Westminster Justice & Peace among those attending first Ethical Investment Webinar

Report from Independent Catholic News

Operation Noah and partner organisations hosted the first part of a webinar series on Catholic investment for an integral ecology on Tuesday, 22 September. The series is sponsored by Operation Noah, CAFOD, Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative, the Conference of Religious, Association of Provincial Bursars, Trocaire, National Justice & Peace Network and Justice & Peace Scotland.

The first webinar, entitled Fossil fuel divestment: Accelerating the clean energy transition, brought together Catholic organisations to learn more and share experiences of divesting from the fossil fuel industry and supporting a just recovery from Covid-19. Speakers included Fr Augusto Zampini, Dr Lorna Gold, Stephen Power SJ and Sr Susan Francois CSJP.

More than 200 participants from around the world attended, including provincials, bursars and other members of Catholic religious orders, diocesan financial trustees and lay people.

The second webinar in the series, on Wednesday 21 October, will focus on impact investing, exploring how Catholic organisations can make investments with positive environmental and social impacts.

Earlier this week, the Vatican’s first-ever set of comprehensive environmental guidelines, including an endorsement of fossil fuel divestment, were made available in English. The Vatican guidelines on Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home: Five Years After Laudato Sì, include the following recommendation (on p.177-178): ‘Promote ethical, responsible, and integral criteria for invesment decision making, taking care not to support companies that harm human or social ecology (for example, through abortion or the arms trade), or environmental ecology (for example, through the use of fossil fuels)’.

More than 190 Catholic organisations around the world have now made commitments to divest from fossil fuels. In May 2020, 42 institutions (including 21 from the UK) announced their decision to divest from fossil fuels. The group included Jesuits in Britain, Sisters of St Joseph of Peace (UK) and the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, which became the third Catholic diocese in England and Wales to divest.

Fr Augusto Zampini, Co-Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, provided the theological underpinnings for the Vatican’s recommendation decision to divest, framing the issue in the context of a just recovery from Covid-19. He said: “We need to divest from what is damaging and invest in what is not damaging, in what makes a positive social and environmental impact.’ He linked fossil fuel divestment to making resources available to finance renewable and circular sources of energy.”

Dr Lorna Gold, Vice Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, shared how the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference divested from fossil fuels in 2018. She reminded participants that at this time of the global response to Covid-19, there is also a “waking up to the beauty of life which is the essence of an integral ecology, and translating it into hope filled action is what moving our capital or investment is all about.”

Stephen Power SJ, former Treasurer of Jesuits in Britain who manages the Jesuits’ ethical investment strategy, shared the practical steps taken by Jesuits in Britain in divesting from fossil fuels in February 2020. He highlighted the financial risk of investing in fossil fuels, as investors risk being left with “stranded assets”. He added: ‘It is important not to forget the prophetic [statement]… We need to keep bolstering ourselves with what Laudato Si’ helps us to remember… Pope Francis notes the climate being a common good belonging to all.”

Sr Susan Francois CSJP, Assistant Congregation Leader and Congregation Treasurer of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, shared how the UK region’s decision to divest was informed by the congregation’s charism. She said: “We are called to a conversion of heart and a change in behaviour. So our decision making must put sustainability of ecosystems before profit.’ She shared how this approach had also resulted in better financial performance.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah shared key findings of the report Church investments in major oil companies: Paris compliant or Paris defiant? He highlighted that major oil companies are continuing to explore for new reserves of fossil fuels, despite the vast majority of known reserves needing to remain in the ground, as Pope Francis highlighted to oil company CEOs in 2018.

Operation Noah and the Global Catholic Climate Movement invited Catholic religious orders and dioceses to join the next global divestment announcement for faith organisations in November 2020.

The webinar is available to watch again and can be viewed here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoSWjJQMnjU

Webinar Part 2: Investment for a green recovery: Innovation in impact investing takes place on Wednesday 21 October.

Register to join here: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/part-2-investment-for-a-green-recovery-innovation-in-impact-investing-registration-118552167725