Fossil fuel divestment for a zero carbon future: A conference for religious


An earlier version of this article by Operation Noah trustee Revd Dr Martin Poulsom SDB was published on the Conference of Religious website.

‘Members of Catholic religious orders lobby Parliament in a demonstration organised by CAFOD’. Image credit: CAFOD.

On Thursday 14 February, at Mount Street Jesuit Centre in London, a day conference for religious is taking place, at which we can hear about how Catholic institutions are responding to the urgent call on climate change launched by Pope Francis in Laudato Sì. The conference, co-sponsored by Operation Noah, CAFOD, the Conference of Religious, the Association of Provincial Bursars, Global Catholic Climate Movement and the National Justice & Peace Network, will take place from 11am to 4pm, including a Creation Mass at 3.30pm celebrated by Rev Dr Dominic Robinson SJ.

Speakers will include Lorna Gold, Coordinator of the Laudato Si’ Project at Trocaire and Vice Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement; Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the JPIC Commission UISG-USG in Rome; and Rev Dr Martin Poulsom SDB, Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Roehampton. There will also be an opportunity to learn more about fossil fuel divestment that is already taking place, and about how religious communities can get involved in supporting the clean energy transition to ensure a brighter, cleaner future for everyone.

Members of religious communities have long been at the forefront of engagement in the areas of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, and this Conference will allow religious to reflect on investment decisions that are being made by their sisters and brothers and to discern a way forward. Responsible and ethical investment is now something that every religious order and congregation takes account of, and the day will offer opportunities to hear from investors who have discerned that investment in energy production and storage is an ethical issue, which requires action. In doing so, they are responding to the call of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ to care for ‘our common home … which we all share’ (§ 13). Francis also points out that we ‘now know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay’ (§ 165).

This message, that the time to act is now, is also supported by many other voices around our common home. A scientific study published recently in the journal Nature Communications indicates that the Paris target of 1.5°C is attainable, if a phase-out of carbon-intensive energy use and transition to clean energy begins immediately. This supports the most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which spoke of the enormous benefits of aiming for the ambitious 1.5°C target, and of the need to act quickly to make it possible to attain.

Large numbers of organisations, both religious and secular, are already responding to these calls to action. More than 1,000 institutions around the world, including the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Caritas Internationalis, the Passionists in England & Wales, the Columban Missionaries and the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in the USA have taken the step of divesting (disinvesting) from fossil fuel companies, in response to the global threat of climate change. New York City, the Royal College of GPs and the Church of Ireland were also among organisations to divest in 2018.

By announcing divestment commitments publicly, religious orders and congregations respond to a prophetic call, to be voices that speak in favour of those who are ignored and disregarded, to be people who put words into action in their lives. In this way, they become prophetic witnesses of possibility, seeking to welcome in a future that God calls all people to make a reality in our common home. As we discern the direction that God is calling us to take, we can take encouragement from Pope Francis, who encourages us to walk lightly together on the earth: ‘May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope’ (Laudato Sì, § 244).

The conference is free of charge, and participants are invited to bring something to share for a vegetarian lunch. Places are limited – members of religious orders can book their place by contacting James Buchanan at james.buchanan@operationnoah.org or calling 07801 570653.

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