Faith Groups Announce Largest-Ever Divestment

Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow

Largest-Ever Divestment
Renewable energies © Pexels. Brett sayles

Five days before the UN climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow and four days before the G20 Summit in Rome, 72 faith institutions from six continents with more than $4.2 billion of combined assets under management announced their divestment from fossil fuels in the largest-ever joint divestment announcement by religious organizations.

The global divestment announcement comes from faith institutions 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 in the UK; the Presbyterian Church of Wales; the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Catholic universities in the United States and the UK; the Sisters of Charity of Australia; Caritas Nepal; 15 Catholic dioceses in England, Scotland and Ireland; two Church of England dioceses; 19 churches in the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine; and the Buddhist religious movement Soka Gakkai International – UK.

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. 

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. Rio de Janeiro, Glasgow, Paris, Seattle and Auckland are also announcing their divestment commitments today, joining the C40 Divest / Invest Forum and supporting the advancement of divestment of their city and pension funds. 

Most recently, the Ford Foundation, created by wealth generated from the internal combustion engine, joined Harvard, the world’s wealthiest university, in announcing that it will not only divest from fossil fuels but invest in climate solutions. Harvard has nearly entirely divested its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuels and will rule out any future investments in coal, oil and gas. The University of St Thomas in Minnesota, a Catholic university with $800 million of assets under management, has joined today’s announcement and added its voice to the global divestment movement.

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’.

On 17-18 October, faith groups from different religions participated in Faiths 4 Climate Justice, with more than 500 actions taking place in 41 countries around the world. These included more than 130 actions in Australia, which ranked last for climate action in a UN Sustainable Development Report in July. In New York City, Jewish youth activists and rabbis blockaded the entrance to the global headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, demanding that BlackRock divest all its funds from fossil fuels and deforestation.

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

Statements from leaders:

Bishop Bill Nolan, Bishop of Galloway and Lead Bishop on the Environment for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: ‘The world is full of voices decrying the environmental crisis that we face. The Scottish bishops added their voice in their pastoral letter issued at Pentecost this year. However speaking out is not enough, action is required. That is why the bishops pledged to take practical measures towards carbon neutrality and also to disinvest from fossil fuel companies. It has been argued that these companies are still necessary, as we transition to greener alternatives. There is some truth in that. But 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 are 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.’

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 organizations 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.’

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 realize time is running out and to safeguard the planet and fulfill our role as stewards of God’s creation, the Church amongst other organizations 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 neighbors.’

Rt Revd 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.’

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, said: ‘We have reached a critical moment in human history. As a priest who has worked in mission lands, I have seen the great need to act fairly and with justice towards our Sisters and Brothers in other parts of our world – divestment is one way of acting fairly and correctly.’

Robert Harrap, General Director of Soka Gakkai International – UK, said: ‘As a Buddhist organization 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.’

The Very Revd Karl J. Kiser, SJ, Provincial of the Midwest Jesuits, said: ‘We are committed to the Holy Father’s Laudato Si’ goals and the “journey to integral ecology” that he envisions. The gifts entrusted to us to advance our apostolic mission align with and promote the goal of a more just and sustainable tomorrow. Compelled by faith, our care for creation reflects the immense gratitude due to the Creator; it inspires in us greater simplicity of life, community engagement with others of goodwill, and a deepening awareness of the cry of the poor and of the earth. We are reminded of Pope Benedict XVI’s reflection on the verse Genesis 1:28, which reads, “Subdue the earth.” Benedict said, “This does not mean Enslave it! Exploit it! Do with it what you will! No, what it means is: Recognize it as God’s gift! Guard it and look after it, as children look after what they have inherited from their father. Look after it, so that it becomes a true garden for God and its meaning is fulfilled so that for it, too, God is all in all.”’

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 groundwater is the heritage we leave for our children and grandchildren. We cannot risk drilling operations that pollute precious water sources, abuse indigenous rights, and threaten the heritage site of the Okavango Delta.’

Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate justice activist, said: ‘Because of the existing human activities against the earth, the land mourns. The suffering is set upon the people and the planet. When nature is destroyed, we destroy ourselves. We all have a responsibility towards creation, to protect and conserve for the present and future generations.’

Tomás Insua, Laudato Si’ Movement Executive Director, said: ‘People of faith are divesting at scale from dirty coal, oil and gas, demanding the G20 in Rome to finally conclude that there is no future for fossil fuel finance. As Pope Francis said, ‘enough of the thirst for profit that drives the fossil fuel industry’s destruction of our common home’.’

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.’

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.’

Laura Morosini, Laudato Si’ Movement France Program Manager, said: ‘On Monday, October 18th, we stood and fast before the TotalEnergies Tour in Paris with Father Lang and other religious leaders to make TotalEnergies stop the disastrous EacopTilenga disastrous project.  We clearly asked TotalEnergies to deserve their new name: TotalEnergies by abandoning their new fossil project and not only slowly decreasing them.’

Russell Testa, JPIC Animator for the Franciscan Friars – Holy Name Province, said: ‘We just passed a divestment policy in our province as a part of our effort to more fully live the Gospel message as presented in Laudato Si. Over the next year we will remove what investments we have and starting next year, look at the market for investment in the renewable energy industry. The policy was recommended by the Investment Committee of the Finance Directorate and approved by the Provincial Council.’

Sister Anne McCarthy OSB, Emmaus Ministries board member, said: ‘The movement to divest from fossil fuels aligns with the mission of Emmaus Ministries – to uphold the dignity of each human. We can only uphold the dignity of all when we uphold the dignity of the earth where we live. Signing onto this movement is an effective way to enflesh our values and advocate at the societal level.’

Fr. Lalit Tudu, Caritas Nepal Director, said: ‘This decision is right for our organization to show solidarity to fight against global warming’.