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Religious institutions need to find their voice and set their moral compass on one of the great humanitarian issues of our time

    Saving the Earth and its peoples from dangerous climate change is an economic, social and environmental issue – and a moral and ethical one too that goes to the core of many if not all of the world’s great faiths.

     Unchecked, the rise in greenhouse gas emissions is likely to visit ever higher high levels of suffering on the vulnerable, the marginalised and indeed people everywhere. The Himalayan country of Nepal, which I have just visited, is a case in point: here unstable lakes are forming from melting glaciers high in the mountains. Some have already burst their banks sending the equivalent of vertical tsunamis down valleys washing away power lines, homes and lives.


Many forward-looking cities, progressive companies and concerned citizens are urging their governments to ink a new climate agreement in 2015. It is time for faith groups and religious institutions to find their voice and set their moral compass on one of the great humanitarian issues of our time.

Overcoming poverty, caring for the sick and the infirm, feeding the hungry and a whole range of other faith-based concerns will only get harder in a climate challenged world. In supporting greater ambition by nations, religious and faith groups can assist is shaping a world that is less polluted and damaged and healthier, safer and more secure for every man, woman and child.

There are a myriad of ways in which churches and mosques to synagogues and temples can assist towards an ambitious climate agreement. is a new ‘prayer platform’: it will offer a pathway for contemplation, empowerment and action across faiths east and west, north and south. A world-wide campaign by universities and cities, aimed at divesting pension and endowment funds from fossil fuel shares, is also gaining ground.

South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently called for an anti-apartheid style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry. Some smaller churches are already moving including in Australia and New Zealand. In the US, 12 religious institutions have already divested from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2013, the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the US became the first national faith communion to vote to divest from fossil fuel companies, with the support of its major investment institution, United Church Funds (UCF). UCF manages investment funds of over 1,000 churches, conferences, associations and other ministries, with more than half a billion dollars in assets.

In February this year, the congregation of Trinity-St Paul’s United in Toronto voted unanimously to ensure that its own funds are not invested in any of the world’s 200 largest fossil fuel companies. Multi-faith groups in Australia and North America recently sent a letter to Pope Francis saying it is "immoral" to profit from fossil fuels.

The World Council of Churches at its last Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea urged its members to act on fossil fuels by 2018. The Synod of the Church of England recently voted to review its investment policy in respect to fossil fuels – again a step in the right direction and a potentially powerful signal to its 28 million followers. Divestment may be a question of morality, but it is prudent too.

Experts estimate that greenhouse gas emissions need to peak in around ten years’ time and then come down sharply afterwards. The organisation Carbon Tracker estimates that in order to achieve this, 60-80% of the fossil fuel reserves of public listed companies need to stay in the ground, unburnt. It means that many fossil fuel investments could rapidly become devalued and ‘stranded assets’ undermining the value and the return to pensioners of those funds which are heavily exposed.

Many mainstream funds are also going one step further, seeing higher rates of return from a switch into renewables. Pension Denmark, which divested and then re-invested into clean energy in Europe and the developing world, says this has boosted profits while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that governments have agreed to secure a new universal agreement on climate change when they meet in Paris, France at the end of next year – that is not the challenge. If the world and its people are to be spared dangerous climate change that agreement needs to also be meaningful with polices and pathways for carbon neutrality in the second half of the century if a global temperature rise is to be kept under 2C.

Leaders of faith groups, from Christians and Muslims to Hindus, Jews and Buddhists have a responsibility and an opportunity over the next 18 months to provide a moral compass to their followers and to political, corporate, financial and local authority leaders. It is a point I will underline this week when I address a special gathering of church leaders, City of London financiers, security experts and the public at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. In doing so, faiths and religions can not only secure a healthy and habitable world for all but contribute to the spiritual and physical well-being of humanity now and for generations to come.