Marine Catholic institutions divest

May 6, 2019

While a United Nations group that coordinates sustainability for the shipping industry prepares to meet yet again, Catholic institutions connected to the world’s oceans are divesting from fossil fuels.

These include institutions in Panama, the world’s largest shipping registry, the Philippines, home to the largest group of seafarers, Greece, the world’s largest shipowning nation, and port cities across Europe.

Panama City Cathedral

The announcements were made at a Vatican-convened conference, The Common Good and Our Common Seas, which explored Catholic teaching on protection of the marine environment. The Catholic conference coincides with a highly anticipated meeting of the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, the UN agency charged with coordinating security and environmental protection for the world’s shipping industry.

Catholics are leading the conversation on divestment from fossil fuels. To date, 130+ Catholic institutions have stepped away from dirty energy.

The Catholic institutions making today’s announcement of divestment from fossil fuels include the following:

  • The Archdiocese of Panama, home of the world’s largest shipping registry, where divestment signals crucial leadership from the church that represents an estimated 70-80% of the population. Over 40% of the entire annual cargo of the shipping industry consists of fossil fuels, and Panama is the flag state for a quarter of the world’s “dry bulk” ships–the carriers of the global coal trade. Despite the Panama Canal facing increasing financial costs from climate change, Panama’s delegation to IMO resisted CO2 targets for shipping, and tried to block reforms aimed at bringing more transparency to the organisation.
  • Caritas Philippines, the Church’s development and advocacy arm in the Philippines, where divestment from fossil fuels will help protect the millions of Filipinos who are vulnerable to sea level rise. Filipinos account for approximately 25% of the world’s 1.5 million seafarers. Out-at-sea ships run on the dirtiest of all oil products, heavy fuel oil, which contains up to 3,500 times the sulphur content of road diesel. While the health impact of its fumes on cruise ship passengers is gaining some attention, little concern has been shown for the health of seafarers who are exposed for much longer periods, especially if they are denied shore leave. Low and zero emission technologies exist, but need to be scaled up by the industry.
  • The Dioceses of Naples, Civitavecchia-Tarquina, Savona, and Siracusa, Italy, important ports for both shipping and transportation, where divestment will help protect residents who are vulnerable to excess mortality due to air pollution. Cruise ships arrive daily in Naples and Savona. Civitavecchia is the main entry point for cruise tourists to Rome, and living near its harbor has been associated with higher rates of lung cancer and neurological disease. Siracusa is an important port for oil shipments from a nearby Exxon-Mobil refinery.
  • The Catholic Church in Greece and the Archdiocese of Malta, key entry points for migrants from Africa, where divestment will help protect those who make a dangerous journey from more intense storms. Greece is the largest shipowning nation in the world. The government, and many Greek shipping companies, now support speed limits at sea to curb fossil fuel consumption.

More information is available in the Global Catholic Climate Movement press release.