IN A CHALLENGE to the fossil fuel industry’s dangerous expansion plans and increasingly empty rhetoric on climate, 33 faith institutions from six countries – including two Catholic dioceses in the UK, five Church of England dioceses and a Church of England cathedral – have announced their divestment from fossil fuel companies. In total, 19 of the 33 institutions divesting are from the UK.

Organised by the World Council of Churches, Operation Noah, Laudato Si’ Movement, Green Anglicans and GreenFaith, this latest divestment announcement comes from faith institutions in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US, just three weeks before Anglican bishops from around the world gather for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury.

Institutions divesting from fossil fuels include five Church of England dioceses (Birmingham, Durham, Leicester, Newcastle and Worcester), two Catholic dioceses (the Archdiocese of Armagh and the Diocese of Leeds), the Methodist Church in Ireland, two United Reformed Church Synods in the UK (the North Western Synod and the East Midlands Synod); a Church of England cathedral (Leicester Cathedral); 11 Catholic religious orders; two Jesuit universities in the US; several local churches in the UK.and the Friends Provident Foundation;

Both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UN have warned against new fossil fuel projects anywhere in the world, as scientists say we cannot safely burn the vast majority of fossil fuels still in the ground. Yet just nine months after world leaders pledged to ‘keep 1.5 alive’ at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, 20 fossil fuel companies – including Shell, Total, BP and ExxonMobil – are moving ahead with fossil fuel expansion plans totalling $932 billion that would push the world past 1.5°C of heating. Meanwhile, governments including the US, Canada, the UK, Norway and Australia continue to approve new fossil fuel developments that will put 1.5°C out of reach.

Faith leaders are calling for action: last year, more than 20 Anglican bishops in Southern Africa, including the Archbishop of Cape Town, the three bishops of Mozambique and the Bishop of Namibia called for an immediate halt to oil and gas exploration in Africa, while earlier this year, more than 500 UK Church leaders, including 68 Anglican and Catholic bishops and some of the UK’s largest Christian NGOs, called on the UK Government to stop all new fossil fuel developments.

Last week, the Methodist Church of Britain endorsed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, while the Church of Scotland has called for no new fossil fuel extraction.

While the Church of England is still invested in fossil fuels at a national level – along with more than a dozen individual dioceses – 11 CofE dioceses have now divested from fossil fuels within the last 15 months, up from zero. In February, six Church of England bishops, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury and 130 clergy, called on the Church Commissioners to divest from ExxonMobil.

Faith institutions represent more than 35 per cent of all divestment commitments globally – more than any other single sector. More than 1,500 institutions from all sectors, with combined assets of over $40 trillion, have now made some form of divestment commitment worldwide, up from a starting point of $50 billion in 2014.

Most major Christian denominations in the UK have now fully divested from fossil fuels, with the notable exceptions of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Church of England.

The Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, plans to attend this month’s Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. She says the ‘oil curse’ is real – promises of fossil-fuelled prosperity for African communities that instead lead to impoverishment, ecological damage, war and human rights violations. “Oil companies promise vast profits and prosperity, but the reality is that they leave pollution and political upheaval.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Director at Operation Noah, said: “Today, faith institutions around the world are making a bold and powerful statement that it is unethical to invest in an industry that is fuelling the climate, conflict and the cost-of-living crises. As 20 fossil fuel companies including BP, Shell, Exxon and Total plan to spend nearly $1 trillion on new fossil fuel developments which the UN Secretary General has described as ‘delusional’, we call on the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales to choose life, divest from fossil fuel companies and invest in clean energy that will address the multiple crises we face.”

The Most Rev William Nolan, Archbishop of Glasgow and Lead Bishop on the Environment for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, which divested from fossil fuel companies in October 2021, said: “I think it’s going to get to the stage, it will be an embarrassment for any Catholic institution that hasn’t divested. This has gone from a purely symbolic gesture to something much, much more than that. Because we’re now advocating, and Pope Francis is advocating as well, (for) a complete change of lifestyle. We have to change our lifestyle.”.

Fr Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, Coordinator of the Ecology Sector in the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development, which assists Pope Francis’ work on the environment, said: “In 2020, the Vatican called on Catholic institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies given their harm to the environment. I applaud these prophetic institutions divesting today and encourage every institution in the world to reduce our dependence on such harmful energy sources by divesting from fossil fuels. This is how prophetic institutions can live out our values and help the most vulnerable among us. If we want to achieve peace, and ensure a liveable planet for all, including the future generations, we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels that fuel the current climate crisis.”

The Most Rev Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh, said: “It is clear that many members of our congregations, especially our young people, feel we have a responsibility to take action with regard to the challenges of climate change and climate justice. We all share responsibility for the problems facing our world, but equally, we share responsibility for finding the solutions. Each one of us must accept our personal and collective need to change and make sacrifices, recognising the inherent issues of justice and fairness that are involved, and realising, as Pope Francis says, that ‘the cry of the earth’ is especially ‘the cry of the poor’.. Climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on those who are on the margins, those most dependent on fragile ecosystems and most vulnerable to famine, to drought, to food and water insecurity and conflict, to exploitative and ‘predatory economic interests’, to the destruction of their homes and displacement of their families.”

“From a faith point of view, God is calling us to be caring stewards of creation, to protect and nourish our planet and its resources, and not to selfishly waste them or ruthlessly and excessively exploit and destroy them. I support fully the decision of the Directors of the St Patrick’s Archdiocesan Trust to continue its commitment to a policy of divestment from fossil fuels, and I encourage others to consider similar action.”

The Rev Geoffrey Clarke, Moderator of the United Reformed Church East Midlands Synod, said: “Fossil fuel divestment is a positive means of ensuring our financial stewardship reflects a serious stewardship of the earth’s resources. Too many of our sisters and brothers are already suffering unduly through the climate crisis. Our commitment to divestment today is a small step towards the chance of investment in a better tomorrow for them and for our planet.”

Chris Manktelow, Joint Communications Lead at the Young Christian Climate Network, said: “Fossil fuel investments contribute to climate change, fuel conflict, and destabilise communities. Faith institutions should not be lending their financial and moral authority to an industry that is undermining our future. The Young Christian Climate Network fully supports this global call for divestment. We urge faith institutions to break their ties with the fossil fuel industry and to invest in fairer, cleaner ways of generating energy.”

* A full list of the institutions divesting from fossil fuels can be found  here.

* Source: Operation Noah