‘Care for creation’: Fossil fuel divestment promised by dozens of major faith institutions

Convened by the Bright Now campaign, which supports Churches to divest from fossil fuels, and Christian charity Operation Noah, the organisations to have made the commitment span 11 countries: Brazil, Argentina, India, the Philippines, Uganda, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, the UK and the US.

Of the 36 institutions making the commitment, 17 are UK-based. They are the Church in Wales; the Baptist Union of Great Britain; the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches; The Dioceses of Oxford, Bristol aand Hallam; the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux; the UK arm of the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy; the Eastern Synod; the South Worcestershire Circuit; the Gloucestershire Circuit; All Hallows Church, Whitchurch; St James the Less Church, Litchfield; St Mary’s Church, Tufton; Bath Road Methodist Church, Swindon; St James Church, Woolton and the Cardiff Unitarians.

Each individual organisation is expected to outline timeframes for divestment, and the types of financing which will be excluded, separately in the coming weeks and months. The Church in Wales has already stated that the divestment process will be completed by the end of 2021, after its governing body agreed to set a 2030 net-zero target at a meeting last month.

“Whilst these decisions are a major step forward for us, we recognise that there is still much to be done and we hope that the actions of the churches will encourage governments and industry to work towards alternatives which will help to arrest and overcome the disastrous global warming which is affecting us all,” Rt Revd Dr Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St Davids in the Church in Wales, said.

“Care for creation is a core mark of mission for the Church, and this is an important step towards realising our net-zero carbon aims,” Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol in the Church of England added.

The Church of England’s net-zero target is 2030. Since setting the goal in 2020, moving the deadline forward from 2045, the body joined the UN’s Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance and the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change’s (IIGCC). IIGCC members including the Church are currently piloting a framework designed to help investors align financing with net-zero.  

Divestment movement

According to the Go Fossil Free divestment tracker, more than 1,300 organisations have made public fossil fuel divestment commitments to date, with faith organisations accounting for more than one-third of commitments by numbers.

Collectively, the pledges from institutions will see $14.56trn of financing removed from the sector.

The tracker also states that the divestment actions of some 58,000 individual investors will move a further $5.2bn.

The drivers of this trend are numerous, including increased pressure from the general public; updated climate science; changing national climate policies and the decreasing economic success of sectors such as oil.

However, support for divestment is far from unanimous. For example, a shareholder resolution that would require the bank to align energy financing with the Paris Agreement failed to pass at Barclays earlier this month, securing just 14% of the shareholder vote. Similar resolutions are due for votes at Shell and HSBC this summer.

Sarah George

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