Billionaire UK investor aims to force hundreds of companies to act on climate

FILE PHOTO: Factories are seen near Tokyo. REUTERS/Stringer

LONDON, – British billionaire Chris Hohn is aiming to force hundreds of U.S. and European companies to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by enlisting global investors to demand an annual vote on their climate plans at shareholder meetings.

Hohn, who has emerged as a major investor voice on climate change, set a precedent last month by using a shareholder resolution to force Spanish airports operator Aena to draft a new climate plan and submit it to an annual vote.

Hohn, founder of the TCI hedge fund, aims to replicate that model at many more companies in the next two years by mobilising investors to sponsor similar resolutions as part of his new Say on Climate campaign.

“Of course, not all companies will support the Say On Climate. There will be fights, but we can win the votes,” Hohn told a webinar with representatives of pension funds and insurance companies on Thursday.

Hohn’s Children’s Investment Fund Foundation said the funds taking part represented more than $3 trillion in assets. The webinar was later posted presentations on the Say on Climate website.

Hohn’s campaign opens a new front in a wider push by activist investors on climate change.

Under Hohn’s plan, shareholders submit a resolution requesting companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, present a plan to reduce them, and give shareholders an annual nonbinding advisory vote on that plan.

Rather than push for specific action by groups of high-emitting companies, such as oil and gas majors, Hohn aims to drive a systemic shift so that it becomes standard practice for all major companies to submit climate plans for annual scrutiny.

“We think we need an annual general meeting shareholder vote to create an accountability mechanism for the execution of the plan – otherwise companies will do as little as they can get away with,” Hohn said.

Eyewitness: Refugees in Calais face bleak winter

Food distribution in Dunkirk. Image Neli Ban.
Food distribution in Dunkirk. Image Neli Ban.

Poorly pitched tents shake in the wind as the rain beats down on the only place that refugees in northern France can call home. Following extensive evictions of the small areas where it is possible to assemble a makeshift camp, families and individuals in Calais and Dunkirk who are from Sudan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Syria and Eritrea suffer as winter takes hold.

There are still more than 400 people living rough in this part of France. Following the destruction of ‘the Jungle’ in 2017, conditions for vulnerable people hoping for a safe life are worse than ever.

Autumn has seen a further deterioration of circumstances that affect living conditions. As reported by aid organisation Calais Food Collective ( see: ) in September this year, the local politicians in the seaside city made it illegal to provide food in certain areas. Alongside these new regulations, the French riot police, the CRS, have been monitoring, questioning and disrupting their volunteers during food distributions in the new, permitted locations.

Neli Ban, a volunteer with another organisation, appreciates the growing problems that winter is causing. “A flimsy tent they sleep in must feel like it’s about to fly off, and they have nowhere to dry their soaked clothes and shoes.” Evictions of the basic camps took place last week. Tents and sleeping bags were taken or ruined, pots and pans were confiscated. Removing the ability to be able to cook is a multifaceted problem. Not only has your daily social activity been taken away, but you must now walk several kilometres in order to stand in a queue to receive a meal, and you have to do this three times a day.

As conditions in France worsen, so do the chances of being able to reach the UK. On 28th October, reports of a family from Kurdistan drowning in the sea shook the migrant community on both sides of the Channel. People from aid organisations together with refugees paid tribute to the adults and children whose lives were lost in the search for safety.

Another cause for concern are the decisions being made in the UK parliament. Family reunification is at risk after the Brexit transition period ends, as the Dubs Amendment has been repeatedly voted down, even after this tragic news. “If there are safe routes,” said Lord Alf Dubs, former child refugee, “then people will take them. If there are not, people will risk their lives.”

The penalty of a failed attempt weighs heavily on those in Calais. Fear of the water has to be weighed against the hope of joining family and having a new life. It takes many months and many risks for people to get even as far as France, the route from Greece through the Balkans will have included scaling mountains and facing the notorious Croatian border authority whose brutal and illegal actions are well documented ( see: ). Another winter on the road, the elements and the police to contend with, is no way for Europe to treat vulnerable people from war-torn countries.

