climate change

[OPINION] The CBCP’s pledge to abandon dirty energy is a win for divestment

John Leo C. Algo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] The CBCP’s pledge to abandon dirty energy is a win for divestment
'Among the ways forward is to foster and strengthen partnerships between Catholic institutions and experts in making sustainable investments'

Hindi lahat ng regalo ay tunay na regalo (Not all gifts are true gifts).

These were the words uttered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, current President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), during a press conference last January 29. His statement was referring to the reality that some donations to dioceses and churches are from owners and operators of industries linked to ecologically-destructive activities, including coal and mining projects. 

The day before the event, the CBCP released its latest pastoral letter, calling for unity and action in the midst of crises such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Among its key messages include strengthening the national program to implement actions aligned with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, advancing the rights of nature, and more effective green governance.

Yet the most monumental of its newest set of calls involve the commitment to fully divest from banks with stakes in fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas by 2025, to better align with its doctrines on protecting the environment and human well-being.

Must Read

[OPINION] Time for PH banks to withdraw from coal, invest in permanent solutions

[OPINION] Time for PH banks to withdraw from coal, invest in permanent solutions
Why now?

The case for divestment has been gaining momentum worldwide as a key step in stopping the climate crisis from getting worse. Withdrawing assets, stocks, bonds, and other finances from extractive industries not only sends a political message on a clamor for more sustainable actions and technologies, but also places pressure on these businesses to end their pollutive practices. 

These principles are among the key messages within the Laudato Si’, published in 2015. Divestment is also among the 13 ecological actions recommended by the CBCP in a previous pastoral letter nearly three years ago, in support of said encyclical.

Despite these documents, faith-based divestment in the Philippines has yet to achieve significant progress for the past six-plus years. A review of the lists of top shareholders in six corporations with known investments or operations related to coal and mining during this period reveals information that are not promising.

Catholic institutions and organizations appeared 32 times among the top 100 shareholders in corporations, including Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), San Miguel Corporation, and PHILEX Mining from 2015 to 2021. Out of this, only five institutions either fully or partially withdrew their shares from these entities. 

For instance, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) is among the largest shareholders in BPI. While its percentage share in the bank decreased from 8.3% in 2015 to 7.3% last year, its total outstanding shares has remained constant. 

While no other faith-based institution holds higher than 1% of all shares in any entity aside from RCAM, the lack of meaningful divestment within this sector so far indicates the challenges and difficulties in initiating such movement in the Philippines.

One of the main factors has been the lack of adequate knowledge and capacity by dioceses for divestment. Popularizing the Laudato Si’ and climate and environment-related developments in the Philippine and global context remains a challenge in dioceses, schools, and other entities. Some dioceses may not even be aware of where their funds are sourced from, as Bp. David said during the press conference. 

A careful analysis of possible options on where to reinvest the withdrawn funds must be conducted to ensure that the financial situation of Catholic institutions would not be compromised. Furthermore, the political and economic policy environment in the Philippines still favors coal, mining, and other unsustainable business practices despite its vulnerability to the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated injustices. These point to the reality that divesting and reinvesting large funds is not an overnight process, which explains why the CBCP set 2025 as its deadline.

Must Read

[OPINION] Momentum for climate justice

[OPINION] Momentum for climate justice
What’s next?

The renewed commitment of the Philippine Catholic Church to fully divest from fossil fuels is a significant victory for our campaign for climate and environment action, for the sake of current and future generations. It aims to join hundreds of faith-based institutions worldwide, who represent 35% of all global divestment commitments worth $39.2 trillion

However, this is but one big step on the long road to genuine sustainability, which is easier said than done.

Among the ways forward is to foster and strengthen partnerships between Catholic institutions and experts in making sustainable investments. Such engagements are needed for these entities to build capacities on divestment and make more ecologically-sound choices on where to invest their withdrawn assets. Establishing concrete targets and timelines aligned with the 2025 deadline could inspire other faith-based groups to follow suit.

To help with their divestment efforts, local dioceses and other Catholic stakeholders should engage in dialogues with foreign faith-based institutions that have already divested from extractive industries. The sharing of best practices on managing sustainable financing is also crucial to strengthening a global and national network of individuals and groups committed to both upholding the principles of the Laudato Si’ and addressing critical issues on climate and the environment.

Following the example of an activist hedge fund within ExxonMobil, ecclesial shareholders in banks and corporations should engage with and influence key officials, such as the Board of Directors and sustainability bureaus. They must express their insights in venues such as Annual Shareholders Meetings and online meetings to put forward the advocacies of divestment from dirty energy, among other harmful ventures, and the shift towards more sustainable policies. RCAM should use its position as one of the top shareholders of BPI to influence the bank to further divest from dirty energy projects.

We commend the CBCP for issuing this statement at this critical time in our history, not only due to the climate crisis and the pandemic, but also as the Philippines nears the national and local elections. May this document guide our faith leaders and other groups and individuals to live up to our shared mandate to take care of our common home. –

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, a member of the Withdraw from Coal network. He has been representing Philippine civil society in regional and global UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017. He is a climate and environment journalist since 2016. 

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!