[Press release]

JOHANNESBURG– African fossil fuel divestment campaigners expect the release of Pope Francis’ climate encyclical this week to add momentum and moral weight to the fast growing global movement, as well as help expand its reach in faith communities across the African continent.

In the Papal encyclical, to be released on Thursday in six languages, the Pope is expected to call for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality. With 1.2 billion Catholics in the world of whom 177 million live in Africa [1], and the Pope’s strong focus on how to tackle the global causes of poverty and inequality the encyclical is already causing major shockwaves even before its release. [2]

Over the past few months, dozens of religious institutions across the world [3] have divested from coal, oil and gas companies or endorsed the effort, including the World Council of Churches which represents half a billion Christians in 150 countries. In May 2015, the Church of England announced it had sold GB£12m in thermal coal and tar sands. In total, more than 220 institutions have committed to divest over US$50bn from fossil fuel companies with faith institutions making up the biggest segment. [4]

The fossil fuel divestment movement is now picking up speed in South Africa with climate change campaigning organisation 350Africa.org leading a Fossil Free Africa campaign calling on people of conscience and financial and public institutions including banks, universities and faith based organisations to divest from fossil fuels.

350Africa.org’s Ferrial Adam, says: “The Papal Encyclical on climate comes at a critical time for Africa. Across the continent economic and social development remains reliant on increasing access to electricity. In coal-addicted countries like South Africa the development opportunity is to accelerate a just transition toward a renewable energy-powered future. With the huge continental potential for solar and wind many other countries can leap straight over coal and oil. The leadership of faith-based communities can play a key role in achieving a sustainable energy future which protects people and the environment”.

Robert Massie, Episcopal priest, and long-time activist and expert on climate finance says: “In an action both simple and bold, Pope Francis will pierce humanity’s blindness to the realities of modern life. At a vital moment in world history, he is calling on us to halt our wanton destruction of people and planet and move decisively to a global economy that is just, compassionate, and sustainable.”

Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental group, says “The Pope’s encyclical will be a powerful game-changer. It will make clear that the fossil fuel industry is a devastation. It will be clear that climate change is a crime against life. It will be eloquent about the fact that if our leaders have a shred of humanity in them, they need to reach a strong deal in Paris. And it will affirm that profiting from an industry that’s destroying the planet is flat out wrong.”

Ellie Roberts, UK church divestment campaigner at Christian charity Operation Noah says: ”The coming encyclical will send a strong message about the Catholic Church’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis. We hope this will inspire Catholic communities around the world to look at how their own investments might be financing climate change, and to commit to disinvesting from fossil fuels as a matter of faith. This is essential for building the political will we need for governments to produce a strong climate deal in Paris at the end of this year.”

Gunnela Hahn, head of responsible investment at the Church of Sweden that has already divested from coal, oil and gas and in turn increased investments in renewable energy, says: “To act for a transition to a more sustainable and equitable world we need to look at the impacts we have on the climate as a church. One is how our financial resources are used. We want to inspire other asset owners and the financial industry as a whole to redirect their assets into climate solutions. We are confident that this can be achieved with the same, or even enhanced, financial returns, and it makes no sense to postpone what we all know is coming, a transition of society to a low-carbon economy.”


[1] The Vatican’s Pontifical Yearbook 2013 estimates that there were 1.214 billion Catholics worldwide in 2012 of which approximately 177 million were living in Africa: 


[2] Encyclicals are typically theological dissertations on matters of faith. They are not exceptionally common, occurring only once every few years. The forthcoming encyclical is expected to emphasize humanity’s role within creation (as opposed to separate from it) and how climate change will affect all of creation. 

[3] Faith divestment commitments to date:

Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia

Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, Australia

Anglican Diocese of Perth, Australia

Anglican National Super, Australia

Brighthelm Church, Brighton, UK

Church of Sweden

Colorado Ratnashri Sangha, USA

Earthsong, Australia

Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, USA

Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, MA, USA

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Oregon, OR, USA

First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Cambridge, MA, USA

First Presbyterian of Palo Alto, CA, USA

First Religious Society of Newburyport, MA, USA

First Unitarian Church of Pittsfield, ME, USA

First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, UT, USA

First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, ON, Canada

First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, WI, USA

Franciscan Sisters of Mary, MO, USA

Friends Fiduciary Corporation, USA

Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist, NY, USA

Maine Council of Churches, ME, USA

Melbourne Unitarian Church, Australia

Portsmouth South Church Unitarian Universalist, NH, USA

Presentation Sisters, Queensland, Australia

Quakers in Britain, UK

Quakers Religious Society of Friends, Australia

Quaker Community Friends, OH, USA

Society for Community Work, CA, USA

The United Methodist Church, USA

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, VA, USA

Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, Toronto, ON, Canada

Union Theological Seminary, NY, USA

Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence, MA, USA

Unitarian Universalist Area Church at First Parish in Sherborn, MA, USA

Unitarian Universalist Association, USA

Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, MA, USA

United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland, UK

Uniting Church in Australia

Uniting Church of ACT & NSW, Australia

United Church of Christ, MA, USA

United Church of Christ, MN, USA

Universalist Congregation of South County, RI, USA

UU Fellowship of Corvallis, OR, USA

World Council of Churches

[4] For a full list of divestment commitments, see http://gofossilfree.org/commitments