Carney made clear that all companies and financial institutions must consider their justification for continued investment in fossil fuels, warning of the increasing risk of 'worthless' assets in the sector.

Bishop Terry Drainey, the Bishop of Middlesbrough, said: "With growing awareness of people's concerns for the care of our common home, supported by the Trustees and Council of Priests of the Diocese, and after thorough scrutiny of diocesan investments and with support from Operation Noah, the Diocese of Middlesbrough has decided that now is the time to divest from fossil fuels. The evidence and the urgency of the climate crisis are all around us. However, as Pope Francis points out very clearly in his Encyclical Letter on The Care of Our Common Home, Laudato Si', nothing will succeed if we do not begin with personal conversion, a change in lifestyle, a change of mindset."

Sister Frances Orchard CJ, Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Jesus, said: "Our decision to divest from fossil fuels was motivated by our concern for our planet and climate justice for all who inhabit our world, especially those living in poverty. We had previously supported engagement with oil and gas companies, as we were impressed by the efforts of our investment managers to put pressure on those companies to change course. However, our younger members were rightly questioning our strategy, and our investment managers also become exasperated by the lack of integrity of the companies they were engaging with and agreed that the time had come to divest. We believe that divestment from fossil fuels is the right decision given the urgency of the change we need to see."

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager for Operation Noah, said: "We are delighted that the Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster have decided to divest from fossil fuels, as well as two more Catholic religious orders. We hope many other Catholic institutions will join them in taking this prophetic step out of love for God's creation and those most affected by the climate crisis - above all those living in the world's poorest communities."

Catholic institutions around the world are invited to join a global divestment announcement for faith institutions organised by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Green Anglicans, GreenFaith and Operation Noah. The announcement will coincide with the Economy of Francesco conference taking place in Assisi from 26-28 March 2020.


Operation Noah:

The full divestment announcement and list of institutions divesting can be found on the Bright Now blog: from 6 January 2020.

Tags: Fossil Fuels, Operation Noah, Divest, Climate Change, Environment, CJs, Congregation of Jesus, Diocese of Middlesbrough, Diocese of Lancaster, Presentation Sisters

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