Catholic Institutions Break New Ground in Fossil Fuel Divestment

10/04/2017 08:35 am ET

Just five months ago, I was overcome with gratitude by seeing nine Catholic institutions divest from fossil fuels. This week, I am overcome anew: an incredible 40 Catholic institutions have just announced their divestment.

During these last five months, while world leaders have hesitated and even moved backwards, Catholics have taken concrete steps to address the climate crisis.

The moral clarity shown by these 40 faith leaders is cause for celebration. Because of their courage, the energy industry is one step closer to its transition to renewable sources. Beyond that, these leaders’ willingness to take robust action should inspire others to act.

Protecting Creation from the Home of St. Francis

A highlight of the divesting coalition is the group of major institutions in Assisi, the home of St. Francis.

For the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, St. Francis is more than a garden statue. For us, he represents something transformative, the embodiment of gratitude for creation. This is the man from whom Pope Francis took his name, and, as the Pope has said, St. Francis showed us that being a protector “means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

That is why it is so important that major institutions in Assisi committed to divestment this week. This includes the Sacro Convento, the monastery and holy site that houses St. Francis’s bones. It includes the diocese of Assisi. It even includes the town of Assisi itself.

Divestment from fossil fuels is a crucial step by non-state actors to limit the worst effects of climate change: more extreme weather, more conflict, more diseases like malaria and asthma. None of us wants that. Catholics are doing their best to make a fossil-free future reality.

United Christian Action

This divestment announcement was made during the Season of Creation, when Christians around the globe share prayer and action to protect the environment.

Worldwide, countless Christians have participated in events to celebrate care for the Earth, our common home. In Argentina, the Laudato Si Pledge was promoted in a pilgrimage of 1.5 million Catholics. In the Philippines, 5,000 people attended a mass and walk to protect creation. Over 400 events like this have lit up the season.

These acts of love and care for the Earth are important. They run counter to the misperception that people of faith do not acknowledge the science on climate change. To the contrary, we value climate science. It provides the information we need to care for our vulnerable sisters and brothers and to protect the good gift of creation.

Leadership to Follow

About 1 out of every 7 people on Earth is Catholic, and they see real leadership on climate change from the Church. We hope that secular institutions will follow.

The World Bank, which will soon hold its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., is one example of an institution that is ripe for divestment. The World Bank has supported many renewable energy installations in the developing world. It recognizes that clean energy is safe, affordable, and essential to a life of dignity for people everywhere.

Unfortunately, the World Bank’s investing hasn’t yet aligned with its mission. We encourage the World Bank to heed the advice of military leaders who say that climate change will make the world less secure, of economists who say that fossil fuels hurt the economy and global wellbeing, and, of course, of faith leaders who say that renewable energy is a moral good.

As part of the Big Shift campaign, ever more citizens are writing to the World Bank using this form to encourage it to demand that it phase out all investment in fossil fuels by 2020 and urgently increase its focus on affordable, reliable, sustainable, renewable energy and energy access. The Bank should also demonstrate how it is meeting these commitments by disclosing its emissions footprint and providing greater transparency on the impact of its direct and indirect investments in energy.

Next Steps

We must bend the arc of greenhouse gas emissions downward by 2020. Divestment will be an important part of that movement.

As the faith community celebrates another milestone in the journey toward care for our common home, I am encouraged by the momentum in divestment. To date, funds valued at approximately $5 trillion have divested. That number will only grow.

Fossil fuels have driven some of the world’s great leaps in innovation. We have achieved great advances in transportation, healthcare, and information because of the technology revolution that was initially fueled by fossil fuels.

But those achievements have come at a cost. We now understand that fossil fuels are hurting more than they help: 97% of scientists agree that climate change is driven by human activity and fossil fuels. These dirty fuels need to be replaced without delay. We owe it to our children--and to the vulnerable people around the world who already suffer from climate change.

The 40 Catholic groups who have committed to a fossil-free future are part of the solution. We look forward to continued progress in the movement to protect creation.

Tomás Insua is executive director of Global Catholic Climate Movement

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