Call to action from more than 40 Christian organisations worldwide calls on governments to prioritise "just recovery" to pandemic.
Quaker, Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist organisations across the UK and further afield have come together to press governments to pursue green recovery plans as they seek to revitalise pandemic-stricken economies.
More than 40 faith groups across 14 countries have today jointly announced their divestment from fossil fuels while calling on decision-makers to ensure that bailouts and recovery packages handed out in the wake of the pandemic do not empower polluters.
The UK-based signatories to today's multi-faith announcement comprise the Jesuits in Britain - which divested its £400m equity portfolio from fossil fuels in February - as well as two other Catholic organisations, five United Reformed Church groups, three Methodist churches, and four Quaker meetings. The groups joined Christian institutions from a number of other nations, including Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Ireland, and the US.
Today's announcement follows a report last week from Christian climate change charity Operation Noah which urged churches to divest from fossil fuels. It argued that no oil majors "can be considered as taking their responsibilities seriously" given plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to increase exploration and extraction activity over the next decade.
Reverend Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest and the executive director of climate group GreenFaith, said it was "hard to fathom" that public money might be directed towards bailing out polluting corporations.
"Extractive corporations, and the banks that finance them, are demanding government bailouts and the dismantling of environmental protections in the middle of a global pandemic and economic collapse," he said. "The idea that precious funds should bail out the world's wealthiest corporations, not the people whose lives are at stake, is hard to fathom. This injustice is wrong."
He added: "This is the time to rethink how we relate to one another and the earth. The religious groups announcing their divestment from fossil fuels today are stepping into the breach at a time when nothing is the same and everything has to change."
Tomás Insua, executive director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement said that every dollar invested in fossil fuels amounted to a "vote for suffering". He added: "These institutions are taking prophetic action to light the way towards a more just and sustainable future because now more than ever, we need to protect our communities and build a just recovery together."
Yossie Cadan, global finance campaign manager at climate advocacy group 350.org, said that today's announcement was testament to faith groups' ongoing leadership in the divestment movement.
"Once again, faith groups continue to lead the way and clearly indicate to the rest of the world that any future investments or stimulus funds must exclude fossil fuels and yield long-term structural emissions reductions," he said.
Faith groups have contributed the single greatest number of commitments to the global divestment movement, according to a tracker from Go Fossil Free, with religious organisations comprising 30 per cent of all participating institutions.
"The solutions to the economic crisis are the solutions to the climate crisis," Cadan said. "The economic downturn must be an opportunity to accelerate the transition needed towards low- and zero-carbon. And any financial intervention, including investors, needs to put people and their livelihoods front and centre."
Mark Campanale, founder and executive chair of think tank Carbon Tracker, echoed Cadan's sentiment. "A comprehensive economic recovery means taking the long view, investing now in infrastructure that will serve communities for years to come," he said. "Fossil fuels do not have a place in the long-term health of humanity. Faith institutions' commitment to create a better world is leadership that governments should follow."
The call to action comes just weeks after The Church Commissioners for England - the body that manages the assets of the Church of England's historic property assets - was revealed to be the anchor investor for a £40m round of the UK's Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund (CIIF), geared at improving electric vehicle infrastructure. Meanwhile, its sister investment fund, the Church of England Pensions Board is fronting a global effort by major investors to demand that mining companies, for the first time ever, publicly disclose information about their waste facilities.
The latest divestment pledges come as the debate continues over whether investors that are keen to accelerate the low carbon transition are best served by axing carbon intensive companies from their portfolios or engaging with polluting firms to encourage more sustainable behaviours.
Meanwhile, the calls from religious groups for governments to deliver green recovery plans adds to a chorus of similar pleas from leading business groups, academics, and politicians, all of whom are arguing that stimulus packages should be used to bolster global climate action.
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