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With the federal government tabling a new budget and setting stronger climate commitments ahead of the next round of UN climate meetings later this year, now is the time to re-examine how investments held by communities of faith reflect our values. If we claim the moral high ground, we must respond to the urgency of the climate crisis and signal our intentions.
For the Canadian Catholic community, investment decisions and divestment from the fossil fuels energy sector reflect Pope Francis’s call to Care for Our Common Home.
“The present economic system is unsustainable and demands that we consider many of its key aspects... It is imperative to promote a new vision of the economy capable of taking into account ecological concerns,” Vatican advisers write in Journeying Towards Care of Our Common Home: Five Years after Laudato Si’. The comprehensive guidelines include the endorsement of the fossil fuel divestment campaign to cease investment in fossil fuel companies, led in the international Catholic community by the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
In direct response, Global Catholic Climate Movement Canada (GCCM Canada), in partnership with Faith & the Common Good, has been holding a series of free virtual webinars concerning eco-investing. Running until May 12, the Catholic Eco-Investment Accelerator Bilingual Virtual Forum is designed to encourage awareness and invite discussion among Catholic organizations about various methods of investing for change.
Catholics make up 30 per cent of Canadian society, and Catholic institutions — such as dioceses, hospitals, schools, universities, colleges, teachers’ pension funds and charities — collectively have investments worth over a billion dollars. St. Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, N.S., has an endowment fund of approximately $130 million, and St. Mary’s University in Calgary has an endowment fund of just over $40 million. These are just two of 27 Catholic colleges and universities in Canada.
This virtual forum, and the investor toolkit to follow, are intended to put tools in the hands of Catholic higher education institutions to help them respond to fossil fuel divestment campaigns from their student body.
Many Catholic religious communities have established foundations through which grants are directed to groups engaged in social and environmental justice concerns. The Catherine Donnelly Foundation, created by the Sisters of Service, is a leader regarding the alignment of invested assets with Catholic social thought. Present policy calls for the Donnelly Foundation to invest up to 10 per cent (approximately $4 million) of its capital in impact investments. The foundation and several other Catholic organizations are open to peer-to-peer support for those wishing to follow their example.
During past webinars, experts shared their knowledge in areas such as eco-investing. Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario, brought her expertise in the power of faith coalitions to persuade politicians to act seriously in addressing climate change.
Experts in shareholder engagement — Mamadou Lamine Beye, an environmental and social management consultant covering Africa at International Finance Corporation (a member of the World Bank Group), Anthony Schein of Shareholder Association for Research and Education and Jonathon Smith, a senior associate in oil and gas research with Sustainalytics — contributed their considerable expertise in shareholder activism strategies.
Stephen Whipp, consultant for the Glasswaters Foundation; Mark Sevestre, founding member of the Reconciliation and Responsible Investment Initiative; and Stephen Nairne, chief investment officer of RAVEN Indigenous Capital Partners, brought exciting opportunities for partnerships with Indigenous entrepreneurs.
For the Canadian Catholic community, responsible investment decisions and fossil fuel divestment reflect the Pope’s call to Care for Our Common Home, writes Agnes Richard of @CanadaGccm. #divestment #ClimateAction
The forum also welcomes Jason Dudek, a former board chair for the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, who now contributes his extensive investment knowledge to the Catholic Impact Investment Collaborative in the U.S.
Upcoming webinars will be just as informative. Lorna Gold will speak from her experience as acting chair of the board of directors for Global Catholic Climate Movement. She is also author of Ethical Investments in an Era of Climate Change and a founding member of FaithInvest UK. And, using his expertise as pension engagement manager for Shift Action, Patrick DeRochie will persuade pension fund managers to look closely at their asset holdings.
The forum hopes to inspire Catholic institutional and commercial investors, trustees, financial advisers and pension fund managers — basically anyone managing financial assets on behalf of Catholic individuals, businesses, organizations, institutions, communities and dioceses — to direct investment of financial assets away from fossil fuel companies and towards human and environment-friendly enterprises. These include companies and projects that can demonstrate alignment with many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals such as renewable energy, the care economy and the Raven Indigenous Impact Fund.
Agnes Richard is a climate reality leader trained with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and a Laudato Si’ animator with the Global Catholic Climate Movement.