Record number of faith institutions launch new wave of fossil fuel divestment


Today, 47 faith institutions from 21 countries, including nine institutions from the UK, announce their divestment from fossil fuels as a practical response to the climate emergency.

Participating institutions include five Catholic religious orders in the UK, two United Reformed Church Synods, UK-based local Anglican and Methodist churches, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (Catholic) and American Jewish World Service.

The urgency of divestment and a just and green recovery from Covid-19

The announcement coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Faith leaders’ action puts pressure on government leaders, and their commitment to clean energy stands in stark contrast with many governments’ failure to deliver ambitious energy strategies.

The UK government faces increasing pressure to demonstrate global leadership on the climate crisis ahead of the UN climate talks (COP26) taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. Earlier this month, 70 organisations launched The Climate Coalition’s 10 Point Plan for a Green, Healthy and Fair Recovery. This includes a call for the UK government to end all public support for fossil fuels overseas and support countries to leapfrog to renewable and efficient energy.

Lord Deben, Chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, recently advocated for Catholic leaders to play a more active role when he addressed hundreds of people in a webinar organised by Operation Noah and others on Catholic investment for an integral ecology. He said: ‘It is hugely important for the Catholic community to be very visible… it must be very determined, and it must be clear that we all ought to be in this together.’

This week, from 19-21 November, Pope Francis has convened the ‘Economy of Francesco’, an online conference involving more than 1,000 young adults, which will explore innovative ways of shaping a sustainable economy. This conference builds on an announcement in June, when the Vatican recommended in its first-ever operational guidelines on ecology that all Catholic organisations divest from fossil fuels.

With renewables now growing at a faster pace than fossil fuels, institutional investors are increasingly moving toward sustainable investments in the clean energy economy. Faith investors are an important part of this movement, constituting the single-largest source of divestment in the world, making up one-third of all commitments.

Recently, in preparation for the G20 summit that begins on 21 November, environment ministers released a statement that was widely seen as rubber-stamping fossil fuel bailouts and removed a long-standing G20 call for the end to fossil fuel subsidies.

UK Churches divesting from fossil fuels in response to the climate emergency

Thames North Synod and Southern Synod in the United Reformed Church are among the organisations participating in the announcement. The United Reformed Church (at a national level) and 10 out of 13 URC Synods have now completed divestment from fossil fuels, as recommended by the URC Mission Council in May 2019.

Trinity Methodist Church, Chelmsford, is another of the organisations announcing its decision to end investments in fossil fuel companies as part of the global divestment announcement. Last month, the Methodist Council voted to support a resolution on divestment from fossil fuel companies, agreeing that further action is needed by JACEI and the Central Finance Board to fully implement a motion on divestment passed by the 2017 Methodist Conference.

Earlier this year one of the Church of England’s three National Investing Bodies, which is managed by investment management company CCLA, sold its last remaining shares in fossil fuel companies. CCLA, whose CBF funds manage investments on behalf of most Church of England dioceses and many local Church of England churches, dropped its investments in oil giants Shell and Total for financial reasons.

Revd Vanessa Conant, Rector, St Mary’s Walthamstow and the Parish of Walthamstow
(Photo credit: Cameron Conant)

A Church of England parish, St Mary’s Walthamstow, announced its decision to divest from fossil fuel companies as part of the global divestment announcement, meaning that 18 local CofE churches have now made fossil fuel divestment commitments. The church’s commitment to divest adds to calls for the Diocese of Chelmsford to divest the close to £1m it currently has invested in fossil fuel companies, according to a report earlier this year by DeSmog.

Last month, the Church of England Pensions Board communicated its decision to divest from ExxonMobil as a result of the US oil company’s failure to set targets for Scope 3 emissions that are generated when customers burn fossil fuels. However, the Church Commissioners intends to continue investing in ExxonMobil, despite Exxon having blocked shareholder resolutions put forward by the Church of England at its AGM in 2019 and 2020. Exxon is also planning to increase production of oil and gas by 35% by 2030.

