Sunday 25th September 2016                 Change text size:

Pope Francis urged to support fossil fuel divestment campaign



Photo: Gabriel Andrés Trujillo Escobedo via flickr

Religious groups have called on Pope Francis to give his support to the fossil fuel divestment campaign, which calls on investors to ditch their holdings in oil and gas companies because of the impact of their emissions on the climate.

In a letter to the leader of the Catholic church published in the Guardian, multi-faith groups from Australia and North America say humanity has “clearly failed in the divine instruction to be ‘caretakers of God’s world’”. 

The fossil fuel divestment movement has called on investors to divest their shares in companies that extract or burn fossil fuels. Supporters of the campaign say this is necessary partly because of their massive environmental impact. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new report on the mitigation of climate change said that carbon-intensive energy production was the biggest contributor to current warming trends.

The report called for a trillion-dollar shift in investment away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, warning that without mitigation temperatures could rise by as much as 3.7C to 4.8C from pre-industrial times by 2100.

It is because of this that the religious groups – including the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change and GreenFaith – have urged the pope to use his influence to spread the divestment message.

“We urge you, as a person held in high esteem by many millions around the world, to speak clearly about the place of divestment from fossil fuels as one significant means to avert the worst of climate disruption”, the letter says.

It continues, “The compelling conclusion is that it is immoral to continue burning fossil fuels at an ever increasing rate. If this is immoral, then it must also be immoral to profit from making this possible.”

“We request that you advocate that religious and civil organisations undertake to remove their investments from fossil fuels, as well as banks and funds who fund and profit from the industry.”

This, the authors suggest, would help stigmatise the fossil fuel industry – a point that was suggested by the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment in a study last year. 

The letter notes, “It has been commented that the divestment movement has already begun to do this.”

Many institutions, including international universities and churches, have recently considered the case for avoiding exposure to fossil fuel stocks.  

Chief among their concerns, however, is not just the moral case but the financial case. 

Divestment campaigners warn that big investments in fossil fuels risk creating a “carbon bubble as carbon reduction targets and regulations become more common around the world. 

There is a danger for investors that fossil fuel companies vast underground reserves will become devalued ‘stranded assets’, as according to research, the majority of reserves will have to stay in the ground to prevent runaway global warming. 

The letter references this, but adds, We think it’s wrong to represent divestment as an approach that does not involve sacrifice and risk.

“Indeed, it is the fact that divestment may require some sacrifice that gives it moral significance, though the real risk is to continue as usual.

It concludes, “To move investments away from fossil fuels is a matter of integrity. 

Last week, in an article also written for the Guardian, eminent bishop and Nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu urged businesses to cut ties with the fossil fuels industry, in a boycott similar to that forced upon South African companies during apartheid.

During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, using boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure”, he said. 

We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.

Photo: Gabriel Andrés Trujillo Escobedo via flickr

Further reading:

IPCC report proves fossil fuel investors are ‘wrecking our future’

Desmond Tutu: divest from fossil fuels firms in ‘apartheid-style’ boycott

Netherlands to end funding for overseas coal plants in boost for fossil fuel divestment campaign

Fossil fuel industry can be ‘part of solution’ to climate change, says UN climate chief

Investors warn of ‘carbon bubble’ as Shell predicts climate regulation will hit profits


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