Faith leaders: leave fossil fuels out of public funds

14 Nov 2016

Australian faith leaders join growing call for urgent climate action, challenge to sovereign wealth and super funds: sever fossil fuel investments 

Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu among top religious leaders to declare continued use of fossil fuels ethically untenable

Leaders from faith traditions across the world including Australia are calling for massive divestment of government-controlled investments from fossil fuels into renewable energy and support for the poor and those most vulnerable to climate change. This would affect government superannuation funds and sovereign wealth funds like the Future Fund.   


Leaders from global faith groups, financial institutions and foundations - and ordinary people of faith - have come together to make the powerful call to action, which is contained the COP22 Interfaith Climate Statement and in line with the Paris Agreement. It joins the growing call for urgent action on climate change.

Signatories to the Interfaith Climate Statement include His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences; Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches; Sayyid M. Syeed, Islamic Society of North America; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and over 220 other leaders from around the globe. Other signatories include senior Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, Indigenous and other spiritual leaders.


The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), Anglican Church of Australia, Catholic Earthcare Australia, the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils and Multifaith Association of SA collaborated on the Australasian effort. ARRCC has forged invaluable links through promotion of ethical, environmentally sustainable lifestyles, respect the Earth’s precious natural resources, and faith-centered public policies on climate justice.

Thea Ormerod, President, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, pointed to the need for urgent action on climate change: “The world has lost precious time in the last few decades, as countries have held back from acting with wisdom, self-transcendence and care for the global common good. Now change needs to happen at emergency speed. We pull together as a human community, or we all lose.”

Rev. Dr. Vicky Balabanski, Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, noted that “Each religion speaks about issues of value and meaning, and I urge the decision makers to recognise that this united call of religious leaders is about the fundamental value of preserving and valuing life — of humans, others species and eco-systems, whose flourishing is threatened by climate change. In order to preserve and enhance our shared life, we need to act now and scale up action on climate change.’

Anne Markey, Lead for Goolwa Dharma Group and the Ashtree Sangha in Adelaide, pointed out that “Our world is dependant on us and we are dependant on our world. With this comes a call for responsibility, care and understanding. Every effort must be made by every human being to honour this connection. We now have a precious opportunity to act collectively to heal our world,our earth, our mother, our body.”

What's in it?

The Statement includes a set of imperatives designed to speed a transition to a low carbon future in a timeframe consistent with the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. The calls included shifting public finances away from fossil fuels, increasing financing to end energy poverty with renewable energy, and ensuring a just transition that protects human rights and vulnerable communities.

The faith and spiritual leaders are also urging their own communities for more commitments to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy.  

First Islamic divestment announcement

On 10 November, theIslamic Society of North America (ISNA) released amajor announcement that it would commit to divest its investments from fossil fuels and encourage its two constituent organizations and five national affiliated institutions to do so as well. This marked the world’s first divestment announcement from a Muslim institution.

“According to Islam’s most basic and fundamental teachings, human beings have been uniquely charged with the great responsibility of being Guardians of the Earth. It goes against the mission of the ISNA to invest in fossil fuel companies whose operations and products cause such grave harm to humanity and to Creation,” said Dr. Azhar Azeez, President of the Islamic Society of North America.

Global collaboration

More than 30 faith-based organizations from around the world collaborated on the Statement and handover event, including several based in our region.

The event also included presentations by philanthropic foundation leaders. Mark Sainsbury, Chair of the Mark Leonard Trust, made the financial case for divest invest: “The Paris Agreement, new regulations and technological innovation will see fossil fuel companies lose value and market share to sustainable energy technologies. In fact, it’s happening already. We’re in a sustainable energy revolution and I believe it’s wiser to invest in the low carbon technology of today and tomorrow, not the high carbon technology of yesterday,” he said.

Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, stated, “Governments have significant influence on global finance with their investment assets. Nations can play a critical and stabilising role in expediting the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to a net-zero carbon economy, mitigating the financial and humanitarian risks of dangerous climate change. Nations’ sovereign wealth funds must be invested consistent with the commitments made in Paris.”

Rev Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of US-based GreenFaith said, “Religious and spiritual communities recognize that the earth is a gift, and that it is our responsibility to protect it.  In the face of the climate crisis, we are all required to act and to immediately shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Faith communities are also united in their concern to care for the most vulnerable and are committed to bring distributed, clean power to the 1.1 billion people globally who lack access to electricity by 2030.”

The side event was hosted by GreenFaith and Divest Invest. GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental organization that inspires, equips, and mobilizes diverse faith communities for environmental action. Divest Invest encourages individuals and philanthropic institutions to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.

Philippa Rowland from ARRCC, Catholic Earthcare Australia and Multifaith SA has been on the ground in Morocco for two weeks and is available for comment.

More information:

▪       COP22 Faith Statement

▪       Archbishop Desmond Tutu video on divestment

▪       Islamic Society of North America Divestment and Reinvestment Resolution

▪       Light for a New Day: Faith and Energy Ethics

▪      List of faith-based groups that collaborated on COP22 Faith Statement

▪       Photographs from the event are available at no cost. Use credit as provided.

Media Contacts


  • Philippa Rowland, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change [email protected] (0429 828412 / 0417 799360 Australia, 15 November on)

  • Comment - Islamic perspective:
    Dr Daud Batchelor, Chair, Brisbane Muslim Fellowship
    +07 3162 5637 or +0413 067 160, [email protected]    

Coordinating contact:

  • Gillian King, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change
    [email protected], 0407 953 959

  • Ciara Shannon, GreenFaith (+212 609 300 479 Morocco)