Global faith institutions announce divestment as oil and gas companies threaten 1.5°C climate goal with reckless expansion plans

In a challenge to the fossil fuel industry’s dangerous expansion plans and increasingly empty rhetoric on climate, 35 faith institutions from seven countries today announced their divestment from fossil fuel companies.

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, Italy, the UK and the US. It comes just three weeks before Anglican bishops from around the world gather for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, UK.

Participating institutions include five Church of England dioceses (the Diocese of Birmingham, the Diocese of Durham, the Diocese of Leicester, the Diocese of Newcastle and the Diocese of Worcester); two Catholic dioceses (the Archdiocese of Armagh and the Diocese of Leeds); a Church of England cathedral (Leicester Cathedral); the Methodist Church in Ireland; two United Reformed Church Synods; 11 Catholic religious orders, including the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph in Canada, the Religious Institute of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Brazil, and the Jesuits in the United States East Province; the Catholic Theological Society of America; two Jesuit universities in the US (Marquette University and Loyola University, Chicago); and several local churches.

The global divestment announcement follows an investigation by The Guardian into the world’s largest fossil fuel firms and the scores of planned ‘carbon bomb’ oil and gas projects which would push the world past the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, with catastrophic impacts that could lead to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people.

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 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. Last week, the US Supreme Court curtailed the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce emissions, which has been described by US environmentalist Bill McKibben as a ‘destructive decision’ that ‘tries to overrule the climate’.

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, over 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

In June, the World Council of Churches called for ‘climate-responsible finance in the affairs of all members’ by ensuring ‘through our pension funds, banks and other financial service arrangements we are not complicit in financing climate-destroying fossil fuel industries’. The Vatican has also recommended that investors divest from fossil fuel companies. 

Last year’s Invest/Divest report found that faith institutions represented more than 35% 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. 

Profits from fossil fuels are funding Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, while it is estimated that the proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), planned for Uganda and Tanzania, will displace over 12,000 families. In June, Roman Catholic bishops in Africa said the pipeline must be stopped for that reason, adding that the pipeline will also make the biodiversity crisis ‘devastatingly worse’.

Revd Dr Rachel Mash, environmental coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, says the ‘oil curse’ is real – promises of fossil-fuelled prosperity for African communities that instead lead to ecological damage, violence and human rights violations. ‘Oil companies promise vast profits and prosperity, but the reality is that they leave pollution and political upheaval,’ she said. 

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

Most Revd 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 (where) 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.’

Rt Revd Stephen Diseko, Bishop of Matlosane and Dean of the Province of Southern Africa, said: ‘It is our duty and responsibility to care for the environment, as God calls us to be stewards and custodians of His creation. Faith institutions cannot afford to continue investing in non-renewable resources such as oil and gas, given the catastrophic effects we have experienced: droughts and heavy rains resulting in floods, costing many human lives.’

Most Revd Eamon Martin, the 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.’

Dr Svitlana Romanko, Stand With Ukraine Campaign Coordinator, said: ‘I want to congratulate the faith institutions that have made a critical decision to divest from fossil fuels on a massive scale. Their decision is a powerful step towards peace in Ukraine and towards phasing out fossil fuels globally while tackling the energy and climate crises. At this decisive and grim moment of modern history, they are way ahead of the world leaders who still allow billions for Russian oil and gas to flow into Putin’s war machine. It is urgent and necessary to make sure that Russian gas and oil reserves become permanently unrecoverable – stranded – and cannot fuel more wars. For that, we demand that governments speed up investments in renewable energy, stop funding fossil fuel expansion and put public money where it needs to be: in a peaceful, prosperous and clean energy future for all.’ 

David Ugolor, Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), said: ‘The most recent IPCC report found that half of the world’s population are highly vulnerable to the climate crisis. Last year, the International Energy Agency concluded that no new oil and gas fields should be approved if the world is to stay within safe climate limits. Yet, despite the urgent need to wind down fossil fuel production, fossil fuel companies plan to continue to invest billions of dollars in oil and gas. Shell, ExxonMobil and Total have been active in the Niger Delta since the 1930s, leaving local communities with little more than pollution, destruction of livelihoods and blood. It is beyond time that these companies were finally held to account. We must win – where others have tried and failed.’

Rt Revd Martin Gorick, Bishop of Dudley in the Diocese of Worcester, said: ‘We are facing a climate emergency and it’s up to all of us, as churches and as individuals, to do what we can to protect this planet for future generations. As well as how we heat our homes and churches, how we travel and live, this stewardship responsibility extends to where we invest our money.’

Rt Revd Marcus Stock, Bishop of Leeds, said: ‘We have now divested ourselves of the few remaining investments in fossil fuel companies. As we continue to strive for realistic, achievable, incremental goals, specific to the needs and context of our local ecology, we are also respectful of the worldwide environment. Care for Our Common Home is woven into our Diocesan Family life; not only do we proclaim ‘Laudato Si’!’ with our words, but also give praise to Him in all our deeds!’

Francis X. Clooney SJ, Catholic Theological Society of America President and Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, which itself divested in the fall, said: ‘Given the global environmental disaster that grows more urgent each day, it became clear to the Board of the Catholic Theological Society of America that we could no longer delay doing our duty by taking these steps toward divestment. Ours is a small contribution to a great cause, but we hope that it will also inspire CTSA members and other Catholic educators to work all the more vigorously toward divestment at all our home institutions.’

Sister Susan Francois CSJP, Assistant Congregation Leader and Treasurer of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, said: ‘Pope Francis has called the global Church to a conversion of heart, as we listen to the cries of the Earth and the cries of people living on the margins. We believe that care of creation is an essential element of peacemaking. The time is now to act. We have a fiduciary responsibility to the Earth. Today we see the ethical use of our financial resources through the lens of our vow of poverty. We decided it was morally imperative to divest fully from fossil fuels rather than profit from activities which hasten the climate crisis.’

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.’

Erin Lothes, Associate Professor of Theology at St Elizabeth University and Senior Program Manager for Laudato Si’ Movement, said: ‘After years of moral, ethical, fiscal and practical analysis, and heeding the serious warnings from scientists about the climate crisis which is already affecting people and ecosystems, the Catholic Theological Society of America has committed to divesting from the fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. The Society will instead ensure its investments contribute to a positive and essential energy transition. In so doing, we embrace the financial and technological solutions that exist to address the climate crisis. This action is in line with Vatican teachings and decades of Catholic magisterial teaching from Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI about care for creation and economic responsibility.’

Revd abby mohaupt, Director of Education and Training for GreenFaith, said: ‘It’s time for all people and institutions of faith and goodwill to rise up. Together people of faith demand that asset managers and institutions divest from the fossil fuel industry, commit to and enact real decarbonization and respect of indigenous and human rights, invest rapidly in just climate solutions and a just transition, and use  fossil fuel free investments by default. These are faithful standards that asset managers – and all faith institutions – need to be held to, so that a world that is compassionate, loving, and just for all is possible.’

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.’

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