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Renewing the face of the earth

The Jesuits in Britain have just announced they are divesting from companies whose major income is from the extraction of fossil fuels – the largest Catholic religious order in the UK so far to join the global divestment movement.

The order has equity investments of about £400 million used to finance works and projects in Britain and around the world. The assets are under the management of three equity fund managers and will be fully divested by the end of 2020, with more than half of that divestment process already completed.

The smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is a vitally important issue and linked to it is disinvestment from oil companies that rely solely on fossil fuel. So the Jesuits in Ireland have spent some time planning their approach to their disinvestment in this area, according to Bill Toner SJ, treasurer of the Irish Jesuit Province who has been involved in the disinvestment process here.

The International Energy Agency estimates that 37 trillion dollars of investment will be needed in the world energy supply to move from fossil to mostly renewable energy by 2035.

Governments or new investors will be unlikely to put up this amount of money so most of it will have to come from the oil companies themselves and many of them have committed to the transition from fossil to renewable energies.

Fr Toner says that there are ‘Leaders’ (mainly in Europe) and ‘Laggards’ (mainly in the US) in this area. “The Jesuits in Ireland have disinvested from the ‘Laggards whilst investing in the ‘Leaders’ – namely those companies who have a proven record in moving to renewable energy.”

According to Fr Toner, these ‘Leaders’ often engage in inorganic investments by acquiring equity stakes in various companies. For instance, in 2011 Total spent €1.4 billion acquiring a 60% majority stake in US solar specialist SunPower.

As well as selective disinvestment and investment in transitioning oil companies, the Irish Jesuits also invest in companies that are pioneering the way forward in renewable energy only.

One of the priorities of the leader of the Jesuits, Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, is care of the earth, our common home. He wants Jesuits all over the world to do what they can to promote the vision of Pope Francis as outlined in Laudato Sí, says Fr Toner, adding that, “Every Jesuit Province around the world is responding to this call in ways they discern to be fruitful for ‘caring for the earth, our common home. The Irish Jesuits believe that by staying invested in the ‘Leader’ oil companies, and in divesting from the others (‘Laggards’), they maintain more leverage in promoting the switch to renewable energy.”

Fr Damian Howard SJ, the Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits, says, “Climate change is the most pressing challenge the world faces as climate disasters wreak more and more destruction, hitting poorer countries the hardest – despite them having done the least to cause them. The decision to divest is principally a response to the clear moral imperative of acting to safeguard our planet for future generations at a time when scientific evidence is mounting that we are facing a grave climate emergency. What happens to the climate and the environment will have implications for us all. That’s why we need to act together to protect the conditions for human life. I am glad that the Jesuits can contribute to that joint effort.”

The decision of both the British and Irish Jesuits to divest from oil companies aligns them with a global movement of divesting institutions with a combined value of more than $14 trillion in assets under management, up from a starting point of $50 billion just five years ago.