First Catholic dioceses in England divest from fossil fuels

January 6, 2020

Participants at a conference for religious on divestment at London Jesuit Centre in February 2019. Photo Credit: Bernadette Kehoe / Conference of Religious

The Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster have today announced their commitment to divest from fossil fuels, becoming the first Catholic dioceses in England and Wales to divest. Their divestment announcement is made together with two Catholic orders – the English Provinces of the Congregation of Jesus and the Presentation Sisters – alongside sixteen other local churches and Christian institutions in the UK.

They join more than 160 other Catholic institutions that have already committed to divest from fossil fuels. Faith institutions constitute the greatest number of entities contributing to the fossil fuel divestment movement – which now stands at a total of over $12 trillion in the value of divesting institutions.

This announcement is made on the feast of the Epiphany, and at the start of 2020 – a key year for climate action globally, and particularly crucial for climate action in the UK with the COP26 conference coming to Glasgow in November 2020.

In September 2018, UN Secretary General António Guterres said: ‘Climate change is the defining issue of our time – and we are at a defining moment. We face a direct existential threat… If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.’

In the pontifical message to the governments meeting in Madrid at COP25 last month, Pope Francis called the climate emergency a ‘challenge to civilisation’ needing ‘a clear, far-sighted and strong political will, set on pursuing a new course that aims at refocusing financial and economic investments toward those areas that truly safeguard the conditions of a life worthy of humanity on a healthy planet for today and tomorrow.’ For these Catholic institutions the response to the papal call, especially in the light of Laudato Si’ in 2015, has been the commitment to divest from fossil fuels.

Announcing the decision to divest, Bishop Terry Drainey, the Bishop of Middlesbrough, said: ‘With growing awareness of people’s concerns for the care of our common home, supported by the Trustees and Council of Priests of the Diocese, and after thorough scrutiny of diocesan investments and with support from Operation Noah, the Diocese of Middlesbrough has decided that now is the time to divest from fossil fuels. The evidence and the urgency of the climate crisis are all around us. However, as Pope Francis points out very clearly in his Encyclical Letter on The Care of Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, nothing will succeed if we do not begin with personal conversion, a change in lifestyle, a change of mindset.’

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager for Operation Noah, said: ‘We are delighted that the Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Lancaster have decided to divest from fossil fuels, as well as two more Catholic religious orders. We hope many other Catholic institutions will join them in taking this prophetic step out of love for God’s creation and those most affected by the climate crisis – especially those living in the world’s poorest communities.’

Catholic institutions around the world are invited to join a global divestment announcement for faith institutions coordinated by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Green Anglicans, GreenFaith and Operation Noah. The announcement will coincide with the Economy of Francesco conference taking place in Assisi from 26-28 March 2020.