The Republic of Ireland will become the world's first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament. The state's €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat "as soon as is practicable", which is expected to mean within five years. Norway's huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings. The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities. Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky.
More than 40 Catholic institutions are to announce the largest ever faith-based divestment from fossil fuels, on the anniversary of the death of St Francis of Assisi. The sum involved has not been disclosed but the volume of divesting groups is four times higher than a previous church record, and adds to a global divestment movement, led by investors worth $5.5tn. Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, hailed Tuesday's move as "a further sign we are on the way to achieving our collective mission". She said: "I hope we will see more leaders like these 40 Catholic institutions commit, because while this decision makes smart financial sense, acting collectively to deliver a better future for everybody is also our moral imperative." Church institutions joining the action include the Archdiocese of Cape Town, the Episcopal Conference of Belgium and the diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, the spiritual home of the world's Franciscan brothers.
I remember well the first institution to announce it was divesting from fossil fuel. It was 2012 and I was on the second week of a gruelling tour across the US trying to spark a movement. Our roadshow had been playing to packed houses down the west coast, and we'd crossed the continent to Portland, Maine. As a raucous crowd jammed the biggest theatre in town, a physicist named Stephen Mulkey took the mic. He was at the time president of the tiny Unity College in the state's rural interior, and he announced that over the weekend its trustees had voted to sell their shares in coal, oil and gas companies.
Kat Taylor, a member of Harvard's 32-member Board of Overseers and wife of billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, said in an interview late on Tuesday that while she was proud of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school's efforts to reduce its climate impact, it should also start to screen out stocks like oil companies from its investment portfolio.