Jesuits in Britain divest from fossil fuels


The Jesuits in Britain have announced they are divesting from companies whose major income is from the extraction of fossil fuels – the largest Catholic religious order in the UK to join the global divestment movement.

The Jesuits in Britain have equity investments of about £400 million used to finance works and projects here in Britain and around the world. The assets are under the management of three equity fund managers and will be fully divested by the end of 2020, with more than half of that divestment process already completed.

Jesuits in Britain and a group of young adults celebrate their divestment decision
(Photo Credit: Bokani Tshidzu)

The Jesuits join a growing movement of Catholic institutions divesting from fossil fuels. The Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster announced their commitment to divest from fossil fuels in January this year, becoming the first Catholic dioceses in England and Wales to divest. Their divestment announcement was made together with two Catholic orders – the English Provinces of the Congregation of Jesus and the Presentation Sisters – alongside sixteen other local churches and Christian institutions in the UK.

Fr Damian Howard SJ, the Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits, said: ‘Climate change is the most pressing challenge the world faces as climate disasters wreak more and more destruction, hitting poorer countries the hardest – despite them having done the least to cause them. The decision to divest is principally a response to the clear moral imperative of acting to safeguard our planet for future generations at a time when scientific evidence is mounting that we are facing a grave climate emergency.

‘What happens to the climate and the environment will have implications for us all. That’s why we need to act together to protect the conditions for human life. I am glad that the Jesuits can contribute to that joint effort.

‘All our institutions need to respond to this ecological crisis and take bold action to reduce energy use and switch to renewable sources. Large-scale investors should be doing everything possible to help avert the severe consequences that could result if adequate measures are not taken.’

The decision aligns the Jesuits in Britain with a global movement of divesting institutions with a combined value of more than $14 trillion in assets under management, up from a starting point of $50 billion just five years ago.

Br Stephen Power SJ, who manages Jesuits in Britain’s ethical investment strategy, said: ‘Our trustees took the decision to completely divest from oil, gas and coal-producing companies because they felt these companies were not making enough progress towards better solutions.’

Jesuits in Britain had considered full divestment for several years, but until now had opted to engage with oil and gas companies. ‘The severity of the climate emergency has made it crystal clear that action is needed more than words if climate action is to be effective,’ Power said.

Bright Now Campaign Manager James Buchanan, said: ‘This significant decision taken by the Jesuits in Britain to divest from fossil fuel companies is the latest in a growing trend of religious institutions leading the way in shifting investments out of fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future. Of the total of more than 1,100 organisations contributing to the global divestment movement, 352 are faith-based institutions.’

Jesuits in Britain, together with 10 other institutional shareholders, have taken formal action at Barclays, asking the bank to phase out its financing of fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis. The group has filed a shareholder resolution at Barclays alongside over 100 individual shareholders, which will be voted on by investors at Barclays’ annual general meeting in May 2020.

Jesuit Missions is calling on the UK Government to take urgent action to reduce emissions and to encourage other nations to follow its lead, especially in the lead up to the crucial UN climate talks (COP26) taking place in Glasgow this November.

Paul Chitnis, Director of Jesuit Missions, said: ‘The world must respond to the enormous challenges and opportunities of climate change with far greater urgency. COP26 in Glasgow can be the right moment. We see the impact of climate change on communities everywhere and it is the poorest, most marginalised people who suffer most. That is why the British public expect the UK to meet its climate commitments, including credible net-zero policies with the public and private investment necessary to achieve them.’

Efa Ravelonantoandro, Programmes Officer of the Centre Sociale Arrupe in Madagascar which is supported by Jesuit Missions, said: ‘Southern Madagascar is now too hot and we’re seeing more internal migration and with it a rise in crime and a lack of jobs. More frequent and severe flooding across the country has increased diseases among the population. We do have lots of rivers in Madagascar, but we are not generating enough renewable energy. We need more investment in cleaner, renewable energy and a shift away from fossil fuel sources.’

Operation Noah is working with the World Council of Churches, the Global Catholic Climate Movement and others to invite Churches, religious orders and faith organisations from around the world to participate in a major global divestment announcement on 26-28 March 2020, which will coincide with the Economy of Francesco conference in Assisi initiated by Pope Francis.

Could your church make a commitment to divest and join the announcement in March? Get in touch with Bokani Tshidzu at bokani.tshidzu@operationnoah.org if you are interested or would like to learn more.

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