Leaping forward: La Salle community divests from fossil fuels

The role of faith in solving the climate crisis is often overlooked yet should never be forgotten. This is especially true in the Philippines, home to the third-largest Catholic population in the world.
Published Nov 6, 2018

Faith-based leaders are expected by the devoted to lead by virtuous examples, to inspire the people to be men and women for others. This does not only refer to living through being morally conscious towards fellow human beings, but also to be responsible stewards of the Earth. 

For the De La Salle community, divestments from fossil fuels have become a key part of its campaign towards sustainability; an avenue to express its values through action. 

“We espouse Catholic values because it is our educational mission to take care of the environment,” said Caroline Labrador, Director of the De La Salle Philippines (DLSP) Investments Management Unit.

The institution has spearheaded divestments from extractive industries, especially coal mining, in recent years. It joins a growing list of faith-based organizations worldwide, such as Caritas Internationalis, that are openly shifting their financial portfolios from fossil fuels to renewable energy. 

Global and local Catholic leaders alike are calling for greater protection of our environment. As noted by Pope Francis in the “Laudato Si”, Biblical and church traditions form the basis for ecological discussions and actions, linking faith to an issue often associated with science. It also calls for global dialogue and solidarity to effectively confront environmental issues, the impacts of which reverberate through the interconnected ecosystems encompassing the Earth.  

More specific calls have been made towards this shift of financial portfolios to renewables. Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle recently noted that the continued support of fossil fuels lead to disproportionate suffering for the poorest and most vulnerable sectors, perpetrating climate injustice. 

However, drives for fossil fuel divestments in the Philippines remain faced with major roadblocks. Most of the country remain dependent on coal and oil for power generation. At least 20 coal-fired power plants are planned by the national government for the next few decades, which may encourage more investments into dirty energy. 

Among faith-based institutions, trade-offs are making some of their members hesitant to divest from fossil fuels. For instance, Labrador recognized that fossil fuel companies have supported schools with financial, technical, and academic material assistance. Nevertheless, she emphasized that DLSP’s move proves that “Catholic values are held foremost over money”.

Another challenge for DLSP is that some of its alumni occupy leadership positions in coal and oil-based companies, which makes it very difficult to immediately shift investments away from them. Labrador lamented that these factors are also preventing leaders of other faith-based institutions from fully committing to renewables.

“We really have to know the business of these companies,” she added.

Despite these challenges, Labrador strongly believes that renewable energy will be the majority power provider in the Philippines by 2050, aligned with current climate initiatives on the international and domestic level. She noted that the government has exercise political will in catalyzing such a historic energy shift.

According to her, “the government has to play a major role in providing more incentives for companies to engage in renewable energy and to tax more companies that are either extracting or not complying to whatever the government is implementing”.

Labrador also highlighted the contrast between global action and initiatives in the Philippines, which remains one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. While USD6.24 trillion worth of assets are committed to be divested from fossil fuels during the recently-concluded Global Climate Action Summit, the country’s companies and organizations remain either reluctant to shift or unaware of such developments. 

To help achieve the 1.5-degree global warming limit set forth in the Paris Agreement, Labrador called out all Catholics to live up to the teachings of their religion and actively fight for their future.

“As a Catholic, I have to join more movements and missions in pushing for divestments from fossil fuel companies and more commitments to save the environment and be aware of climate change,” she said.

This article is written by John Leo C. Algo, Science Policy Associate of the Climate Reality Project Philippines.

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Written by John Leo Algo
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JL is an advocate of climate change education, just transition to renewables, promoting energy efficiency, nature-based solutions, cleaner air quality, sustainable lifestyles, and climate justice who has represented the Philippines and the youth sector in different capacities during the global and regional UN climate conferences since 2017. He is also a citizen journalist, writing climate and environmental stories that have been published in international and local media platforms such as The Huffington Post, Asia Sentinel, Rappler, Sun Star, and The Manila Times. He is a two-time fellow of Climate Tracker, the world's largest youth-led climate journalism network. He is one of the co-authors of the first Philippine Climate Change Assessment Report series, the local equivalent to the IPCC reports. He is the recipient of the Miguel R. Magalang Climate Leadership Award during the ceremonies in the Philippine Senate and named the SDG 15 Youth Champion by the 2030 Project in 2017. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in December 2018.
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