Preserving the Planet

Vatican Revitalizes the Push for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Just as 2015’s Laudato Si’ served as a clarion call to Catholics around the world to take greater care for all creation, a new Vatican document published this June outlines specific measures for Christians to achieve “personal, social, and environmental balance.”

Journeying towards Care for Our Common Home: Five Years after Laudato Si’ is a wide-ranging treatise on mankind’s place in today’s world, and it devotes significant space to steps toward environmental well-being, from fossil fuel divestment to reforestation and aggressive monitoring of natural resource companies. In the process, it offers a road map for Catholic values investors to better preserve the planet.

Pope Francis and Environmental Advocacy

The June publication builds upon the Vatican’s history of environmental advocacy. In Laudato Si’, the first papal letter released on June 18, 2015, Pope Francis stressed an “ecological conversion” that would drive changes in the way humans care for each other, nature, and their spiritual life. The encyclical reinforced the Pope’s steadfast opposition to the “throwaway culture” that he has characterized as “fatally destined to suffocate hope and increase risks and threats.”

Journeying towards Care for Our Common Home turns to energy’s impact on the earth, calling for increased accessibility to renewable power, heightened sustainability, and diminished use of fossil fuels. More specifically, it pushes for the reform of industry subsidies and taxation of carbon dioxide emissions, as well as for fossil fuel divestment.

Such initiatives help support the goal of slowing climate change, which the document argues has “a profound environmental, ethical, economic, political, and social ‘relevance'” and “impacts the poor above all.”

A new Vatican document turns to energy’s impact on the earth, calling for increased accessibility to renewable power, heightened sustainability, and diminished use of fossil fuels.

Catholic Climate Action

Catholic investors have become known as leaders in fossil fuel divestment. One year after Pope Francis elevated the urgency of climate change globally with the publication of Laudato Si’, four Australian Catholic orders were the first to announce that they were fully divesting from coal, oil, and gas.

The movement gained momentum from there, aided by grassroots support from the Global Catholic Climate Movement. In October 2017, 40 Catholic institutions and related organizations committed to fossil fuel–free portfolios, which pushed the collective value of those divesting past $5 trillion. Increasingly, divestment pledges have spurred collaboration between historically disparate faiths, as evidenced by the 42 varied institutions across 14 countries that committed to fossil fuel–free investments this May.

In line with other climate change–related priorities described in the Pope’s latest missive, some Catholic groups have sought positive investments in green energy. For example, Catholic Energies has supported organizations in developing solar projects in Virginia and Washington, DC. The Franciscan Sisters of Mary (FSM) have taken capital from fossil fuel holdings and reinvested it in an East African solar energy provider, among other environmentally sustainable initiatives. “[W]e have transferred our investments that were damaging the environment to ones that provide a positive environmental and social outcome,” FSM writes.

By marking the five-year anniversary of Laudato Si’ with the publication of Journeying towards Care for Our Common Home, the Vatican reenergizes its long-term commitment to combating climate change while strengthening the call for divestment going forward.

Want to learn more about faith-based environmental investing? Read:

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