Campaigners have called on the Vatican Bank to ditch all its investments in the fossil fuel industry, and throw its considerable weight behind the growing divestment movement.
In a petition addressed directly to Pope Francis, who has commented often on the “sin” of environmental destruction, the global climate campaign 350.org urges the head of the church to lead.
“Your acknowledgement of the dire threat of climate change, the Vatican’s efforts to become the first carbon-neutral state, and your dedication to caring for creation give us great hope,” the petition reads.
“We urge you to use the power of your office to set an example for the world.”
Critics of fossil fuel investments note that carbon-intensive energy generation is presently the biggest contributor to climate change.
Energy companies continue to search for new fossil fuel reserves, despite warnings from analysts that 80% of known reserves must never be used if dangerous climate tipping points are to be avoided.
As concern grows over the impact these firms have on the environment, the divestment movement has surged in popularity. Supporters call on shareholders to ditch their stakes in fossil fuel companies and support renewable energy and energy efficiency projects instead.
There is also a compelling financial case for divestment, as some experts warn that policies introduced to cut carbon emissions will severely devalue the reserves held by oil and coal firms – leaving them as ‘stranded assets’.
One recent study estimated that the world’s biggest 20 oil projects are putting $91 billion (£54bn) of investors’ money at risk as a result of this.
“Pope Francis understands the threat of climate change and our moral responsibility to act,” Jamie Henn, 350.org’s director of strategy and communication added.
“We urge him to take appropriate steps to stop the Catholic church from fueling the climate crisis through its investments, and use the power of his office to call on Christians and non-Christians alike to align their investments with their values.”
Since Pope Francis was elected in 2013, he has been a vocal advocate of environmentalism. In May, he told followers, “We are custodians of creation. But when we exploit creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us. Safeguard creation, because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us”.
The Pope has also pledged to release an encyclical, one of the highest forms of Catholic teaching, on humanity’s responsibility to protect the environment, while reforming the Vatican Bank to improve transparency.
Though the Catholic church is yet to take a stance on divestment, other religious bodies have committed to ditching their fossil fuel holdings.
In June, the Catholic and Marianist University of Dayton in Ohio became the first Catholic university to divest from fossil fuels, while Quakers in Britain have also ruled that such investments are “incompatible” with Christianity.
Photo: Semilla Luz via Flickr