The global divestment movement has pulled $6 trillion out of fossil fuels investments over the last decade. CNS photo/Val Handumon, EPA

Fossil fuel shares finding fewer takers

By 
  • October 31, 2018

When climate scientists say humans have a mere 12 years to avoid extreme consequences — floods, famine, fires and refugees — from a two- to three-degree rise in the average global temperature, it may be foolish to wait for governments to solve the problem. 

Churches and Catholic institutions have begun trying to ease pressure on our planet by divesting from fossil fuels. By selling their pension-fund shares in oil, gas and coal they create billions of dollars worth of incentive into using alternative energy sources.

The global divestment movement, in which Catholics play a significant role, has pulled $6 trillion out of fossil fuels over the past decade. It has become one aspect of estate planning for a growing number of people.

“We urgently need to stop drilling in order to protect the people we love,” Global Catholic Climate Movement co-founder and executive director Tomas Insua told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “Right now, thousands of people around the world suffer increased hunger, sickness and insecurity driven by climate change.”

Insua’s urgency is matched by the Vatican. Since Pope Francis published his Laudato Si’ encyclical in 2015, three international conferences have been held in Rome for institutional investors from around the world. The director of advancement for Canada’s Jesuits, Barry Leidl, attended the first of those conferences, “Laudato Si’ Investing,” in 2016. He believes it’s time the divestment movement trickled down from big institutions and becomes part of the investment and planning strategy of ordinary, individual savers and investors.

“To see big institutions divest, it’s inspiring to individuals,” Leidl said. “Eventually, it’s individuals who are shareholders and who are stakeholders. That affects the way corporations are governed. The inspiration that these big institutions can give to individuals can kind of turn that around so individuals can then influence corporations.”

The divestment-tracking organization 350.org has counted about 58,000 individuals who have divested more than $5 billion from fossil fuels. This isn’t necessarily restricted to high-net-worth Bay Street players. There’s an array of fossil free mutual fund options now available to middle class investors saving for their retirements.

People who invested $10,000 in BMO Fossil Free Fund Series F in April 2016 would have $13,432.63 on Oct. 18 this year — a 34-per- cent bump. The Royal Bank of Canada has also launched its own RBC Vision Fossil Free Global Equity Fund this year.

Individuals can’t just stand on the sidelines and cheer when institutions divest, said Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice director Anne-Marie Jackson.

“We all have to make efforts and make changes,” she said. “There are many, many people that are acting all over the world. I think that gives a lot of hope.”

“Every act of divestment counts,” said Insua. “Each of us is called to live in accordance with our principles. And for a rapidly growing community of Catholic institutions and individuals, that means stepping away from dirty fossil fuels.”

The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change gives the world until 2030 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent.

“It’s bad news,” Sr. Teresa Kotturan, the UN representative for the Sisters of Charity Federation told the American newspaper National Catholic Reporter when the IPCC report was released Oct. 10. “It’s bad because you need the political will and economic capacities to implement change.”

But Catholics are not helpless and should never be fatalists.

“The divestment movement is growing stronger by the day because stepping away from dirty fossil fuels makes financial and moral sense,” said Insua.

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