AS FOSSIL fuel companies continue to explore for new oil and gas, 31 faith institutions from the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy and France joined a global divestment announcement, proclaiming ‘no faith in fossil fuels’ by making their assets permanently off limits to fossil fuel companies.

The divestment announcement by faith institutions on 20 April represents well over $2 billion in assets under management by such companies.

The UK shows what is possible, with nearly every major Christian denomination having divested, and over half of all Church of England dioceses having made a divestment commitment, including the Diocese of London – home to Europe’s financial centre.

Half of all Catholic dioceses in England and Wales have also now pledged to permanently exclude fossil fuel investments, while in 2018, the Church of England’s National Investing Bodies said they would divest from fossil fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement by the end of 2023.

Faith institutions joining the global divestment announcement included seven Church of England dioceses, including the Diocese of London; six Church of England Cathedrals, including Canterbury Cathedral; two Catholic dioceses (Northampton in England and Catania in Italy); three Catholic religious orders, including the international Carmelite Order; two local churches in the UK; eight Catholic charities, including the Catholic Scouting Movement in Italy (AGESCI); one Catholic parish in Canada; the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle in Australia; and one Jewish institution.

Faith campaigners also called on people of faith to help fill in the divestment map, clarifying which religious organisations have divested and which have yet to do so – something UK campaigners have identified as key to their success. Divestment data on faith institutions in many countries is lacking. For example, in France, as in the US, there is no indication that a single Roman Catholic diocese has divested – this despite the Vatican urging Catholics to divest, and nine Bishops’ Conferences having made some form of divestment commitment or recommendation.

The call for faith institutions to get out of fossil fuels is largely a grassroots movement led by people who understand the damage fossil fuel companies are doing, and question the morality of faith groups funding an industry that causes extraordinary harm to people and the planet. Over the past year, faith-based divestment advocates have written letters, prayed outside places of worship, met with financial decision-makers, and submitted divestment motions.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a final warning, making it clear there was no room for new fossil fuel developments as emissions from existing developments would exceed the amount of carbon that can be emitted and still limit global heating to safe levels.

However, 20 large fossil fuel companies – including Shell, BP, Total and ExxonMobil – plan to spend nearly $1 trillion on new oil and gas by 2030. Meanwhile, national governments – including the US, UK, Norway, Australia and Canada – continue to approve new fossil fuel projects in violation of scientific warnings, while in the seven years since the Paris Agreement, the world’s 60 largest private banks have financed the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $5.5 trillion.

In response, more faith groups are not only divesting from fossil fuels but also lobbying banks and insurers to stop funding new fossil fuel projects, switching banks and supporting the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, as the 85-million member Anglican Communion did in February, calling for a global moratorium on new fossil fuel developments and recommending that churches back the initiative.

This global divestment announcement by faith institutions was organised by the World Council of Churches, Operation Noah, Laudato Si’ Movement, Green Anglicans, Dayenu and GreenFaith.

Religious institutions manage a combined $3 trillion of investments globally, and though there is still scope for significant improvement, faith groups have divested from fossil fuels more than any other sector. Both the Vatican and World Council of Churches have called for faith groups to take their money out of fossil fuel companies – which spend an average of just five per cent of capital investment on renewables and low-carbon energy – and invest in climate solutions, such as renewables and battery storage, instead. Some faith groups are already doing this, but much more investment is needed.

More than 1,500 institutions from all sectors, with combined assets of over $40 trillion, have made some form of fossil fuel divestment commitment, up from a starting point of $50 billion in 2014. Divestment not only removes the unwritten ‘social licence’ that fossil fuel companies rely on to operate, but also leads to real-world emissions reductions, makes financing new fossil fuel projects more expensive, and has wiped billions off the market value of fossil fuel companies.

Holly-Anna Petersen, Co-Founder of Christian Climate Action, said: “Members of Christian Climate Action have long been urging the Church to take its investments out of fossil fuels. Divesting frees the Church to speak prophetically against the suffering that fossil fuel companies are causing. I celebrate all the UK dioceses that have recently divested from fossil fuels. This is an important step for the future of our young people. I now urge churches to call out the companies and governments that are locking us into fossil fuel expansion. This can’t be allowed to continue if we want a liveable planet.”

Charles Bakolo, Provincial Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, said: “Churches from the global north should divest from fossil fuels because this will eventually lead to the sector’s demise and create a better environment for accelerating renewable energy.”

Roberta Vincini and Francesco Scoppola, Presidents of the Catholic Scouting Movement in Italy said: “Disinvestment from fossil fuels is, first of all, for us Guides and Scouts, an educational choice. We want to care for our brothers and sisters who, in the exploited territories, live in the most painful conditions of poverty. We must live out the call of Pope Francis to change our lifestyle to defend our Common Home. We are already beyond the propitious moment to act.”

Tonderai Muzhinji, President of Zimbabwe Environmental Care Network said: “It is important for churches in the global north to divest from fossil fuels because it will help amplify the voices from the deprived communities in the global south.”

Archbishop Giovanni Ricchiuti, President of Pax Christi Italy said: “The Pax Christi Movement joins the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign because it embraces the urgent message for social and environmental justice contained in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Each of us must do our part…to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. But it is also necessary to urge…policymakers to quickly develop policies that will permanently replace energy production from extractive fossil [fuel] sources that, as we know, damage the climate of our planet and exploit entire populations.”

The Very Rev David Monteith, Dean of Canterbury, said: “An essential part of our Christian vocation is to be good stewards of creation. We have discerned that part of this is to reduce our reliance on petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels and to invest in greener technologies. We have disinvested as a…witness to our commitment to work towards becoming a carbon-zero community.’

Alice Snijders, Laudato Si’ Movement Member and Divestment Campaigner, Netherlands said: “I feel profoundly connected to every living being, especially to those who have no voice or other means to defend their existence. Christ calls me to speak up for them…as well as for future generations.”

The Rev Dr Darrell Hannah, Chair of Operation Noah said: “The success of the divestment movement in the UK is a movement of the Holy Spirit working through Christians who recognise the Church’s role in safeguarding creation by pointing the world to a clean energy future. That begins by ensuring that, as faith communities, we’re not “faithwashing” the fossil fuel industry by continuing to invest our money in companies that pollute and overheat our world – companies that are already displacing communities from Mozambique to Bangladesh…and are planning to expand production at the very time we need to rapidly cut emissions. Change is coming, and people of faith are leading the way”.

* Full list of faith institutions divesting here.

* Source: Operation Noah