THE state of planetary health is deteriorating, as humankind confronts multiple crises that are often the result of its own actions. The excessive burning of fossil fuels has released greenhouse gases that has polluted our air and accelerated global warming, causing massive changes to the global climate. Our harmful interference with biodiversity and ecosystems has led to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought on a "new normal" for which countries are struggling to cope with.
Amidst the plastic pollution, declining biodiversity to the brink of extinction, and more intense extreme weather events, one common theme emerges: the interconnectedness of our world. Even a seemingly insignificant event could ultimately affect the entire system to a degree that being unaware or unprepared would be disastrous.
No matter how advanced modern societies get, their development only goes as far as a healthy planet. With a degraded environment comes more rampant poverty, widening inequalities, and other forms of injustices. With each incident, the poorest sectors of our society always experience the brunt of its impacts.
Caring for the environment is central to the doctrines of many faiths. They share similar messages of respecting the sanctity and equilibrium of nature, the fundamentally moral obligation for its protection and conservation, and rejecting human greed to avoid abuse and corruption of the environment, including human beings.
It is with this context that the Philippine Interfaith Declaration on Addressing the Climate Emergency was adopted in November 2019, as part of the celebration of the National Climate Change Consciousness Week. It recognizes the climate crisis as a moral crisis, wherein neglecting planetary and human health in favor of fulfilling self-interests has created an imbalanced and unjust system that has made the cries of the earth and the poor louder.
Among the main commitments representatives of faith groups made in this declaration include support for policies and programs that strengthening climate change mitigation and adaptation and disaster risk reduction management, inspiring within our respective constituencies a behavioral change as a response to the climate crisis, and calling for the renewal and strengthening of our connection to nature and our fellow human beings.
Yet as the world draws closer to 2030 to not only limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but also attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals, actions must be scaled up to avoid disastrous climate change and pave the road to achieve sustainable living for all.
One of the most significant actions to be taken is the divestment of major financial institutions and their shareholders from fossil fuels, especially coal. Even with undeniable scientific evidence, higher risk of stranded assets, and the moral imperative, fossil fuel companies continue to extract reserves that must remain underground as long as they have financial support from shareholders and investors.
Cutting off pollutive industries from finances and other assets that have allowed them to thrive for decades is key to preventing further climate change and environmental degradation, and alleviating the plight of the marginalized. It is also a statement against current economic models that target growth for the sake of growth, when the reality is that infinite growth is impossible in a finite planet.
Globally, faith-based groups have been some of the most active leaders in pushing for fossil fuel divestment. On May 2020, 42 faith institutions from 14 nations committed to divest their finances from fossil fuels, the largest joint announcement at any time. They joined around 1400 existing commitments worth USD 14 trillion in pressuring governments and businesses globally to enact respective policies and practices aligned with promoting environmental conservation and inclusive sustainable living.
Faith groups in the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable nations to the climate crisis, also face the moral responsibility of living and operating by example, through divestment from fossil fuels and other environmentally-destructive practices and inspiring their constituencies to do so as well.
However, several issues remain regarding strengthening divestment of faith-based institutions in the Philippine context. These include finding sustainable businesses and banks in which to invest their portfolios; increasing the understanding of religious leaders and their members about the role of financial investments in addressing the climate crisis; and building the capacity of faith groups in implementing climate action through more sustainable financial investments.
These are matters that would be addressed during the 2nd Philippine Interfaith Summit on Climate Emergency, as part of this year's National Climate Change Consciousness Week; representatives from different religious denominations tackle the building of an interfaith movement that will take collective, strategic action to address the ecological crisis.
Fossil fuel divestment is an integral part of an urgent yet just transition of our systems and ways of life that need to occur for the rest of this decade for the sake of current and future generations. Now is the time to invest in our future.
John Leo is the program manager of Living Laudato Si' Philippines. He has been a citizen journalist and op-ed writer since 2016.
November 12, 2020
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