Fossil fuel divestment update

A review of all Jesuit Ministries within the Australian Province in May 2019 demonstrated a commitment to divestment from fossil fuels, reports Lisa Connell, Delegate for Social Ministries.

Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ challenged all Catholic communities to do more to care for the environment in which we live. Jesuits worldwide have responded through various initiatives and ministries to commit to greater care of our world and have been invited to take a prophetic lead, alongside all Catholic institutions, in caring for our common home.

A ‘call to action’ for Australian Province ministries has included a movement to divest from fossil fuel investments.

‘There is a growing momentum among governments, corporations and NGOs across the world to divest from fossil fuels’, notes Antoinette Smith, who in March 2019 represented the Reconciliation with Creation Advisory Group at the Vatican’s International Conference on Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals, and also participated in the Sustainable Investment Forum in Paris.

‘Sustainable investment is in line with the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is now a business decision adding value to financial portfolios globally. Moving money is a powerful way to collaborate in the care of our Common Home.’

The guidelines outlined in the Province’s ‘Ethical Investment Policy’ adopted two screening methodologies: negative screening, i.e. avoiding investment in organisations or industries which have a negative impact on society and the environment; and positive screening, i.e. searching for investments that contribute positively to society and the environment.

A review of how we are travelling regarding this divestment from fossil fuel investments took place in August 2018 and May 2019. Key findings of the May 2019 review of all Jesuit Ministries within the Australian Province include:

  • Ministries are aware of, and very agreeable to, adopting the guidelines for investing.
  • Most of our Jesuit ministries, including Social Ministries, Centres for Ignatian Spirituality, Jesuit College of Spirituality, Jesuit Communications, First Spiritual Exercises and some schools, do not have applicable investments.
  • Parishes are under Diocesan authority, so while fossil fuel divestment can be encouraged, it is up to the Diocese to determine their commitment to this initiative.
  • The Province Office adopted the policy, performed a review of investments and is in the process of implementation.
  • Schools and Foundations with applicable investments performed a detailed review of their investment portfolios and initiated appropriate action plans to address fossil fuel divestment. The exploration and adoption of ‘ethical screening tools’ and portfolios that invest in ethical environmental, social and governance initiatives, continues.

The reviews demonstrated the ministries’ commitment to fossil fuel divestment and this should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Our Apostolic Priorities (2019­­–2024) highlight the call to ‘collaborate in the care of our common home’. Through the strengthening of the mandate and charter of the Province Reconciliation with Creation (RWC) Advisory Group and in collaboration with all ministries in the coming years, we seek to guide, support and advise the Province on RWC initiatives and moving forward together.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all ministries who have engaged with this important cause. We know it can be challenging in the current financial climate and in situations where investments are handled by external fund managers or updated information regarding carbon majors is lacking. In the face of these challenges, we hope the ‘spirit’ of this endeavour will continue to guide us to the broader ‘Reconciliation with Creation’ agenda.

The strength of the Province is in the ‘collective whole’ and it has been heartening to see the discussions, increased awareness of the policy and the resulting actions that have occurred in the past 18 months across many ministries.

Lisa Connell, Delegate for Social Ministries

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