Fossil fuel divestment: Religious urged to speed up the energy transition

Columbans joined around 65 representatives of Catholic religious orders, Catholic groups and investment experts to attend a conference on 14 February titled ‘Fossil fuel divestment for a zero carbon future’.

  “radical and urgent change” 

Hosted by the Mount Street Jesuit Centre in Central London, the conference heard Dr Lorna Gold of Trócaire and Vice Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, say we need “radical and urgent change” to keep average global temperatures below the threshold of 1.5 degrees given in the Paris Climate Agreement. She felt, “the key message of today is the urgency of the crisis and the important role the Church and the orders can play through the use of their resources, and deciding when to remove their investments from fossil fuels and divert to renewables”.

divesting from fossil fuel companies

More than 1,000 organisations around the world, including Caritas Internationalis and the Columban Missionaries internationally, have taken the step of divesting from fossil fuel companies in response to the global threat of climate change. Ellen Teague, a Columban co-worker, gave a presentation on Columban work on the divesting process. She stressed the tension between the urgency of the environmental crisis and the slow process of divestment, which should be completed within five years of the initial announcement. Religious orders present were invited to find out more about joining the next Catholic divestment announcement in May 2019.

signs of hope for our world

Fr Martin Poulsom, a Salesian of Don Bosco, trustee of Operation Noah and Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University, suggested that the 1.5 threshold is possible, “if the energy transition speeds up”. He felt that: “Religious congregations can play an important prophetic role today, showing that they care for our common home, not just by the lives that their members lead, but also by where they invest their money. By divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in zero-carbon energy generation, they can be signs of hope for our world, making possible the brighter, cleaner future that is needed for all who live on this Earth that we share. The time to act is now.”

 trying to minimise the damage of fossil fuels

Lorna Gold felt large scale divestment and programmes to prompt the “ecological conversion” called for in Laudato Si’ are important and effective initiatives. She described the process of supporting the Irish bishops in their 2018 announcement of divestment of all their investments in fossil fuels, including setting up a Laudato Si’ working group of Catholic eco- experts such as Columban theologian Sean McDonagh and Sr Catherine Brennan of Eco-congregation, also John Sweeney, a Catholic climatologist. Sixty orders in Ireland and all 26 Irish dioceses are now on a path to follow suit, which represents hundreds of millions of Euro of combined investment. So far, the Catholic Church in England Wales has not taken action on divestment, but the bishops’ conference could prompt change with a potentially significant impact. “Today’s event is critical for getting this message across to the Catholic world in the UK,” said Lorna Gold.  She added: “People have two concerns, that they will lose money and that they might be able to achieve more as ‘active shareholders’, trying to minimise the damage of fossil fuels through influence. I’d say we have had 30 years to do that and it hasn’t made a difference.  A more radical approach is needed.  Now is the time to divest because carbon-free solutions are now viable, with the rise of effective solar and wind power technologies. As the experience of the Irish Catholic Church has shown, their major fund is carbon negative with no detriment to their income.”

responsible stewardship,

Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the JPIC Commission of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome, spoke of the new UISG campaign 2018-2020, ‘Sowing Hope for the Planet’. A key element will be promoting divestment from fossil fuels by religious orders and supporting Pope Francis in his mission to “hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”. She spoke the importance of responsible stewardship, that “it is not enough to do good things by ourselves; we need to do these things with others”.

delaying policies on climate change

The conference also heard Mark Campanale, founder of the independent think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, underline that we cannot burn all the proven fossil fuel reserves in the world as well as avert dangerous global warming. At the same time as supporting divestment he identified two signs of progress on alternatives to fossil fuels as “electric cars, which will be cheaper than the combustion engine in two years” and “it will soon be cheaper to build new solar plants than coal plants”. Sian Ferguson of the Ashden Trust, Mark Leonard Trust and JJ Charitable Trust, said, “we have had a wake up call today and heard how you can move your investments” but she warned that the corporate culture of the big fossil fuel companies is hard to shift. “The fossil fuel companies are delaying policies on climate change, particularly in the United States, and business models are not changing” she said, and “more is still being spent on exploration for oil, gas and other fossil fuels than on renewables”. She urged that divestment become a stronger global movement, and that religious groups have a part to play in investing their money according to the sort of sustainable and just society they want in the future.

The conference heard how divestment has already accomplished quite a bit in just a few years. It has kept the spotlight on climate change; challenged institutions on their investment goals; pushed the envelope on the limits of impact investing; and helped to activate politically people and groups who might have otherwise remained on the sidelines.

  a resource for further information.

James Buchanan of Operation Noah’s Bright Now Campaign and conference organiser has offered to be a resource for further information. He said: “It is great to see so many religious here keen to respond to Pope Francis’ call to take action on climate change. It is positive to see orders considering rethinking their investment in fossil fuel and divestment as a way of accelerating transition to a carbon free future.”  The conference rounded off with a Creation Mass.

Sponsors of the conference included CAFOD, Operation Noah, Global Catholic Climate Movement, National Justice & Peace Network, Conference of Religious and Association of Provincial Bursars.

Link:
Bright Now – the campaign for fossil free Churches
 http://brightnow.org.uk/news/catholic-religious-orders-call-for-divestment/