‘Nobody has done anything’: Amazon indigenous group decries illegal mining

Indigenous people of the Munduruku tribe dance during a press conference to ask authorities for protection for indigenous land and cultural rights in Brasilia, Brazil November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

SAO PAULO, – An Amazon indigenous group that earlier turned away a planned hydroelectric dam is now battling a surge of illegal gold mining in its territory during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tribal activist said.

The Sawré Muybu territory of the Munduruku indigenous people, in Brazil’s Pará state, has not been fully recognized as an indigenous reserve by Brazil’s government – one reason it is particularly vulnerable, she said.

But indigenous leaders say they have organized to try to expel those mining and logging the land, even as government officials have said they believe there is indigenous interest in mining going ahead.

Alessandra Munduruku, a law student at the Federal University of Western Pará, in the Amazon city of Santarém, and a leader of the Munduruku people, said a group of indigenous women managed to expel loggers from one village along the Jamanxim River last year.

But in late August fire destroyed part of Karo Ebak, a rural cultivation area along the river, she said, ruining houses and sheds that served as meeting points for the Munduruku community.

“We have been denouncing (the invasions) for a long time, and nobody has done anything,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The office of Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service said it had received the complaint and had launched an investigation at the Itaituba Attorney’s Office but noted “we cannot give more details because the investigation has just started”.


The latest damage comes a few weeks after Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, visited the municipality of Jacareacanga, one of the cities – along with Santarém, Itaituba, and Trairão – that edge the area where the Munduruku people live.

On August 5, Salles accompanied an operation by environmental protection agencies against illegal mining on Munduruku indigenous land, and met with a small group of indigenous residents in favor of mining.

In a video published online of Salles talking with indigenous mining supporters, one complains about the destruction of mining equipment.

After the meeting, the Ministry of Defense stopped operations against illegal mining in the area, though the ministry press office said they were resumed a day later.

Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service, however, last week appealed for the country’s Federal Court to require the government to urgently resume operations against illegal mining in Munduruku land, saying damage was ongoing.

“The situation is so serious that … if the rate of invasion observed since the beginning of 2020 continues without interruption, it is possible that the situation will collapse and become irreversible,” the service said in a press release.

The Ministry of Environment did not respond to repeated requests for its position on mining in indigenous territories and on Munduruku land.

Alessandra Munduruku said those in favor of mining did not represent the majority view of indigenous people in Munduruku territory.

“The minister says that he negotiated with the indigenous people. How can you say that, if we are almost 14,000 and he spoke with only a half dozen?” she asked.

A group of 18 Munduruku indigenous chiefs subsequently sent a letter to the Federal Prosecution Service saying they rejected gold mining in their territory, she said.

Luísa Molina, an anthropologist and researcher in the Sawré Muybu territory, said Salles’ trip to Jacareacanga suggested the government is “trying any way to regularize mining on indigenous land”.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has promoted plans to introduce or expand mining and farming in protected and indigenous land in the Amazon region, human rights defenders say.

Maurício Torres a geography professor at the Federal University of Pará, called the weakening of environmental inspections under the Bolsonaro government “a huge incentive for the looting of indigenous lands”.

He said rising gold prices, linked to economic downturns and stock market instability, had helped drive invasions of indigenous land by gold miners.


The Sawré Muybu indigenous land, which covers about 178,000 hectares (440,000 acres) in the Tapajós River basin is recognized as indigenous territory by the government but has not been officially demarcated, which means it does not have legal protection as a reserve exclusively for indigenous people.

But the Munduruku have worked to defend it, including in 2016 helping to defeat parts of a plan for 43 hydroelectric plants in the basin.

In particular “mega projects like the São Luiz do Tapajós plant, which would directly affect the Sawré Muybu indigenous land,” were turned away, Molina said.

The project would have caused “monumental damage” to the Munduruku reserve, including destroying some of its sacred sites, she said.

Efforts to build the plant were suspended after the federal indigenous affairs agency called the project “impractical” due to its large-scale impact on Munduruku territory.

