Faith institutions announce largest-ever divestment ahead of COP26


Today, five days before the UN climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow and four days before the G20 Summit in Rome, 72 faith institutions, including 37 from the UK, announce their divestment from fossil fuels in the largest-ever joint divestment announcement by religious organisations.

The global divestment announcement comes from faith institutions with more than £3.1 billion ($4.2 billion) of combined assets under management in Australia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Ukraine, the UK, the United States and Zambia.

Participating institutions include the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland; the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church of Wales; the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; 15 Catholic dioceses in the UK and Ireland, including the Archdioceses of Glasgow, St Andrews & Edinburgh, Birmingham and Southwark; the Church of England Dioceses of Truro and Sodor & Man; St Mary’s University, Twickenham; and the Buddhist religious movement Soka Gakkai International – UK. The UK Churches and dioceses involved in this announcement represent nearly 2,000 local churches.

Faiths 4 Climate Justice action at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster (Photo credit: Dan Forshaw)

It follows the recent call from Pope Francis and other faith leaders to global governments to address the ‘unprecedented ecological crisis’ ahead of COP26 and calls from an international alliance of grassroots multi-faith activists who have called for an immediate end to all fossil fuel finance. Today’s announcement shows an increasing number of Catholic institutions are responding to the recent Vatican recommendation to divest from fossil fuel companies and invest in climate solutions.

Bishop Bill Nolan, Bishop of Galloway and Lead Bishop on the Environment for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: ‘The bishops decided that disinvestment would show that the status quo is not acceptable and further, that given the harm that the production and consumption of fossil fuels is causing to the environment and to populations in low-income countries, it was not right to profit from investment in these companies. Disinvestment is a sign that justice demands that we must move away from fossil fuels.’

Many UK Churches have fully divested from fossil fuel companies this year, including the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales and the Baptist Union.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially in recent years. According to a new report published today, more than 1,485 institutions with combined assets of over $39 trillion have made some form of divestment commitment, up from a starting point of $50 billion in 2014. Faith institutions have been at the forefront of the global divestment movement, representing more than 35% of total commitments. Glasgow, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Seattle and Auckland are also announcing their divestment commitments today, joining the C40 Divest / Invest Forum supporting the advancement of divestment of their city and pension funds. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its recent Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap that there can be no new coal, oil and gas developments if the world is to limit global warming to below 1.5°C and prevent catastrophic climate impacts. As world leaders prepare to meet at COP26, the UK Government is coming under increasing pressure over plans for the Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland, supported by oil giant Shell, which would release emissions equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 18 coal-fired power stations.

Last month, more than 20 Southern African Anglican bishops including the Archbishop of Cape Town, the three bishops of Mozambique and the Bishop of Namibia called for an immediate halt to gas and oil exploration in Africa. They said that ‘a new era of economic colonialism by fossil fuel companies is well underway’ and that ‘Africa’s natural habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate through the extraction of oil and gas’.

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: ‘As the UK prepares to host COP26, we are delighted that 37 UK faith institutions have decided to divest from fossil fuel companies and join this record global divestment announcement. We call on the UK and global governments to end fossil fuel subsidies and bring an immediate halt to new oil and gas exploration, including the Cambo oil field.’

Global Faith Webinar: COP26, Fossil Fuel Divestment and a Just Transition for All

To learn more about faith divestment you can join a webinar this Thursday 28 October 2021 from 17:00 – 18:30 BST, entitled COP26, Fossil Fuel Divestment and a Just Transition for All on Thursday, , with speakers including Bishop William Nolan, Bishop Hugh Nelson, Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Sunita Viswanath, Gunnela Hahn and Richard Brooks. Bright Now Campaign Manager James Buchanan will join the panel for the Q&A section.

The webinar will provide an excellent opportunity to find out how you can get involved in campaigning for fossil fuel divestment and investment in climate solutions in your own faith institution.

Divest your church

If you would be interested in getting your local church or regional Church structures (dioceses and equivalents) to make a divestment commitment, 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.

Organisations joining the global divestment announcement

A full list of the 72 institutions divesting from fossil fuels and quotes from leaders can be found here.

