EcoBeat Staff – Pope Francis recently caused waves around the globe with the release of Laudato Si, his 200-page encyclical on climate change. In it, the Pope states that climate change is primarily caused by humans and that it is a sin to destroy the natural world for our benefit, at the expense of God and future generations. He goes on to list a number of actions Christians, and the world should take (which you can find summed up here) but the Pope’s comments on replacing fossil fuels without delay struck some nerves. As 350.org points out, the Vatican has an $8 billion investment portfolio that includes holdings in fossil fuel companies. This has led some to question whether the Pope’s speech of a moral imperative to act on climate change is anything more than a political play.
Divestment strategies, whereby organizations withdraw all investments in a particular industry or company, have been around for decades. During the South African apartheid, a number of universities and foundations around the globe divested from companies involved with the atrocities. The impact was two-fold: a devaluation of these corporations and their stocks, as well as heightened public awareness of the companies associated with apartheid.
Over the past several years, the Fossil Free movement has taken on the divestment strategy and aimed its crosshairs at university campuses, city councils, and foundations around the globe. Fossil Free has targeted young leaders and provided the resources for them to take a stand in their communities, demanding that universities and cities divest from fossil fuels. More than 43 cities and 33 universities around the world have already committed to divest. Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of faith-based organizations have also signed on.
Back in 2014, the World Council of Churches made headlines when it decided to phase out all holdings in fossil fuels. The WCC went on to encourage its 300 member churches, representing 590 million people in 150 countries, to follow suit. The Anglican Church was particularly supportive of the idea, with Lutheran, Quaker, and Presbyterians showing interest as well. Despite the call to arms, international action on the part of these churches remained tepid at best. Pope Francis’ encyclical has lit a fresh fire for the movement, with new churches divesting each day. Even the leader of the Episcopalian Church came out this past week with the announcement that the sect would be withdrawing all holdings from fossil fuel companies.
Vatican Maintains Investments
Despite the growing pressure to divest in the aftermath of the encyclical’s release, the Vatican still has not expressed any resolute intention of relinquishing its fossil fuel holdings. With the international COP21 climate negotiations coming up this fall in Paris, it is essential that the Pope stake claim to the moral high ground of which he preached by supporting the divestment movement. If the Vatican fails in doing this, it will miss the historical opportunity to be a catalyst in the move to a fossil free economy while marking itself as no more than a common hypocrite in the global struggle to address climate change.