Munduruku people had protested the project for years, traveling to the capital Brasilia for government meetings and drawing national and international attention to the impact the project would have on their land.

But efforts to build hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós river basin continue.

In late May, the Brazilian government extended until the end of 2021 a deadline for studies on building three other hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós basin.

As well as hydroelectric plants, government and private investors are also planning other projects in the region, including a port on the Middle Tapajós River, agribusiness expansion and a railroad line to export soy from Mato Grosso state.

The government “has a series of projects (and) logistical and transport plans which are articulated, and are linked to large miners’ interest,” Molina said.

Alessandra Munduruku said her people should have the right to a say about proposed changes to the land that has been theirs for generations.

“What is a democracy like if you don’t have the right to express your opinion about the territory, the river, the forest?” she asked.

‘In the DNA’: How social entrepreneurs are getting creative in pandemic

Claire Sancelot, the founder of The Hive Bulk Foods, a social enterprise in Malaysia that runs zero waste stores, poses with bubble wrap her firm collected for reuse due to a surge in plastic waste led by the increase in online deliveries over the pandemic. Photo courtesy: Claire Sancelot/The Hive Bulk Foods

KUALA LUMPUR/NAIROBI, – As COVID-19 forces businesses worldwide to reinvent themselves, social entrepreneurs are getting creative to help communities hit hard by the pandemic – from a Ugandan medicine-on-wheels service to upcycled face masks made by vulnerable women in Peru.

While recessions and falling revenue are affecting ethical businesses too, many such companies are proving particularly adept at innovating and finding new opportunities.

“Social innovation is the DNA of social entrepreneurs,” said Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, regional director for Ashoka East Africa, a non-profit working with social enterprises – businesses aiming to do good while making a profit.

“They are accustomed to tackling complex social problems and therefore design innovative solutions that create better conditions of life,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark Social Enterprise Day on Thursday.

Started by Social Enterprise UK, the sector’s trade body in Britain, and held annually on the third Thursday of November, the day aims to highlight the sector’s global impact. The campaign has since expanded to other parts of the world.

With the pandemic taking a heavy toll on vulnerable communities around the world, companies with a social focus are even encouraging some traditional businesses to have a rethink.

“We have seen them tackle perennial challenges ranging from access to healthcare and education, remote working, economic resilience all the way to transparency or fighting fake news,” Otieno Odhiambo said.


In Asia, social enterprises have turned to making face shields and protective suits for doctors, and linking those who have lost their jobs to careers in sustainable fields.

As movement curbs remain in place across many cities, a surge in online deliveries has led to a mountain of plastic waste, prompting Malaysia’s The Hive Bulk Foods to start collecting discarded packaging for reuse.

The social enterprise, a zero-waste chain selling products from refugees and local organic farmers, said items like bubble wrap quickly filled up its warehouse. It donates the packaging to other businesses so it can be used again.

“We realised everyone on the planet was also ordering online and that online packaging was delivered with an insane amount of plastic waste, often more plastic waste than the goods delivered,” said founder Claire Sancelot.

“We just want to prove that despite the pandemic we can change the business model and move to a more circular economy.”

In Peru’s capital Lima, Valery Zevallos – who founded an ethical fashion brand called Estrafalario that employs poor women, female prisoners and domestic violence survivors – knew she had to adapt as shopping mall sales plunged during lockdown.

She started a new line of handmade face masks made from recycled materials, working with nearly 40 women. So far, they have sold more than 26,000 masks and donated some to community groups and female inmates.

“We had to think out of the box,” said the 30-year-old designer, adding that the company’s online clothes sales have jumped 400% as customers go to its website to buy the masks.

“It’s a win-win. We sell clothes and they earn,” she said.

In Africa, where the pandemic has strained fragile healthcare systems and made it even harder for people to get to medical centres and pharmacies, Uganda’s Kaaro Health started sending its nurses to treat patients at home.

The company, which offers pre-natal check-ups and child immunisations at its solar-powered container clinics, also put its technicians on motorbikes, mounted with refrigerated clinic kits, to collect medical samples and deliver prescriptions.

