MORE than 226 faith leaders from 43 countries, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, have joined leading investors to urge public-sector pension funds and sovereign wealth funds to divest from fossil fuels.
At the UN climate summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, the case was made that it was no longer viable for organisations that claim to have an ethical vision to profit from fossil-fuel companies that cause climate change. The executive director of the US interfaith coalition Green Faith, the Revd Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest, asked: “Is it morally acceptable to profit from companies whose core business destroys life on such a titanic scale?”
The statement, which also calls for more commitments from “within our own faith communities” to divest, was signed by the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury and chairman of Christian Aid, Dr Rowan Williams.
In May last year, the Church Commissioners were praised for their decision to divest from tar sands oil and thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuels in the world. But Bill McKibben, the Methodist leader of the campaign group 350.org, has called for them to go further. He said: “Institutional Churches tend to act slowly, which is a problem when you have a crisis happening quickly. The Church has a crucial role to play. We need prophetic action, and in some churches we’re getting it. We’re also getting it from individuals. Desmond Tutu is a great example.”
In September, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, a province that is already suffering the effects of climate change, voted to divest from fossil fuels.
As well as praising Archbishop Tutu, Mr McKibben said that, had investors heeded his call, then they would also be millions of pounds better off, as volatile fossil-fuel stocks had fallen in value over the past 12 months, while renewable investment has soared around the world.
It is this financial case for divestment which is now building the momentum, the philanthropic investor Mark Sainsbury said in Marrakesh. “We need to move away from gas and oil,” he said. “The business prospects of the oil and gas industry rely on reserves which need to stay in the ground. These are the economic forces that will consign [the use of] fossil fuels to the history books. The finance world would love not to think about this, but the divestment movement has meant they cannot ignore it any longer, and must provide us with the fossil-free funds we demand.”
Last week, the UK’s largest asset manager, Legal & General, launched the World Future Fund, which will invest in a new FTSE climate index of 3000 stocks tilted towards companies that contribute to a low-carbon future.
This follows a new campaign, Big Shift, launched by Christian Aid, to encourage people to write to their banks demanding that they put plans in place to shift investments of customers’ money from fossil-fuel companies to clean energy.
Speaking at the divestment event in Marrakesh, James Bevan, chief investment officer at CCLA, which manages the Church of England’s investments, said the case for action was obvious: “It is essential that companies understand they will not get capital to ruin the planet. It’s clear that the ethics of today become the norms and accepted practices of the future. One cannot overstate the importance of this time.”