Written by: Kimberly White 

Faith institutions from around the globe are taking a stance against fossil fuels.

Thirty-five faith institutions from seven countries have announced a multimillion-dollar divestment from fossil fuel companies in a joint statement from the World Council of Churches, Operation Noah, Laudato Si’ Movement, Green Anglicans, and GreenFaith. The group has more than $1.2 billion in combined assets under management.  

“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,” stated James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Director at Operation Noah.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the Earth,” stated Sister Susan Francois CSJP, Assistant Congregation Leader and Treasurer of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace. “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.”

The faith institutions are calling for an end to new oil and gas production, citing consistent warnings from scientists and recent reports from the United Nations and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The coalition lambasted fossil fuel companies and governments for moving forward with expansion plans for new fossil fuel developments in direct contradiction to promises made at COP26 less than one year ago. 

Despite growing global calls to cease plans for new fossil fuel projects, 20 fossil fuel companies are projected to spend a staggering $932 billion within the next eight years on new oil and gas fields. 

“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,” added Buchanan.

An investigation by The Guardian revealed that the largest 12 oil companies are projected to spend $103 million every day for the rest of this decade exploiting new oil and gas fields. Fossil fuel companies are planning a significant expansion of oil and gas projects in the next seven years. This expansion will ultimately result in 192 billion barrels, comparable to a decade of today’s emissions from China, according to the investigation. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned of the danger of feeding our global fossil fuel addiction, noting that fossil fuel producers as well as financiers have “humanity by the throat” and regularly undermine ambitious climate policies. 

The continuous expansion of fossil fuel projects is reckless and threatens the 1.5°C Paris climate goal, says the coalition of faith institutions. 

“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,” said David Ugolor, Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ). “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.”

By committing to divest from the fossil fuel industry, the group of 35 faith institutions joins a growing movement of more than 1,500 organizations controlling roughly $40.5 trillion worth of assets globally.

In 2020, a coalition of faith groups representing a myriad of faiths, including Catholic, Quaker, Buddhist, Baptist, and Anglican, committed to divesting from fossil fuels. In total, this group had more than £1.1 billion in assets under management.

Faith institutions are among those leading the divestment movement, comprising more than 34 percent of fossil fuel divestments. 

The Vatican has called for global fossil fuel divestment from all Catholic investors. 

“This is how prophetic institutions can live out our values and help the most vulnerable among us,” said Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, Coordinator of the Ecology Sector in the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development. “ If we want to achieve peace, and ensure a livable planet for all, including the future generations, we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels that fuel the current climate crisis.”

Header Image Credit: Zbynek Burival/Unsplash