Across the border in Kenya, CheckUps Medical, which offers remote diagnostic and pharmacy services, has trained motorbike taxi drivers to identify people in need of medication or teleconsultation in remote areas.


Like other pandemic-hit businesses, social enterprises have struggled financially this year but their swift response could spur big business into more collaborations and a rethink of dominant business models.

“What COVID-19 has shown us is that the massively complicated international supply chains are really fragile when you have a pandemic,” said Tristan Ace, who leads the British Council’s social enterprise programme in Asia.

“One positive outcome that we have seen is corporates starting to incorporate social enterprise in their local areas more, more than just relying on the global supply chains.”

Yet major industry players and governments will have to take the lead – such as changing procurement practices and encouraging more impact investing – as the solutions offered by social enterprises are often small-scale.

“As economies begin to recover, we need to think about the big levers that will support the delivery of positive impact at scale, which should be led by big businesses and governments,” said Louise Aitken from Ākina, a New Zealand consultancy working with social enterprises and corporates.

“This is beyond building back better, it’s actually about building impact into our recovery,” the chief executive said.

Campaigners urge G20 to ensure end to bombing of Yemen


Saudi forces have led a five year bombing of Yemen, with arms provided by many G20 countries. The UK has licensed at least £5.4 billion worth of arms since the bombing began, with the actual level of arms sales being far higher.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has urged G20 leaders to ensure that they use this weekend’s summit to work towards ending the conflict in Yemen. The summit is being hosted by the Saudi Arabian regime, which has led a brutal bombardment on Yemen since March 2015.

The war has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with some estimates putting the death toll at over 100,000 people. Many of the G20 participants have provided arms for the war; including the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:£2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones). £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures). In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

The UK’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has made £15 billion in revenue from services and sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi-led forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. This followed a case brought by CAAT. The government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner.

In July 2020 the government announced that it was resuming arms sales. This followed a review by the Department of International Trade which concluded that any violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by the Saudi coalition were ‘isolated incidents’, despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, and agricultural land and facilities have been documented. In October 2020, CAAT filed a new legal challenge against the government’s decision to resume sales.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The G20 summit gives a big propaganda coup to the Saudi Royal Family, allowing it to whitewash its abuses behind a veneer of ‘modernisation’ and boost its standing on the world stage.

“The reality is that the Saudi regime has an appalling human rights record and a long history of repression and targeting human rights campaigners. Those campaigners must be freed. Unfortunately, many of the leaders who expressed their outrage over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi are all too happy to partake in the charade.

“Over the last five years, Saudi forces have inflicted a brutal bombardment on Yemen. The war has only been made possible by the arms sales and support that has come from some of the leaders than will be joining them this weekend, including the UK. After years of conflict, and with COVID spreading, the crisis is only getting worse. The bombing must stop and so must have the arms sales that have enabled it.”

Storm Eta damage pushes small, indigenous farmers in Central America into hunger

People clean up after the passage of Storm Eta, in Pimienta, Honduras November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

BOGOTA,- Ruben Garcia not long ago had small herds of cattle and fields bursting with crops, and now the indigenous farmer in northern Nicaragua lies awake worrying how long it will be before he and his neighbors run out of food.

The wooden homes and tiny farms of the indigenous Miskito community stood little chance against the sustained winds of 150 mph as Hurricane Eta barreled along the Caribbean coast earlier this month.

The subsistence farmers in one of Nicaragua’s poorest areas will have little to eat in the wake of one of the most powerful storms to hit Central America in years, said Garcia, an indigenous leader.

“My community is totally devastated. We’ve lost everything,” Garcia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone near Nicaragua’s port city of Puerto Cabezas.

“I once had a house. It’s destroyed. We never imagined that we would become homeless overnight. I’ve lost my plantain and rice crops. We’re searching for cattle, the ones we find either dead or injured,” said Ruben, a father of three.

The storm hit just as the rice harvest was underway, leaving fields covered with mud and choked with fallen palm and coconut trees and branches, Garcia said. Crops in other fields were flooded.