In September, it was revealed that Shell plans to resume oil and gas exploration in the Arctic for the first time since 2015, despite pressure from faith investors and others that has exposed the inherent weakness of the fossil fuel industry. Shell has cited divestment as a material risk to its business.

Today’s divestment announcement means that more than 400 religious institutions have now committed to divest.

Organisations joining the global divestment announcement

A full list of the 47 institutions divesting from fossil fuels and statements from leaders can be found here.

  • Southern Synod (United Reformed Church)
  • Thames North Synod (United Reformed Church)
  • Congregation of Our Lady, Canonesses of St Augustine (Catholic Church)
  • Mill Hill Missionaries (British Region) (Catholic Church)
  • Sisters of the Holy Cross (English Province) (Catholic Church)
  • Society of the Sacred Heart (England and Wales Province) (Catholic Church)
  • The Sisters of St Andrew in England (Catholic Church)
  • St Mary’s Walthamstow (Church of England)
  • Trinity Methodist Church, Chelmsford (Methodist)

Statements from leaders:

Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: ‘The economic power of faiths, turned to responsible investments and the green economy, can be a major driver of positive change, and an inspiration to others, as we rebuild better.’

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: ‘It is hugely encouraging that so many faith institutions have stopped investing in the fossil fuel industry. Churches need to divest from fossil fuel companies as a practical response to the climate emergency ahead of COP26 next year. The UK government urgently needs to end subsidies for fossil fuels at home and overseas.’

The United Reformed Church Southern Synod has transferred its reserves into a new fund that excludes the oil, gas, and coal industries. Revd Bridget Banks, Moderator of United Reformed Church Southern Synod, said: ‘We are pleased that we have been able to achieve this during the COVID lockdown. It’s an issue that we have been wrestling with for several years. It is good that we have now brought our investments into line with our commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of the Synod. Many of our local congregations are also exploring how to line up the ways they do things with their belief that this world is God’s world and God calls us to take care of it.’

Revd Dr Andrew Prasad, Moderator of United Reformed Church Thames North Synod, said: ‘I am very pleased that URC Thames North Synod has taken action to divest our investments from fossil fuels. The portfolio was changed and successfully implemented in 2019 and it is performing well. This is a small step towards caring for the climate and Mother Earth. After all, we are stewards of God’s given resources and hold them in trust for future generations. I am sure that we all can do more to encourage individuals and organisations to support a worthy cause.’

Fr Dermot Byrne MHM, Regional Representative of Mill Hill Missionaries (British Region), said: ‘Our members have always worked among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Africa, Asia and South America, and the pursuit of social equality and justice has always been a serious priority for us. Concern for what Pope Francis reminds us is ‘our common home’ has to be part of that pursuit. As our numbers decrease worldwide, there can seem to be little that we can do to make an impact, but divestment from fossil fuels is a practical choice that is open to us all and may have far-reaching results. Consequently, we feel that such divestment is in line with Catholic social teaching and the spirit of the present age, and we are happy that we, as a Region, are able to make this small contribution.’

Sr Catherine Lloyd RSCJ, Provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart (England and Wales Province), said: ‘The Province has actively engaged in reducing its carbon footprint for a number of years as the impact of the climate crisis became more apparent and urgent. After reflecting on our own values and the charism which underpins them, we have actively engaged with our fund managers to divest our investment portfolio of fossil fuels. Hopefully, we are making a contribution to working towards a future which is more sustainable and carbon neutral.’

The Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in England said: ‘As Sisters of the Holy Cross in England, Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, has encouraged us to focus on care of creation. For some time, we have been urging our investors to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels… We have realised that engagement with these companies only has limited success. We have now informed our investors that we have decided to completely disinvest from fossil fuels, and thus work towards a zero carbon future.’