The UK organisations announcing their divestment commitments are as follows:

  • Scottish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  • The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church
  • Presbyterian Church of Wales
  • Presbyterian Church of Ireland
  • Archdiocese of Glasgow (Catholic)
  • Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh (Catholic)
  • Archdiocese of Birmingham (Catholic)
  • Archdiocese of Southwark (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Aberdeen (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Argyll and the Isles (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Dunkeld (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Galloway (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Motherwell (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Paisley (Catholic)
  • RC Diocese of Portsmouth (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Brentwood (Catholic)
  • Diocese of Sodor and Man (Church of England)
  • Diocese of Truro (Church of England)
  • Birmingham Methodist Circuit (Methodist)
  • St Mary’s University, Twickenham (Catholic)
  • Religious of the Assumption – England (Catholic)
  • The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, Province of Rosalie Rendu (Britain and Australia) (Catholic)
  • Sisters of the Cross and Passion (Catholic)
  • Columban Missionaries Britain (Catholic)
  • Daughters of the Holy Spirit (England and Ireland Province) (Catholic)
  • Society of St Francis (European Province) (Church of England)
  • Methodist Central Hall, Manchester (Methodist)
  • St Thomas Church, Pendleton, Salford (Church of England)
  • Holy Angels Church, Salford (Church of England)
  • St Aidan’s Church, Lower Kersal, Salford (Church of England)
  • St Mary’s Church – Kelling (Church of England)
  • St Martin’s Church, Liskeard (Church of England)
  • Holy Trinity Church, Much Wenlock (Church of England)
  • Laudato Si’ Group Jersey (Caritas Jersey) (Catholic)
  • Centre for Applied Buddhism (Buddhist)
  • The Network of Buddhist Organisations (Committee) (Buddhist)
  • Soka Gakkai International – UK (Buddhist)

Statements from leaders:

Archbishop Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, said: ‘Our commitment to divestment in fossil fuels is a response both to the cry of the earth and of the poor, taking us one step further towards its consolation. We join many other faith organisations who are making the ethical choice to ‘take care not to support companies that harm human or social ecology… or environmental ecology’, as Pope Francis calls us to do in the Vatican’s manual Journeying Towards Care For Our Common Home. To see so many united in this aim gives me great hope for the future.’

Bishop Hugh Nelson, Bishop of St Germans in the Church of England Diocese of Truro, said: ‘We are proud to be able to say we no longer invest in companies whose principal business involves the extraction, production or refining of coal, gas and oil. We know there is still a long way to go and we will be looking very closely at all our investments to try and divest wherever we find an indirect link to extraction but we are pleased to have taken this first, big step.’

David Palmer, Chief Executive Officer of the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church, said: ‘The pace of change across the oil and gas sector has been inadequate and falls well below the targets set at COP21 in Paris. We hope that COP26 will refresh these targets and we look forward to joining other faith groups in Glasgow next month in calling for immediate action to address the climate emergency.’

Revd Evan Morgan, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, said: ‘Our General Assembly passed a resolution to divest from fossil fuels this year as part of our new green environmental policy as a denomination. We realise time is running out and to safeguard the planet and fulfil our role as stewards of God’s creation, the Church amongst other organisations must act. The time for words, however well meaning, is over and actions now are the order of the day and to be proactive in our response to the challenges of the climate crisis.’

Rt Revd Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said: ‘At its General Assembly on 5 October 2021, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland directed its trustees to employ a new strategy in relation to companies producing fossil fuels or deriving part of their turnover from their use. Specifically this will mean divesting from those companies that derive more than 10% of their turnover from oil and gas extraction and engaging with other companies which are major users of fossil fuels. We believe that our investment policies should be informed by the biblical understanding of creation that leads to a commitment to God’s world and to our global neighbours.’

Robert Harrap, General Director of Soka Gakkai International – UK, said: ‘As a Buddhist organisation based on a philosophy of respect for the dignity of life and the non-duality of the individual and the environment, it is important to us that we invest sustainably and responsibly. Our trustees have decided to divest from fossil fuels because this is a key way to protect our precious planet and the people most at risk from the climate crisis.’

Bishop Luke Pato of Namibia said: ‘We are guardians of the land for the generations to come. Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara and our ground water is the heritage we leave for our children and grandchildren. We cannot risk drilling operations that pollute precious water sources, abuse indigneous rights and threaten the heritage site of the Okavango Delta.’

Lorna Gold, Chair of Laudato Si’ Movement, said: ‘People of faith are divesting at scale from coal, oil and gas, calling on the G20 in Rome and world leaders at COP26 to finally conclude that there is no future for fossil fuel finance. Fossil fuel divestment is a key part of ensuring a just transition for all, especially communities around the world who have done least to cause the climate crisis.’

Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator of Green Anglicans, said: ‘Faced with environmental devastation, pollution of precious water sources and abuse of land rights caused by fossil fuel companies, it is easy for those on the frontline of climate change to feel overwhelmed by the power of these corporations. When we hear that faith communities are taking their money out of these companies, it rekindles hope that we are not alone.’

Revd Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, said: ‘In the midst of a climate emergency, fossil fuel divestment is a moral imperative. More and more religious groups – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish as well as Christian – must continue to add their names to the growing list of divestment commitments, and must also lead the way by investing in ensuring access to clean energy for absolutely everyone – particularly the 800 million people who lack electricity.’

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