Normally self-sufficient, “now we have to rely on food aid,” he said. “We have about 10 days left of food and then what? It’s a critical situation. It will take months for us to recover.”

Government food aid arrived within three days but has already run out in the villages that are home to about 1,000 indigenous people, Garcia said.

The priority of aid groups is getting drinking water and food to communities cut off by blocked roads and landslides, said Cairo Jarquin, an aid worker with charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

“The next phase is ensuring food security. Crops losses are severe. Almost total. Whole farming areas are affected,” said Jarquin, CRS’s emergency response project manager in Nicaragua.


Across Central America, Storm Eta’s winds and flooding have killed at least 150 people, with another 2.5 million people affected in some way, such as losing their homes, businesses and crops, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency (OCHA).

About 70,000 people are living in temporary shelters.

Hardest hit are indigenous and rural communities in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“People’s homes and livelihoods have been left in tatters,” said Moises Gonzalez, Latin America and the Caribbean representative for charity Christian Aid.

“Long-term, the impact on incomes will be significant, as many have lost the bulk of their crops and especially as the coffee harvest is due to start this month,” said Gonzalez, based in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.

From rural communities to the urban poor, Central America already is suffering from the economic fallout of COVID-19, making recovery from the hurricane even harder.

“People have lost jobs, businesses are struggling,” said Felipe del Cid, Americas manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “As a result, families are experiencing a drastic reduction in their income and savings.

“The damage caused by Eta threatens to tip them further over the edge.”

In recent years, food shortages caused by extreme weather like hurricanes and prolonged droughts, exacerbated by climate change, have forced people from their homes and fueled migration in and outside of Central America, including to the United States.

“We also cannot ignore the impact this storm will have on displacement and migration in the region,” del Cid said.

“History shows us that disasters are likely to exacerbate displacement, caused by the loss of housing and the impact on unemployment,” he said.

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, 3.4 million people last year faced severe food insecurity, meaning they were unable to meet their daily basic food needs, according to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).

That number could quadruple to nearly 14 million people this year due in large part to COVID-19, the WFP has said.

Holy Spirit nuns join with network in India to support migrants

Migrants from Maharashtra traveled by truck and were left May 25 at Bondamunda, Odisha, in India. They sat in the sun without food for an entire day. The author and her congregation, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, gave them food and made arrangements for their further travel to West Bengal. (Provided photo)

The moment the COVID-19 lockdown started, I felt fear deep within. My inner voice was saying “stay at home,” but the cries of the thousands of the migrant workers all over the country kept me disturbed until I went out to help them.

Welcoming a stranger is an important evangelical virtue for Christians. Every human being has inalienable rights, so caring for migrants is a significant mission of the Catholic Church.

The Bible begins with the migration of God’s Spirit into creation, and ends with John as a refugee in exile on the Isle of Patmos. Between those two events, the uprooted people of God seek safety, sanctuary and refuge, and God gives directions for welcoming a stranger.

In his 2013 message to migrants and refugees, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the integration of migrants and refugees into society. On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2016, Pope Francis said in his address that the situation of so many men, women and children forced to flee their homes must challenge us and break the barrier of indifference.

In 2000 my congregation, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Word Missionaries began what is now a consortium of 12 religious congregations called VIVAT International, a nongovernmental organization that advocates at the United Nations. Representatives in New York and Geneva link the ministries of our members with the United Nations.

I attended the first workshop VIVAT organized — in Indore, India, in August 2011 — about problems faced by domestic workers and migrants. Inspired by this workshop, my congregation prioritized the issue of domestic and migrant workers and addressed them in all our mission areas.

When our federal government imposed national lockdown in March to contain the spread of COVID-19, millions of Indian migrants struggled as factories closed down. They lost jobs and were desperate to return home in that uncertain time. With no food, water or public transportation, they commuted hundreds of kilometers on foot—dying of hunger and exhaustion, suicide, road and rail accidents, police brutality, and denial of timely medical care along the way. Local and federal government help came too little and too late.