The Congregation of Our Lady, Canonesses of St Augustine (UK Delegation) said: ‘According to our founders, our aim is to ‘do good to all and harm to none’ (St Peter Fourier) and ‘to do all the good possible’ (Blessed Alix Le Clerc). How can we put this into practice when we hold investments in oil and gas and we don’t go for investments that ‘promote a more just distribution of this world’s goods’ (from our Constitutions, 166)? ‘In our times the whole world has become our neighbour’(ibid, 3). One little way of loving our neighbour out there was for us to divest from oil and gas, which we did this February. And we’ve a long way to go yet.’

The Sisters of St Andrew in England gave the following statement: ‘At our last General Congregation in January 2017, one of the three main themes was ‘Justice, Peace and Safeguarding of Creation’. The final document states: ‘…we are in close interdependence with all of Creation. What happens in one part of our world has an impact on the rest of the planet.’

‘Deepening this awareness led us to have a closer look at our investments here in England. We realised that part of our financial resources were actually financing more fossil fuel extraction and burning. We were thus contributing to the worsening of the climate crisis and its devastating impact on the poorest peoples of our human family, as well as the destruction of vast areas of wildlife on our beautiful planet Earth. We therefore decided to make the commitment to divest from fossil fuel and invest in funds that support constructive ecological, social and peace initiatives. This is one more important step on our journey of ‘integral ecological conversion’ (Laudato Si’).

‘We pray that this step may contribute to the healing and wellbeing of our world and the flourishing of our Earth Community.’

Revd Vanessa Conant, Rector of St Mary’s Walthamstow and the Parish of Walthamstow, said: ‘The climate crisis is the most critical issue facing our planet and, as Christians, we must act. People in my parish experience the impacts of this crisis every day through ill health related to air pollution and are worried about what we will leave future generations. It’s no longer acceptable to fund fossil fuels or assume these businesses will regulate themselves. We must divest, and must use our power to hasten the green energy revolution we need.’

Revd Mark Pengelly, Minister of Trinity Methodist Church, Chelmsford, said: ‘Trinity Methodists are very concerned that not enough action is being taken in response to the climate emergency. We have to do more than just recognise a climate crisis is looming, we urgently need to take action to respond to it. By divesting our resources away from further development of fossil fuels, our Church Council is indicating a direction of travel that we must take, if we are to faithfully care for God’s good creation.’

Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, said: ‘We decided to divest from fossil fuels earlier this year to align fully how we invest our funds with our global grantmaking to combat climate change and secure climate justice for the most vulnerable people in the world, ensuring that we live our Jewish values and take up our enduring commitment to repair our broken world.’

Global Divestment Announcement statement

The World Council of Churches, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Operation Noah, Green Anglicans and GreenFaith invite faith institutions from around the world to join a global divestment announcement on 16 November 2020.

The global divestment announcement, which will coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, offers an opportunity to faith organisations to highlight the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives.

The announcement will send a strong message to world leaders meeting at the G20 summit in November about the need for a green and just recovery from Covid-19. It will take place the week before the Economy of Francesco event, at which Pope Francis will give an online address to young economists and entrepreneurs from around the world.

Divestment from fossil fuel holdings is a powerful act of faith that hundreds of religious institutions around the world have taken to respond to the climate emergency. It represents the shifting of investments out of an industry that is a primary cause of the climate crisis. Furthermore, an increasing number of values-driven investors are investing in solutions to the crisis, and are financing enterprises and initiatives providing access to clean, affordable energy, including zero-carbon energy solutions for the 850 million people without access to electricity.

Any groups interested in joining the announcement will confirm (i) that they have divested from fossil fuel investments; or (ii) that they will divest from any investments in fossil fuels as soon as possible, and within five years at the latest; or (iii) that they do not hold any fossil fuel investments and will not invest in fossil fuels in the future.

Divest your church

If you would be interested in getting your local church or regional Church structures (dioceses and equivalents) or religious order to make a divestment commitment as part of a future joint divestment announcement, probably in the spring of 2021, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please get in touch with Bokani Tshidzu on bokani.tshidzu@operationnoah.org for further information or to register your interest.

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