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Disinvest from fossil fuel, Vatican recommends

26 June 2020


Pope Francis prays at the Vatican with members of indigenous populations, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, last October

Pope Francis prays at the Vatican with members of indigenous populations, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, last October

THE Vatican has published a document aimed at Roman Catholics and other Christians on how to relate to God’s creation. It marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical Laudato Si’: On care for our common home (News, 26 June 2015).

The document, Journeying for the Care of the Common Home, urges Christians to disinvest from fossil-fuel companies, build a circular zero-waste economy; and advocate forms of low-carbon development, such as reforestation.

Released on Thursday of last week, the document was compiled before the pandemic by several Vatican dicasteries that have been working on “integral ecology” in association with other RC bodies since 2015.

An English-language version has not yet been published, but Vatican News summarises the central argument that “everything is connected”. “Each particular crisis forms part of a single, complex socio-environmental crisis that requires a true ecological conversion.”

The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, told a press conference that this idea of integrating environmental activism into broader social concern had become more important in the midst of the coronavirus.

“The Covid-19 pandemic leads us to further experience the socioeconomic, ecological, and ethical crisis that we are living as the right moment to stimulate conversation and make concrete and urgent decisions,” he said.

“Caring for our common home” is an “integral part of Christian life”, the report argues. It may include minimising food waste, opposing polluting developments by the agricultural industry, or working to enshrine access to water as an “essential human right”.

The wide-ranging 225-page document — longer than Laudato Si’ — also makes connections between pro-life policies, combating “fake news”, and eradicating modern slavery and the environment.

The worlds of finance, the media, universities, politics, and others are called on to play their part, as are individuals, parishes, and Churches. A recurring theme is the impact of ecological collapse on the poor: the report calls for a “new model of development” which connects the battle against climate change with the fight against poverty.

Among some specific recommendations, Journeying for the Care of the Common Home proposes reforestation of the Amazon rainforest; an international process to define a new category of “climate refugee”; a rethinking of prison systems to prioritise rehabilitation; the closure of tax havens; and taxation of carbon emissions.

It is the first time that a Vatican document has recommended disinvestent from fossil-fuel companies, and has been released one month after 42 Roman Catholic institutions, including the Jesuits in Britain and the diocese of Arundel & Brighton, announced that they had sold their entire fossil-fuel holdings.

The report closes with a summary of steps taken by the Vatican City, the world’s smallest sovereign state, to cut its own emissions and become more sustainable. These include creating closed circuits for water in fountains, using solar panels to reduce energy consumption, and installing more efficient lighting in the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Square, and the Vatican Basilica.

Operation Noah, a Christian environmental campaigning group, hailed the report as ground-breaking and urged all RC dioceses and groups to implement its recommendations urgently. The group led the Epiphany Declaration for Fossil Free Churches, which encouraged Churches to combat climate change by disinvesting at Epiphany (News, 10 January).

The Executive Director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Tomás Insua, said that the report was a milestone in the RC Church’s journey to live up to Laudato Si’. “The guidelines’ level of detail is remarkable and prophetic, ranging from fossil-fuel divestment to pastoral activities such as the Season of Creation to be celebrated in parishes and local communities,” he said.

Many of the Vatican’s concerns are echoed in a new United Nations report, The World of Work and Covid-19, published last Friday.

Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost through the pandemic; informal workers, refugees, the disabled, and women have been worst affected, the report notes. Simply trying to get back to the pre-coronavirus age was not an option, the UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, said in a briefing.

“The world of work cannot and should not look the same after this crisis. It is time for a coordinated global, regional, and national effort to create decent work for all as the foundation of a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery.”

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