Heartbreaking stories of the migrant workers are too many to recount. I saw many migrant workers returning to their native places by means of inadequate transportation and with no food. I was dumbfounded to see many women and children packed among men — like merchandise — in trucks and other goods carriers. Many days of the painful journey were unforgettable, and the pathetic life that they endured after the lockdown cannot be expressed in words.

Thirteen groups of migrant workers native of Odisha who were in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka, Delhi, Mumbai, Telengana and Kerala were wanting to come back due to unemployment, financial crisis, starvation and fear of getting infected with COVID 19. When our community in Odisha was contacted to extend our help to the returning migrants, we networked with priests, sisters, laypeople and organizations in different parts of India to work towards the migrants’ survival and safe return home. We did the following:

  • Provided cooked and dry food to migrant workers who were on the way to their homes in Bondamunda, Gomardih, Bhubaneswar and Duburi;
  • Arranged for vehicles to help them reach their respective destinations;
  • Distributed sanitary kits and masks;
  • Extended regular contact and material, financial and moral support to the migrants.

As I started to network, I witnessed many good Samaritans — especially the Don Bosco Priests, Jesuits, Divine Word Missionaries, Pallotine priests, the Excellent IAS Academy, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, Handmaids of Mary sisters, and Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, my own congregation, who spent their time, energy, resources and finances willingly and generously, and above all, risked their own lives to support the migrants in need.

Five girls from Kantapalli village, living in the south, had no food to eat. When we asked, the Don Bosco priests in our network provided all the help for their immediate needs and train tickets. They reached Odisha safely and after quarantine, they are at home now.

Two boys from Birjapalli (Odisha) lost their jobs in Delhi. They managed to get partway home, and the Pallotine priests were contacted to help get them the rest of the way home.

Three girls from Duburi, Odisha, working in the south, lost everything and wanted to return home. With the help of the Don Bosco priests, two girls reached home safely and the third girl was admitted to a hostel.

Twelve migrants from Sundargarh district, working in the south, were faced with extreme difficulties and decided to return home. They informed their supervisor of their desire and need to return home. He gave them a false promise that he would send them home soon. When this promise was not fulfilled even after many days, they contacted us for help. Through stern warnings to the supervisor and appeal to the local police, all 12 returned home safely.

The Jesuits helped us return another group of migrants, and the Don Bosco priests rescued 18 who had lost their jobs and were bankrupt. Nine migrants from Bihar on the way to their working place were held in Rourkela for almost two and a half months, without work. A Divine Word priest and his staff in Rourkela fed them and helped them to reach home safely.

Two girls below the ages of 18 from Rourkela slum, Odisha, doing domestic work in Delhi, were jobless and struggled for food after the lockdown. A Divine Word priest was contacted; he gave them necessary provisions and planned to get them tickets for their return home.

A group in Kerala, South India, and another in Delhi, did not lose their jobs, but were afraid of infection and wanted to come back. Divine Word priests offered them counseling and convinced them to stay on.

42 Catholic institutions to divest from fossil fuels, bring total to over 200

Sunflowers stand in a field near inactive oil drilling rigs Jan. 21, 2016, in Dickinson, North Dakota. (CNS/Andrew Cullen, Reuters)

For the second time this year, a group of 40-plus faith-based organizations committed to avoiding investments in fossil fuels, pushing the number of Catholic groups making such public pledges to over 200.

On Monday, 47 religious institutions — 42 of them Catholic — announced they will end or continue to eschew financial holdings in coal, oil and natural gas, the energy sources that are driving increasing climate change on the planet.

Among the organizations, located in 21 countries, are the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, Caritas Asia, three dioceses, 13 lay organizations and 20 religious congregations and associations — including the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the International Union of Superiors General, or UISG, the largest umbrella group of women religious congregations, representing 2,000 worldwide.

The announcement also includes the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and the U.S.-based Catholic philanthropic network FADICA.

Along with them, four Christian groups in the United Kingdom — including the Southern and Thames North Synods of the United Reformed Church — and the human rights-focused American Jewish World Service also divested, making this the largest joint divestment announcement by faith institutions to date, according to organizers.

