26 October 2021, The Tablet

Bishops divest from fossil fuels in run-up to COP26

Bishops divest from fossil fuels in run-up to COP26

COP26 was high on the agenda at the recent Faiths 4 Climate Justice action at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster.
Dan Forshaw

The Catholic bishops of Scotland have announced their divestment from fossil fuels in advance of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, alongside 72 other faith organisations internationally. The combined assets of the divesting organisations, from Australia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Ukraine, the UK, the United States and Zambia, amount to more than 3.5 billion pounds. 

UK organisations taking part in the divestment include all Catholic dioceses in Scotland and four Catholic dioceses in England and Wales. Among those involved are the archdioceses of Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh, Birmingham, Southwark and the dioceses of Brentwood and Portsmouth; five Catholic religious orders including the Religious of the Assumption in England and Columban Missionaries in Britain, and St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Bishop of Galloway Bill Nolan, lead bishop on the environment for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said: “Given the harm that the production and consumption of fossil fuels is causing to the environment and to populations in low income countries, it was not right to profit from investment in these companies.”

Suggesting that the bishops’ lead should be followed by other organisations, Bishop Nolan added: “Justice demands that we must move away from fossil fuels.” 

Rev Dr Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, coordinator of ecology and creation at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, called the decision a “major reason for celebration” and presented “a clear demand for governments and investors to end the fossil fuel era”.

Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley said the decision to divest was “a response both to the cry of the earth and of the poor, taking us one step further towards its consolation”. To see “so many united in this aim”, Longley added, “gives me great hope for the future”.

Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan said he was “delighted” to join the divestment movement in “bringing attention to the urgent need for change in how we use our global resources”.

The announcement follows the recent call from Pope Francis to address the “unprecedented ecological crisis” ahead of COP26 and similar demands from faith activists, such as the Christian environmentalist group Operation Noah, who have called for an immediate end to all fossil fuel finance. 

In and outside the Church, the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially over recent years. According to a new report published today, more than 1,485 institutions with combined assets of over £32 trillion have made some form of divestment commitment, up from a starting point of £42 billion in 2014. Faith organisations, according to Operation Noah’s figures, have been at the forefront of global divestment, representing more than 35% per cent of total commitments. The International Energy Agency warned earlier this year that there can be no new coal, oil and gas developments if the world is to limit global warming to below 1.5°C.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its recent Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap that there can be no new coal, oil and gas developments if the world is to limit global warming to below 1.5°C and prevent catastrophic climate impacts. The UK Government is coming under increasing pressure over plans for the Cambo oil field off the coast of Scotland, supported by oil giant Shell, which would release emissions equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 18 coal-fired power stations.

Last month, more than 20 Southern African Anglican bishops including the Archbishop of Cape Town, the three bishops of Mozambique and the Bishop of Namibia called for an immediate halt to gas and oil exploration in Africa. They said that “a new era of economic colonialism by fossil fuel companies is well underway” and that “Africa’s natural habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate through the extraction of oil and gas”.

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “As the UK prepares to host COP26, we are delighted that 37 UK faith institutions have decided to divest from fossil fuel companies and join this record global divestment announcement. We call on the UK and global governments to end fossil fuel subsidies and bring an immediate halt to new oil and gas exploration, including the Cambo oil field.”

Lorna Gold, chair of Laudato Si’ Movement, said: “People of faith are divesting at scale from coal, oil and gas, calling on the G20 in Rome and world leaders at COP26 to finally conclude that there is no future for fossil fuel finance. Fossil fuel divestment is a key part of ensuring a just transition for all, especially communities around the world who have done least to cause the climate crisis.”

Alistair Dutton, director of SCIAF, said: “I greatly welcome the Scottish Bishops’ decision to divest from fossil fuels. The average global temperature has already risen by 1.1°C and the International Energy Agency is clear that to meet global net zero by 2050 and to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrialised levels, there can be no new coal, oil or gas fields. This announcement in the week before the COP Climate summit begins in Glasgow adds even more momentum to the groundswell of public opinion that we must urgently tackle the climate emergency. The bishops join SCIAF which made its own commitment to divest in 2018.”

Anthony McClaran, Vice-Chancellor of St Mary's University, Twickenham said: “As Pope Francis has reminded us in his powerful encyclical Laudato Si’, we all have a part to play in caring for our common home and building a greener, sustainable future. I am proud that we at St Mary's are making this commitment today.”

Archbishop of Cashel and Emly  Kieran O'Reilly, said: “We have reached a critical moment in human history. As a priest who has worked in mission lands, I have seen the great need to act fairly and with justice towards our Sisters and Brothers in other parts of our world – divestment is one way of acting fairly and correctly.”

Sr Jessica Gatty, trustee of the Religious of the Assumption, said: “The Religious of the Assumption, England are pleased to announce their divestment from fossil fuels. Those investments of theirs held by Epworth (Methodists) will also now be divested. We do not intend to invest in fossil fuels in the future. 

“We are glad to be able to join with so many others in this act of witness as a way of responding to the climate emergency. We hope that this will help to increase pressure on governments and financial institutions to end the financing of fossil fuels at this crucial time for people and planet. We are aware of the practical and moral depth of the climate crisis and wish to do what we can to care for creation, its peoples and creatures, especially the most vulnerable. Delegitimising the fossil fuel industry which continues to expand extraction and explore further sites, is an essential step to safeguarding our common home.”





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