A leaf sits on top of a pile of coal in this illustration photo. CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters
A leaf sits on top of a pile of coal in this illustration photo. CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Days ahead of the opening of the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, a group of faith institutions joined the growing movement to divest from fossil fuels.

The group includes 72 institutions – 36 of them Catholic – with assets of more than $4.2 billion.

Salesian Father Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of Ecology and Creation at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, welcomed the announcement during an Oct. 26 video conference organized by leading divestment proponents.

The Vatican and Pope Francis have become increasingly vocal about shifting investment funds from fossil fuels toward clean energy alternatives. In 2020, as part of the Laudato Si' Year, the Vatican released guidelines for Catholics to implement integral ecology and other actions outlined in the pope's encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home.

"In very strong language, divestment was recommended," Father Kureethadam told the online conference. "Last year we announced the Laudato Si' Action Platform. Among the Laudato Si' goals there's ecological economics and it mentioned the need to divest. So the Vatican is supporting this journey."

The priest called the task of reducing the use of highly polluting fossil fuels a "huge challenge" but one that was possible. A large majority of climate scientists have concluded that the burning of fossil fuels as a leading cause of climate change.

"Jesus began his mission sending out 72 disciples. What a beautiful coincidence. We have 72 communities undertaking the journey together. And that really gives us hope. People are coming together and we faith communities are willing to play our part on this journey," Father Kureethadam added.

The Oct. 26 announcement of a new round of divestments comes ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The summit is being hosted by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy and runs Oct. 31-Nov. 12.

The meeting aims to have world leaders advance concrete ways to cut global emissions by half by 2030 and reach "net-zero" emissions by 2050 as part of efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Negotiations also will focus on helping protect biodiversity and honoring promises to fund action in developing countries, particularly in helping them adapt, mitigate and recover from the harm caused by climate change.

The 36 Catholic institutions joining the divestment movement include 12 Catholic dioceses in the United Kingdom and three in Ireland, the Scottish bishops' conference, religious congregations, universities and nonprofit organizations based in Australia, Nepal, Ukraine, the United States and Zambia.

In the United States, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, and the order's Emmaus Ministries, the Midwest province of the Society of Jesus, the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name province, and the University of St. Thomas have decided to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox and Buddhist institutions were included in the announcement.

The fossil fuel divestment campaign has grown since 2011 to include 1,485 institutions with assets totaling $39.2 trillion, according to a report released during the online conference. It was developed by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Stand.earth, C40, and the Wallace Global Fund.

The conference included brief presentations from Steven Trew, divestment campaigner for the Church of Ireland, the presidents of the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, a lawyer with the Couchiching First Nation and student leaders of university divestment campaigns.

The announcement on the faith communities divestment efforts was coordinated by the Laudato Si' Movement, Operation Noah in the United Kingdom, World Council of Churches, Green Anglicans and U.S.-based GreenFaith.