In May, another 42 faith organizations in 14 countries announced their intent to divest. Both joint announcements were the result of a campaign by the Global Catholic Climate Movement. In the last four years, its divest-invest campaign has organized eight such public declarations by Catholic groups.

Their mobilizing has helped make faith-based organizations the largest share of the 1,200 organizations and businesses worldwide that since 2012 have publicly pledged to divest more than $14 trillion. Of those, more than 220 have been within the Roman Catholic Church.

The latest divestment commitments from Catholic groups comes days before the scheduled start of a major summit convened by Pope Francis on creating a more sustainable economy. The Economy of Francesco conference will take place Nov. 19-21 online, as the coronavirus pandemic upended original plans to invite young economists, students and entrepreneurs to Assisi, Italy.

In May, the Vatican bank confirmed to EarthBeat that it does not maintain investments in fossil fuels. A month later, the Vatican issued operational guidelines on the environment for dioceses and parishes.

The guidelines, originally published in Italian but since released in English, include a section on finance that critiques the pursuit of short-term gains at the expense of long-term negative consequences for communities and ecosystems.

Specifically, it recommends speeding up investment in sustainable infrastructure and establishing ethical investment principles that “promote responsible investments in social and environmental sectors, for example by evaluating progressive disinvestment from the fossil-fuel sector.”

Of the 47 faith institutions in Monday’s announcement, 18 committed to fully divest their investment portfolios from fossil fuels. Another 25 do not currently hold such investments and have committed to avoiding them in the future.

FADICA, or Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, has fully divested its stocks and bonds from fossil fuels, said president and CEO Alexia Kelley, who added it still has “a very minute exposure” to natural gas through passive investments in funds screened according to environmental, social and governance criteria.

The Catholic philanthropic network’s focus on environmentally friendly investing ramped up several years ago, after it updated its investment policy statement to align more with Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

Several members also attended a 2018 impact investing conference at the Vatican, where participants pledged almost $1 billion in new investments to address issues related to health, migrants and refugees, youth employment and climate change.

The conference also led FADICA to develop workshops and resources for its members, to support their growing interest in making an impact in the area of creation care, Kelley said.

“Catholic philanthropists are more and more interested in looking at all the tools they have in their toolbox to achieve their mission,” she said.

The International Union of Superiors General’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission is among the groups that have never held investments. Franciscan Sr. Sheila Kinsey, executive co-secretary of the commission, told EarthBeat in an email that their commitment does not extend to the full UISG body, but the commission has promoted fossil fuel divestment and alternative investing as part of its Sowing Hope for the Planet campaign, which aims to help women religious implement Laudato Si’.

Kinsey said those efforts will continue as the Vatican advances its own “Laudato Si’ Action Platform” — a grassroots program that encourages the Catholic Church at all levels to adopt seven-year plans toward total sustainability, which among seven dimensions includes investing in renewable energy and fossil fuel divestment.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross in England joined Monday’s announcement. In a statement, the sisters’ leadership team said that after attempts to use their position as shareholders to press fossil fuel companies to reduce reliance on such energy sources, “we have realized that engagement with these companies only has limited success. We have now informed our Investors that we have decided to completely disinvest from fossil fuels, and thus work towards a zero-carbon future.”

An October energy outlook from Bloomberg projected that investment in clean energy and battery storage technology could reach $11 trillion by 2050, with wind and solar energy providing more than half of the world’s electricity. The report predicted that natural gas would be the only fossil fuel to see an increase in demand in that same period.

Like the UISG commission, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union does not hold investments in fossil fuels, but committed to avoid them. Its support for fossil fuel divestment follows similar moves by several national bishops’ conferences, including those of Austria, Belgium, Ireland and Greece.

“We encourage others also to join us in taking concrete steps to solve the climate crisis,” the commission’s secretary-general, Fr. Manuel Enrique Barrios Prieto, said in a statement, highlighting the importance of meeting commitments under the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal.

“Solving the climate crisis protects the human family from the dangers of a warming world, and decisive action is needed now more than ever,” he said. 

