Global coalition of faith institutions announce divestment from fossil fuels


A diverse coalition of 22 faith institutions from around the world have just announced their decision to divest from fossil fuels.

With these commitments and others, the world has reached a new milestone. Since 2014, the value of institutions divesting from fossil fuels has risen from a starting point of $50 billion to more than $11 trillion of assets today.

Faith institutions now constitute the greatest number of organisations in the global movement, making up over 300 out of the total of more than 1,100 institutions.

James Buchanan (Operation Noah, centre) with Daniela Finamore (Global Catholic Climate Movement, left) and Revd Fletcher Harper (GreenFaith, right)

This announcement includes 15 new Catholic commitments – among them the English/Scottish Province of the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Franciscan Sisters Minoress in the UK, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa – as well as seven Protestant institutions – including the United Reformed Church, the URC Synod of Wessex, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, and St Mary’s Hornsey Rise in London.

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. Three Muslim organisations in the UK also released a statement calling on Muslims to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy to help deliver clean energy for all.

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.’

Very Revd John Conway, Provost of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, said: ‘We need to shape an economy that does not rely on fossil fuels, whose extraction and burning are imperilling the lives and livelihoods of so many, both now and for all generations to come. The climate emergency will only be tackled when as individuals, institutions, businesses and governments, we act together, in solidarity with those who suffer now, and with hope for future generations.’

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.’

Faith leaders from across the world have responded to the climate crisis affecting us all, though with a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest communities in the global south. Revd Nigel Uden and Mr Derek Estell, Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, said: ‘Fossil fuel divestment is a practical way in which the United Reformed Church is responding to the climate emergency. We are taking this step in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world who are most affected by the climate crisis, despite having done the least to cause it. Therefore, it is only right that we actively move to support renewable sources of energy instead.’

Sr Rita Dawson RSC, Provincial of the English/Scottish Province of the Religious Sisters of Charity, said: ‘We are proud to be part of the move to a fossil fuel free future. The sisters in our province unanimously agreed that divestment from fossil fuels was the way forward for us and an investment in the future of life on our planet.’

The global divestment announcement was made as Financing the Future, a summit devoted to accelerating investment in a clean economy, got underway in Cape Town. A group of 75 high-level faith leaders at the summit spent time exploring concrete ways to make the transition to a clean energy economy.

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Catholic Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, applauded the transition away from fossil fuels, saying: ‘In this time and place the key action is to do what we can to preserve creation from the ravages of greed-induced climate change. To do so we should all use the authorities available to us to shift away from industries and models of destruction and into the opportunity to promote life.’

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager for the 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.’

The full list of the 22 divesting institutions is available here.

Statements from leaders

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.

Imam Saffet A. Catovic, representative of the Fiqh Council of North America, said: ‘The Fiqh Council of North America, the authoritative Islamic Scholars Council in the US and Canada, has adopted a religious statement and ruling (fatwa) affirming the fossil fuel divestment made by the Islamic Society of North America, and calling on Muslims to invest for a 100% renewable energy future, and for Islamic investment managers to develop Shari’ah-compliant, fossil-fuel free investment vehicles.  This historic ruling, the first of its kind globally, reflects the Council’s understanding that the entire planet is a place of prayer and that we are Allah’s vicegerents, responsible for Earth’s care.’

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