Connecting Laudato Si’ and Catholic Investments

Inspired by the Laudato Si’ call to action, Catholic leaders from all continents gathered for the conference Laudato Si & Catholic Investing: Clean Energy for our Common Home held in Rome on January 27th, 2017. High-level speakers examined the links between fossil fuel divestment, investments in community-based renewable energy and Catholic organisations.

The conference stressed the urgency of ensuring a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy underlining the key role that Catholic institutions must play. A packed room of over 200 participants included leaders from religious orders, financial institutions, representatives from the Holy See, the Italian Catholic Church and Civil Society Organizations involved in climatic justice advocacy. The event was convened by leading Catholic organizations: CAFOD, CIDSE, FOCSIV, GCCM, USG-UISG and Trocaire.

The Conference keynote speeches start with Cardinal Peter Turkson​, First Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, who started quoting John XXIII’s Encyclical Mater et Magistra: “No Christian education can be considered complete unless it covers every kind of obligation. It must therefore aim at implanting and fostering among the faithful an awareness of their duty to carry on their economic and social activities in a Christian manner”. Echoing the Laudato Si’ Encyclical, Cardinal Turkson emphasized the sense of responsibility on the part of all for the Common Good — We can have an impact, a positive impact — and the implication of this for investors — […] Bank systems and financial systems must be drastically put at the service of the common good […] investment, responsibility and solidarity must be linked […].

Taking as input the inspirational Turkson’s inspirational speech, Christiana Figueres, ​Former UNFCCC Chief and Convenor of Mission 2020, stressed the importance of the urgency of a just transition — a strong call present in the Laudato Si’ but not in the Paris Agreement and the essential need to bend the curve of emission by 2020. A powerful call for intergenerational responsibility arose from the podium of Ms Figueres: I currently dream about seven little pairs of eyes, representing next generations looking at me and asking: “What did you do for our future?” This is a question addressed to every single adult alive today. We must be able to answer, correctly, that we did not what we we thought it was possible but what we know it is necessary.

The first panel of the conference “The Justice Case for Divesting from Fossil Fuels & Investing in Climate Solutions” has been introduced by the precious witness of Cardinal Ribat, President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, who called for urgent action to stop climate change — We urge the political leaders to implement the Paris Agreement immediately — that is disproportionately impacting the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world. Cardinal Ribat voiced the suffering of some populations of Oceania for which “limiting global warming,is the only way to survive”.

Mark Campanale, Founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, provided the evidence base for fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment. Monitoring Stock Exchange and oil companies around the world, the Carbon Tracker Initiative alarms on the carbon bubble risks and on the economic inconvenience of continuing investing in fossil fuels of which the same oil companies are totally aware — “The case for investing in the fossil fuel industry is no longer there. Fossil fuel companies continue to invest $2 trillion in projects that have place in a below 2 degrees scenario.”

Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, gave a complete overview of the Divest movement and of the wide range of stakeholders involved with it. After underlining that the just transition is the main core of the movement — We must invest in a just transition and take care of extractive workers to aid them in the energy transition — Dorsey underlined the catalyst role of faith based communities, with a particular reference to the Catholic one: “Catholic institutions can change the debate on social finance. We have no alternative”.

The importance of the faith-based contribution was emphasized by Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, who has no doubts: Divesting and investing are critical aspects of heeding the Gospel. In this sense different religious communities around the world are actively involved in advocacy for climate justice, being part of this ambitious divestment movement that is “a vital step forward to gaining the future that we need

The second panel Divest-Invest: a financial perspective (Speakers: Dan Carson of FTSE Russell, Jochen Wermuth of Wermuth Asset Management, Aldo Bonati of Etica Sgr and Ian Halstead of L&P Services) has put in place an interesting discussion between different financial experts who explained in which way the financial institutions are reacting both to climate change real risks and to the the growing divest-invest movement. A particular focus was posed on the Invest side and the particular awareness on climate impact every person must should have in each investment decision. “Don’t forget the invest side, it’s equally important”, affirmed Ian Halstead followed by Aldo Bonati clarifying that “if we compare ecological footprints, investing € 100 in an ethical fund generates 28 kilograms of CO2, while € 100 in a generic Market Index (generic) generates on average 501 kilograms of CO2”.

The third panel Divest-Invest Case Studies from Catholic Institutions gave to the audience real concrete examples of the steps to follow for a process of divestment. After Rev. Henrik Grape, representative of the Church of Sweden of World Council of Churches, affirming “we cannot act against climate change and call on political leaders and leaders of enterprises to stop climate change and, at the same time, invest in fossil fuels that are causing a huge part of the climate change”, Sr. Susan Vickers explained practically the success process of Dignity Health that divested from coal reinvesting in solar for the protection of the health and the environment. Barry J Leidl of the Jesuits from English Canada underlined that “the decision to divest came after a long process of listening to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” while George Hanley of the University of Dayton recognized the first initial economic difficulties after the divestment choice (oil companies removed funds from the University) that however disappear when “you take a look in the mirror and you know that you are honest”. John Shaughnessy presented the case of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary that have announced an important increase in their Impact Investing efforts and this year will implement a divestment strategy from fossil fuels, a process that is going to be implemented also by the Missionary Society of St Columban represented by Amy Echeverria who underlined the important moral perspective of the divestment from fossil fuels.

“There are no jobs on a dead planet. We want dignified jobs on a living planet”. A renewed strong call for just transition came from Alison Tate of the International Trade Union Confederation who opened the last panel The Journey Ahead, Building the Movement, a closing reflection session open to debate