To mark the anniversary of the death of Saint Francis of Assisi, over 40 Catholic institutions have announced their imminent divestment from fossil fuels, the largest move of its kind by a faith-based organization. The announcement’s timing with Saint Francis’s feast day, October 4, seems fitting for a Catholic Church guided by Pope Francis. He has elevated environmentalism as a key tenet of his papal tenure and chose his title to honor Saint Francis, who is known for his love of the natural world and the poor. Although the specific amount of divestment has not been yet released, the number of participating Catholic organizations is over four times the previous record.
In recent years, divestment from fossil fuels has gained in strength as a tool to combat climate change by denying financial support, through investments, to companies and organizations in the fossil fuel industry. The global fossil fuel divestment movement is estimated to be worth $5.5 trillion. “I hope we will see more leaders like these 40 Catholic institutions commit,” said Christiana Figueres, former United Nations climate chief who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, “because while this decision makes smart financial sense, acting collectively to deliver a better future for everybody is also our moral imperative.”
The Catholic institutions that are participating in the latest divestment include the Archdiocese of Cape Town, the Episcopal Conference of Belgium and the German Church bank and Catholic relief organisation Caritas. The Italian town of Assisi, Saint Francis’s hometown, also divested from fossil fuels on the day prior to a visit from Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentolini. “When we pay attention to the environment, we pay attention to poor people, who are the first victims of climate change,” said Assisi Mayor Stefania Proietti. “When we invest in fossil fuels, we stray very far from social justice. But when we disinvest and invest in renewable and energy efficiency instead, we can mitigate climate change, create a sustainable new economic deal and, most importantly, help the poor.”
Via the Guardian