Over 40 church and faith-based groups announced this week that they are divesting from oil, gas and coal investments, saying “every dollar invested in fossil fuels is a vote for suffering.”
It was described as the “largest-ever” withdrawal from dirty energy investments by faith communities.
“These institutions are taking prophetic action to light the way towards a more just and sustainable future,” said Tomas Insua, executive director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
The announcement was made from Rome on May 18, at the beginning of Laudato Si’ Week, the Vatican-sponsored celebration of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology.
A total of 42 faith-based organizations from 14 countries pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies or avoid such investments in the future.
The institutions are a mix of Methodist, Anglican, Quaker, Buddhist, and Catholic, the latter accounting for 24 of the divesting groups.
The groups include eight lay organizations, eight religious orders, and four dioceses: the Diocese of São José dos Campos, Brazil; the Archdiocese of Semarang, Indonesia; the Diocese of Ossory, Ireland; and the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, England.
In Britain, the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, divested about US$517.5 million equity portfolio from fossil fuels in February.
A press statement announcing the divestment decision framed it in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
The faith communities urged governments to pursue just and low-carbon economic recovery plans that prioritize sustainability and the well-being of all people and the environment, particularly communities at most risk to the impacts of climate change.
“Now more than ever, we need to protect our communities and build a just recovery together,” said Insua.
Since 2012, the fossil fuel divestment movement has mobilized more than US$14 trillion in commitments from nearly 1,200 organizations, governments, businesses, colleges and nonprofits.
Faith communities, at 30 percent, make up the largest share of divestment pledges.
The largest share within the Catholic groups divesting have been religious orders, representing roughly one-fifth of the pledges.
In April 2018, Caritas Internationalis, the global church’s humanitarian aid network, announced it would divest.
Other Caritas chapters and Catholic development agencies have done so, as well.
James Buchanan of Operation Noah said “the decisions we make now will affect the future of humanity for thousands of years.”
He called on governments around the world to follow the lead of faith-based institutions that are “showing strong leadership in response to the climate crisis.”
“In this COVID-19 pandemic, it is the exact time not only to reflect but to act,” said Father Endra Wijayanta, director of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission in the Archdiocese of Semarang, in Indonesia.
“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,” he said.
Among those pledging to divest was the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace for the Bangladesh Catholic bishops’ conference.
The densely populated, low-lying country is among the most vulnerable to climate change. More frequent flooding and rising seas threaten to displace as many as 30 million people in a country that is home to the world’s largest refugee camp.
With the Bangladeshi bishops, eight bishops’ conferences have moved to divest, beginning with the Belgian bishops in 2017.
They have been joined by bishops’ conferences in Austria, Greece, Ireland and the Philippines.