A zero carbon future for the Catholic Church?

Lorna Gold discusses divestment from fossil fuel at lunch
Lorna Gold with conference delegates

The Jesuits at Mount Street today hosted an important conference exploring how orders and institutions within the Catholic Church can promote clean energy for a zero-carbon future.

Key speaker Lorna Gold, Coordinator of the Laudato Si' Project at Trocaire and Vice Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, commented “the key message of today is the urgency of the crisis and the important role the Church and the orders can play through the use of their resources, and deciding when to remove their investments from fossil fuels and divert to renewables.”

The earliest adopters of this kind of action among the Christian community were the Quakers who fully divested from fossil fuels in 2013.  Much of the Anglican Church followed suit in 2016. In Ireland the Catholic Bishops’ Conference divested its fossil fuel investments in August 2018.  Sixty orders in Ireland and all 26 Irish dioceses are now on a path to follow suit, which represents hundreds of millions of Euro of combined investment.  So far the Catholic Church in England Wales has not taken any action, but with today’s conference this is set to change with a potentially significant impact: Catholic orders’ combined UK investments are estimated at over £2 billion.

“Today’s event is critical for getting this message across to the Catholic world in the UK,” said Lorna Gold.  “People have two concerns, that they will lose money and that they might be able to achieve more as “active shareholders”, trying to minimise the damage of fossil fuels through influence.  I’d say we have had 30 years to do that and it hasn’t made a difference.  A more radical approach is needed.  Now is the time to divest because carbon free solutions are now viable - with the rise of effective solar and wind power technologies. As the experience of the Irish Catholic Church has shown, their major fund is carbon negative with no detriment to their income.”

Stephen Power and James BuchananConference organiser James Buchanan of Operation Noah, a Christian charity working with the Church to inspire action on climate change, said, “it is great to see so many religious here with 65 people representing 20 orders who seem keen to respond to Pope Francis’ call to take action on climate change.  It is positive to see orders considering rethinking their investment in fossil fuel and divestment as a way of accelerating transition to a carbon free future.” 

The conference was welcomed to Mount Street by the Jesuit Provincial Fr Damian Howard SJ and attended by Delegate for Ministry to Young People, Fr James Conway SJ, the province Treasurer Br Stephen Power SJ and Paul Chitnis, Director of Jesuit Missions. Fr Michael Holman SJ chaired a discussion panel.  People brought food to share at lunch time, in order to build a sense of community endeavour, and the event finished with a shared Eucharist celebrated by Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, parish priest at Farm St Church.

Stephen Power said  “While the conference’s main topic was fossil fuel divestment, it included an interesting presentation of topics around how to support  a just transition from where we are now to a low carbon future. Under the Jesuits’ current ethical investment policy we do not invest in any company with more than 10% involvement in thermal coal or oil from tar sand. Our ethical investment committee regularly reviews this position and I would expect movement towards divestment unless progress towards sustainable business models are adopted by fossil fuel companies in the near future.”