Building back better from the pandemic. Will more Catholic institutions divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy?

June 11, 2021

The G7 Summit of the world leaders starts today, June 11. Every year, starting from the 70s, the political leaders of the most industrially developed countries meet to discuss the geopolitical issues of the first importance. 

This June they plan to develop a strategy to “build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, more prosperous future”. 

This goal is highly ambitious in comparison to what has been already achieved in terms of a green recovery from climate and pandemic crisis. Just 18% of recovery spending globally is green”, a UN report “Are we building the back better?” found. Despite pledges to ‘build back better’, governments have propped up fossil fuels, aviation and roads. 

For the countries with emerging and developing economies, in some ways this isn’t about building back better, it’s about building. This building and a projected infrastructure devastates the lands and destroys the habitat for spices, world biodiversity and livelihoods for thousands of locals in the countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia. Companies, originated in Global North, widely explore for new sources and amounts of energy, neither clean nor renewable but conventionally dirty coal, oil and natural gas. 

According to the IEA report World Energy Investment 2021, the USD 750 billion that is expected to be spent on clean energy technologies and efficiency worldwide in 2021 remains far below what is required in climate-driven scenarios. Clean energy investment would need to double in the 2020s to maintain temperatures well below a 2°C rise and more than triple in order to keep the door open for a 1.5°C stabilisation. As emphasised in the new IEA Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050, policies need to drive a historic surge in clean energy investment this decade. The 457 investors, who hold almost a third of the world’s assets under management, signed a joint statement calling for governments to “significantly strengthen” their plans to cut carbon emissions in the next decade. This is an impressive move and the next one should be to end the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, including financial, and enable just transition for the developing countries. 

As Pope Francis stated in his message to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund earlier in April, we need a global recovery plan. A spirit of global solidarity also demands at the least a significant reduction in the debt burden of the poorest nations, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.  Relieving the burden of debt of so many countries and communities today, is a profoundly human gesture that can help people to develop, to have access to vaccines, health, education and jobs.

And the G7 meeting on June 11-13, is a promising opportunity to find policy solutions for both green recovery and green investment. GCCM has signed the CSO letter to the G7 signed by 353 organisations from 53 countries calling for climate justice, an end to fossil fuel extraction and debt cancellation. 

Worsening climate crisis, rising inequality, food and water insecurity and global poverty require governments to take immediate action towards building back better. And Global North impliedly becomes a space where solutions to end fossil fuels are a slow but unswerving reality. 

Under the climate movement pressure, Dutch court ruling requiring Shell to dramatically cut emissions by 45 % till 2030. That was a warning sent through the fossil fuel industry with the hint in a court decision that not only Shell but all fossil fuel companies need to cut their emissions in the nearest future. Activist shareholders won spots on ExxonMobile Board as demand for climate action and energy transition at a board level. Chevron investors voted by 61 percent of shares in favor of a proposal asking the oil major to cut its total greenhouse gas emissions, including customers’ emissions, a category known as Scope 3, in addition to its own operations and supply chains. The federal court of Australia has obliged the acting environment minister with a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis. The World Bank has released the Toolkits for policymakers to green the financial system on June 2. IEA commissioned another important report, World Energy Investment 2021

Every single step in ending fossil fuels this decade is extremely  important. 

Faith institutions starting from 2016, were actively divesting from fossil fuels. After “Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home: five years after Laudato Si’”, 36 faith institutions from 11 countries announce their divestment from fossil fuels for just recovery ahead of G7 and COP26 this May. The announcement came from institutions in Brazil, Argentina, India, the Philippines, Uganda, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, the UK and the United States.  The May announcement came from Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist institutions, among others. 

The group includes the Church in Wales, with more than £700 million ($975 million) of assets under management, which voted to divest from fossil fuels at its Governing Body meeting in April. It also includes the Diocese of Bristol and the Diocese of Oxford, the first Church of England dioceses to announce their divestment from fossil fuels, as well as seven Catholic dioceses from the UK and Ireland and several religious orders from around the world. The global divestment announcement, which took place as the UK prepares to host the G7 Summit in June and the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November, demonstrates the leadership of faith organisations highlighting the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean alternatives in response to the growing climate crisis.

The announcement takes place during Laudato Si’ Week, a celebration of the progress the Roman Catholic Church has made on its journey to ecological conversion following Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and ecology.

Faith communities have long been at the forefront of the global divestment movement, and have contributed the single greatest number of commitments. Out of the global total of over 1,300 divestment commitments made to date, more than 450 are from faith institutions. 

“We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits. The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now,” Pope Francis said in 2020 after calling on Catholics to divest from fossil fuels.

A full list of the 36 institutions divested from fossil fuels this May, can be found here.

You or your faith institution can divest from fossil fuels too. Join our Catholic Divestment Program and next divestment announcement in mid October 2021! Let the world know that you are not supporting the dirty fossil fuel industry and walk the talk on a pathway to a green and inclusive economy and green recovery for all.   

By Svitlana Romanko
Zero Fossil Fuels Campaign Manager
Global Catholic Climate Movement