GCCM/KOO: Austrian Bishops’ Conference announces divestment from fossil fuels
The Catholic community is well represented in Austria, where over half of the population belongs to the Church.
Around the world, Catholic institutions have been leaders in taking concrete steps to address the climate crisis. Austria is the third bishops’ conference to announce its divestment from fossil fuels, following Belgium and Ireland.
These bishops’ conferences join nearly 120 other Catholic institutions that have divested, including large German Catholic banks. These 120+ Catholic institutions are the leaders in a global total of approximately 1,000 institutions valued at over $8 trillion that have divested.
The Austrian decision comes on the heels of a Vatican conference on the UN’s sustainable development goals, which include urgent action on climate change, and follows strong statements from Pope Francis about energy use, such as his statement to fossil fuel CEOs that “civilization requires energy use, but energy use must not destroy civilization!”
The leadership of Catholic institutions connects with leadership among representatives of high politics. In December, the president of Austria walked with Catholic pilgrims. In November, Alexander Van der Bellen, president of Austria, supported actively Catholic pilgrims meeting them on their way to Katowice. These activists urged action on climate change by making a 1,500-km trek from the Vatican to Katowice, Poland, the site of the UN climate talks. Van der Bellen initiated also the Declaration for more Climate Ambition that was signed by 19 heads of state.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Chairperson of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference said, “Financial means of the Church must not exert a destructive influence on our planet’s climate. Therefore, the Austrian Episcopal Conference has now decided to sign the divestment pledge of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and to adjust the ethical investment guidelines accordingly.”
Tomás Insua, executive director of Global Catholic Climate Movement, said, “The Austrian Bishops’ Conference divestment from fossil fuels is a prophetic stand for climate justice. The global Catholic community is taking bold leadership to protect the vulnerable people who urgently cry out for change. We have only a few short years to turn the arc of greenhouse gas emissions downward, and this visionary leadership by the bishops of Austria is a huge step in the right direction.”
Bishop Werner Freistetter, responsible for International Church Affairs at the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, welcomes the announcement, and says, “We call on other institutions to join the divestment movement with their pledges in order to maintain our common home for current and future generations.”
Anja Appel, director of the Coordination Office of the Austrian Bishops´ Conference (KOO), said “We Christians and our institutions have the responsibility to care for creation and work towards global justice. We are among this part of the world’s population which produces the biggest share of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore naturally we need to fight its main cause–the use of fossil fuels. This important step shows the Austrian bishops’ coherent effort to meet the demands of the Paris Climate Accord.”
Global Catholic Climate Movement is an international network of nearly 900 member organizations responding to Pope Francis’ call for action on climate change in Laudato Si’.
The Coordination Office (KOO) is a member of Global Catholic Climate Movement and a department of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, responsible for development and missionary work. KOO promotes and coordinates the activities of organisations and dioceses of the Austrian Catholic Church in this area. KOO has 28 member organisations working in development and pastoral work as well as more than 50 missionary congregations. KOO is a member of CIDSE: International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity.