Faith institutions divest from fossil fuels

By agency reporter
September 14, 2019

A coalition of diverse faith institutions announced its divestment from fossil fuels. With these announcements and others, the world has reached a new milestone. Fossil fuel divestment now comes from institutions with $11 trillion in assets, up from a starting point of $50 billion just five years ago. (

Faith institutions constitute the greatest number of entities contributing to the global movement, with 150 Catholic institutions alone in the total of more than 1,100. Today’s announcement includes 15 new Catholic commitments – among them the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, the English/Scottish Province of the Religious Sisters of Charity and Franciscan Sisters Minoress–as well as seven Protestant institutions – among them the United Reformed Church in the UK, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, and the United Reformed Church Synod of Wessex, UK.

In addition to divestment within the Christian community, Muslim authorities in the United States and Canada have issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, on fossil fuels. The fatwa calls on Islamic investment managers to develop fossil-free investment vehicles and on individual Muslims to invest in renewable energy.

One of the institutions participating in the announcement, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, is the first cathedral in the world to divest from fossil fuels. In June this year, the Scottish Episcopal Church General Synod asked the Church’s Investment Committee to divest, recognising the “moral imperative to divest fully from fossil fuels.”

The announcement comes during the Season of Creation, a global celebration of prayer and action for the environment, and is made just days after Pope Francis said that “now is the time to abandon our dependence on fossil fuels and move, quickly and decisively, towards forms of clean energy and a sustainable and circular economy.”

Another of the divesting institutions, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, is located in a region that is particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis. A UN estimate suggests that Eastern Africa has already warmed by an average of 1.3 degrees Celsius over the past few decades. A hotter planet is expected to severely alter the rainfall patterns of Eastern Africa, leading to greater droughts interrupted by periods of extremely heavy rainfall. This spells catastrophe for subsistence farmers. Fr Paul Igweta, AMECEA’s Coordinator of the Promotion of Integral Human Development Department said, “We as the Church have to advocate for alternative sources of energy... it is our duty to take care of the future generations to come.”

Faith leaders from across the world have responded to the climate crisis that is experienced by all, and most strongly by poorer nations in the global south. Sr Patricia Jordan FSM, Mother General of the Franciscan Sisters Minoress, said, “As loyal followers of St Francis and in response to the challenges of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Sì and the needs of the times, we have taken the decision to divest our investments in fossil fuels. We have a duty to be responsible stewards of all God’s gifts, namely ‘our common home’, and to protect all of creation and our most vulnerable brothers and sisters throughout the world.”

Sr Rita Dawson RSC, Provincial of the English/Scottish Province of the Religious Sisters of Charity, said, “We are proud to be part of the move to a fossil fuel free future. The sisters in our province unanimously agreed that divestment from fossil fuels was the way forward for us and an investment in the future of life on our planet.”

This divestment announcement is made as Financing the Future, a summit devoted to accelerating investment in a clean economy, is underway in Cape Town. A group of 75 high-level faith leaders at the summit is spending the day exploring concrete ways to make the transition to a clean energy economy.

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg is an ambassador to the conference and president of the Catholic Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. Applauding the transition away from fossil fuels, Archbishop Hollerich said, “In this time and place the key action is to do what we can to preserve creation from the ravages of greed-induced climate change. To do so we should all use the authorities available to us to shift away from industries and models of destruction and into the opportunity to promote life.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager for the Christian climate change charity Operation Noah, said, “As the scale of the climate crisis and the urgency of action required increases by the day, it is wonderful to see faith institutions at the forefront of the fossil fuel divestment movement, shifting investments out of the problem and into the solution.”


Statements from leaders:

The Rev Nigel Uden and Mr. Derek Estell, Moderators of the United Reformed Church General Assembly in the UK, said, “Fossil fuel divestment is a practical way in which the United Reformed Church is responding to the climate emergency. We are taking this step in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world who are most affected by the climate crisis, despite having done the least to cause it. Therefore, it is only right that we actively move to support renewable sources of energy instead.”

The Very Rev John Conway, Provost of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh, said, “We need to shape an economy that does not rely on fossil fuels, whose extraction and burning are imperilling the lives and livelihoods of so many, both now and for all generations to come. The climate emergency will only be tackled when as individuals, institutions, businesses and governments, we act together, in solidarity with those who suffer now, and with hope for future generations.”

Yeb Saño, the Philippines’ lead negotiator to UN climate negotiations in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, a storm linked to climate change that killed an estimated 10,000 people, reacted to the news of the Catholic bishops of the Philippines’ divestment by saying, “Dirty energy is hurting us, here in the Philippines and all around the world. Coal and other fossil fuels pollute the air we breathe and endanger the climate we share. We deserve better. Divestment from fossil fuels and investment in renewable energy points the way to a safer, fairer future.” Saño is a board member of Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Imam Saffet A. Catovic, representative of the Fiqh Council of North America, said, “The Fiqh Council of North America, the authoritative Islamic Scholars Council in the US and Canada, has adopted a religious statement and ruling (fatwa) affirming the fossil fuel divestment made by the Islamic Society of North America, and calling on Muslims to invest for a 100 per cent renewable energy future, and for Islamic investment managers to develop Shari’ah-compliant, fossil-fuel free investment vehicles. This historic ruling, the first of its kind globally, reflects the Council's understanding that the entire planet is a place of prayer and that we are Allah's vicegerents, responsible for Earth's care.”

*The full list of the 22 divesting institutions is available here.

* More about Financing the Future here

* Operation Noah


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.