Global coalition of faith institutions divest ahead of G7 and COP26


Today, 36 faith institutions from 11 countries announce their divestment from fossil fuels. It comes from institutions in Brazil, Argentina, India, the Philippines, Uganda, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, the UK and the United States. The leadership of these faith organisations highlights the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives in response to the growing climate crisis.

This announcement comes from Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist institutions, among others. The group includes the Church in Wales, with more than £700 million ($975 million) of assets under management, which voted to divest from fossil fuels at its Governing Body meeting in April. It also includes the Diocese of Bristol and the Diocese of Oxford, the first Church of England dioceses to announce their divestment from fossil fuels, as well as the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Catholic Diocese of Hallam and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The global divestment announcement takes place as the UK prepares to host the G7 Summit in June and the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November.

As governments around the world continue to invest significant sums in economic recovery packages, it is vital that these investments support a just and green recovery from Covid-19. Yet, as the UN has stated, only 18% of the Covid-19 recovery spending announced by the world’s 50 biggest economies in 2020 can be considered green. Governments have given considerable financial support to the fossil fuel industry in their Covid-19 recovery packages.

Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org, said: ‘When faith communities divest from fossil fuels, it is a powerful reminder of both the practical and the moral depth of the climate crisis. There is no way to stand up for the most vulnerable people on earth, and to safeguard the rest of Creation, unless you’re willing to take on the fossil fuel industry.’

The announcement takes place during Laudato Si’ Week, a celebration of the progress the Roman Catholic Church has made on its journey to ecological conversion following Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and ecology. The Diocese of Hallam becomes the fourth Catholic diocese in England and Wales to divest, as well as six Catholic dioceses in Ireland. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux and the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (UK) have also joined the announcement.

The impact of fossil fuel companies on human rights in Africa

The announcement comes a day before the Royal Dutch Shell AGM, which takes place on Tuesday 18 May. Shell has been coming under considerable pressure as a result of its plans to increase gas production by 20 per cent in the next few years. The Methodist Church announced it had divested its remaining fossil fuel holdings at the end of April 2021, including £21 million ($29 million) of shares in Royal Dutch Shell, citing Shell’s ‘inadequate’ climate plans. The Church of Scotland recently announced that it had also sold its remaining shares in oil and gas companies.

In February, the UK Supreme Court allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Shell in English courts after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater. The UK government is facing a court challenge over its controversial decision to provide $1 billion to a massive liquified natural gas (LNG) development operated by French oil company Total in Mozambique.

Rt Revd Ernesto Manuel, Anglican Bishop of Nampula in Northern Mozambique, said: ‘Fossil fuel investments increase climate change and impacts on those most vulnerable, and also destabilise communities. We have seen how over 700,000 people in Northern Mozambique have been displaced – many fleeing for their lives in terror from insurgents. Dozens have been beheaded, even children as young as 12. This violence only occurs in the areas where gas prospecting is taking place. Locals are not consulted and nor do they benefit, only suffering the impacts of rising prices, pollution and loss of land. We plead with the international community – take your money out of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy which is decentralised, benefits local people and does not contribute to climate change.’

Faith communities have long been at the forefront of the global divestment movement, and have contributed the single greatest number of commitments. Out of the global total of over 1,300 divestment commitments made to date, more than 450 are from faith institutions.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement is organising a webinar entitled Laudato Si’ Dialogue on Energy and Fossil Fuels on Wednesday 19 May at 15.00 (CEST), with speakers including Bill McKibben, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy. Bill McKibben will also speak on a GreenFaith multi-faith webinar on Wednesday 19 May at 12.00 (ET) and 19.00 (ET).

Organisations joining the global divestment announcement

A full list of the 36 institutions divesting from fossil fuels and statements from leaders can be found here.

The UK organisations announcing their divestment commitments are as follows:

  • Church in Wales
  • Baptist Union of Great Britain
  • General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
  • Diocese of Oxford (Church of England)
  • Diocese of Bristol (Church of England)
  • Diocese of Hallam (Catholic Church)
  • Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux (Catholic Church)
  • Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (UK) (Catholic Church)
  • Eastern Synod (United Reformed Church)
  • South Worcestershire Circuit (Methodist Church)
  • Gloucestershire Circuit (Methodist Church)
  • All Hallows Church, Whitchurch (Church of England)
  • St James the Less Church, Litchfield (Church of England)
  • St Mary’s Church, Tufton (Church of England)
  • Bath Road Methodist Church, Swindon (Methodist Church)
  • St James Church, Woolton (Methodist/United Reformed Church)
  • Cardiff Unitarians/Undodiaid Caerdydd (Unitarian)

Statements from leaders

Rt Revd Dr Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St Davids in the Church in Wales, said: ‘Every part of the world is now feeling the effects of climate change. At our Governing Body meeting in April, the Church in Wales declared a climate emergency, pledged ourselves to reach net zero carbon emissions ideally by the end of this decade, and took the decision to divest from fossil fuels by the end of the year. Whilst these decisions are a major step forward for us, we recognise that there is still much to be done, and we hope that the actions of the churches will encourage governments and industry to work towards alternatives which will help to arrest and overcome the disastrous global warming which is affecting us all.’

Revd Dr Dave Gregory, Convenor of the Baptist Union’s Environmental Network and former Baptist Union President, who is a former meteorologist at the Met Office and the European Weather Centre, said: ‘It was inspiring to hear so many voices from across the generations and different parts of the Baptist Together family recognising the importance of the decision to divest from fossil fuels, and agreeing that this was the way we need to walk with Jesus together in the face of the climate and environmental crisis which for many in our world is an immediate climate emergency.’

Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol in the Church of England, said: ‘In taking seriously our response to the climate emergency, I’m pleased to be able to share that the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) has made this commitment to disinvest from fossil fuels. Care for creation is a core mark of mission for the Church, and this is an important step towards realising our net zero carbon aims.’

Rt Revd Ralph Heskett, Catholic Bishop of Hallam, said: ‘The Diocese of Hallam divested of the most damaging fossil fuel companies many years ago. In recent months, we have decided to divest of the remainder of our investments with fossil fuel companies and instructed brokers to actively seek opportunities for investing in companies involved in renewable forms of energy. The Diocese continues to review our actions and investments to care for our common home.’

Most Revd Dr Brendan Leahy, Catholic Bishop of Limerick, said: ‘Listening to the cry of humanity, the cry of creation and the cry of young people, cries that Pope Francis so powerfully brings to our attention, it became clear our Diocese could not continue its investments in fossil-fuel related funds. It is the poorest and most disadvantaged who suffer the most as a consequence of the cry of the earth. Perhaps we can feel helpless before the challenges but if each of us lets ourselves be ecologically converted, then our world will change. This conversion starts from our heart but if it’s real it’ll hit our pocket. And not just personally. We need to see how, together, we can change the social structures in our world that lead to those fractures and divisions that cause our world to cry. Together, in practical steps, we can console our planet’s cry. And fossil fuel divestment is such a step.’

Sr Catherine Lavery HFB, Provincial Leader Britain and Ireland said: ‘As Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux, we are committed to promoting communion in a world of increasingly rapid change, with the urgency that this time requires. This impels us to develop relationships that promote oneness/wholeness and in so doing creating a new future for the human person, for society and for the whole Earth community. In response to Pope Francis’ urgent call to develop resources of renewable energy to combat climate change and consistent with Catholic social teaching we have decided to align our investments with our values and mission and so begin the process of divestment from fossil fuels.’ 

Sr Maura Mullen on behalf of the Trustees of the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy, UK, said: ‘In the midst of increasing awareness and acknowledgment of our current climate emergency, our attention is directed to the urgent need to cut carbon emissions drastically. This presents us with a clear moral imperative to which we are called to respond by divesting from Fossil Fuel holdings and joining the Global Divestment Announcement on 17 May 2021. We see this as a powerful witness to our faith and values in the context of the April Leaders’ Summit on Climate and the UK’s hosting of the COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.’ 

Revd John Hellyer, Superintendent Minister of the Gloucestershire Methodist Circuit said: ‘The Gloucestershire Methodist Circuit has recognised the climate emergency calls for urgent action if we are to avoid the kind of rises in global temperatures that will impact all of us and most particularly the world’s poorest people. For this reason we have decided to divest from fossil fuels in the belief that our focus should be on the production of renewable sources of energy.’ 

Revd Mark Barrett, Minister of Bath Road Methodist Church, Swindon said: ‘Bath Road Methodist Church has long been mindful of its responsibilities as regards our care for God’s creation. Our concerns about global warming have been voiced in worship and in meetings and in a challenge to our congregations lifestyles. Over a period of time we have been looking at ways to make this a more demonstrative part of our mission. As we move along the pathway of being an Eco Church, we have felt that need to signal to others that serious and dramatic steps must be taken and in line with the Methodist Church we have decided to divest from fossil fuels as we know, and need to make sure others know, that the way forward is with renewable energy. We must take steps that not only protect our planet, but also the poorest in God’s world whom we are called upon to care for, uplift and encourage.’ 

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: ‘As the UK prepares to host the G7 and COP26 this year, it is hugely encouraging to see so many Churches and faith groups announcing their divestment from fossil fuels. We urge governments around the world to follow their lead by ending support for fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future.’

Tomás Insua, Executive Director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, said: ‘Our common home cannot take any more dirty fossil energy, so today’s announcement is great news. It’s heartening to see how Catholic institutions are implementing the Vatican’s fossil fuel divestment guidelines, in tandem with so many other faith-based institutions. I hope it inspires many others to follow suit, decisively responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.’

Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (Green Anglicans), said: ‘Fossil fuel companies are seeing Africa as the next frontier for gas and oil exploration. Land rights are being ignored, scarce water supplies are threatened with pollution, environmental protection laws are flaunted and political destabilization is being caused. When we see our sisters and brothers divest from fossil fuels, it gives us hope that this new age of exploitation may yet be halted.’

Revd Henrik Grape, Senior Advisor on Care for Creation, Sustainability, and Climate Justice for the World Council of Churches, said: ‘To have investments in the fossil fuel industry is not an option when you as a church advocate for climate justice. In a time of climate emergency we must do everything we can to achieve a swift and just transition to a sustainable future. In such a transformation divesting from fossil fuels is the least we can ask.’

Meryne Warah, Co-Facilitator and Coordinator of the GreenFaith International Network, said: ‘People of faith: do not hide your light under a bushel! Divest now from the fossil fuel industry, which is destroying our precious planet. Divest now in solidarity with people around the world already suffering from climate impacts. Divest now, because your faith demands it and our loving God wants nothing less from us.’

Global Divestment Announcement Statement

The World Council of Churches, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Operation Noah, Green Anglicans and Green Faith invite faith institutions from around the world to join a global divestment announcement on 17 May 2021.

The global divestment announcement, which takes place ahead of the G7 and COP26, offers an opportunity to faith organisations to highlight the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives.

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) 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.

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