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests also does not have a history of investing in fossil fuels through its endowment. Fr. Bob Bonnot, its executive director, said the decision represents an ongoing commitment by the association and its 1,200 members to address climate change.

In the past, the association’s climate change working group has produced homily helps to relate Laudato Si’ to weekly scripture readings. It also hosted webinars during this year’s Season of Creation.

“We feel [divestment is] a way that we can manifest our commitment to this mention of caring for our common home, and we have to exemplify that and model that if we’re going to say we are committed to it,” Bonnot said.

Other divesting groups include the Dioceses of Victoria, Spain, and Penang, Malaysia, and the Archdiocese of Luanda, Angola; the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations; the English province of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, based in Ireland; and four religious orders in Kenya.

Kenya arrests four more after BBC Africa Eye baby stealers exposé

Three senior medical officers were in court on Wednesday

Police in Kenya have arrested four more people for allegedly running a child-trafficking syndicate following a BBC investigation into the theft and sale of babies. 

BBC Africa Eye revealed children were stolen to order from illegal clinics and at a Nairobi public hospital.

Seven people are now in custody in connection with the case including medics and a hospital administrator.

The babies were sold for as little as $400 (£300). 

In the wake of the BBC Africa Eye story, police chief Hillary Mutyambai ordered an investigation into hospitals, as well as children’s homes in the Kenyan capital.

Two hospital administrators, a nurse and a social worker appeared in court on Thursday, adding to the three senior medical officials who were in court on Wednesday.

They have not been formally charged and did not enter pleas.

BBC Africa Eye uncovered a trade in children stolen from vulnerable mothers living on the streets, as well as the existence of illegal clinics dotted around Nairobi, where babies were being sold.

The investigation also revealed alleged corruption at Mama Lucy Kibaki, a public hospital in Nairobi.

Fred Leparan, a clinical social worker at the hospital, is alleged to have facilitated the sale of an abandoned two-week-old baby boy to undercover reporters, later accepting 300,000 shillings ($2,700; £2,000) in cash.

Both Mr Leparan and Mama Lucy Kibaki hospital declined requests to comment on the investigation’s findings.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Kenya’s Labour and Social Protection Minister Simon Chelugui said the culprits would face the “full force of the law”.

Mr Chelugui also acknowledged that improvements to some of Kenya’s child protection services were needed.

His colleague in the Interior Ministry Fred Matiang’i thanked the BBC for exposing the “rot” at Mama Lucy hospital. He added that human and drug trafficking were the biggest challenges Kenyan security was dealing with.

There are no reliable statistics on child trafficking in the East African state, but a non-governmental organisation, Missing Child Kenya, said it had been involved in nearly 600 cases in the past three years.

‘A really joyful journey’: Preparing people with intellectual disabilities to receive the sacraments

A volunteer at Caritas St. Joseph in Hendon, north London, on March 16, 2012. Credit: Mazur/

As book titles go, the “Directory for Catechesis” is hardly the catchiest. But this volume could potentially transform the lives of thousands of people.

That is the conviction of Gail Williams, center manager at Caritas St. Joseph in Hendon, north London. When the updated directory — formerly known as the General Directory for Catechesis — was released in June, she was struck by what it said about people with disabilities.  

“People with disabilities are called to the fullness of sacramental life, even in the presence of serious disturbances,” the directory said. “The sacraments are gifts of God and the liturgy, even before being rationally understood, asks to be lived: therefore, no one can deny the sacraments to people with disabilities.”

“It means so much for it actually to be printed in there,” Williams told CNA, “because the General Directory for Catechesis is the go-to for anybody that’s not really doing this work. And they’ll often say: ‘Well, is it in the General Directory for Catechesis?’” 

It means so much for it actually to be printed in there,” Williams told CNA, “because the General Directory for Catechesis is the go-to for anybody that’s not really doing this work. And they’ll often say: ‘Well, is it in the General Directory for Catechesis?’” 

“To be able to say ‘Yes, it is’ is just amazing, because then you have real proof and back-up that actually the Catholic Church does want to embrace everyone and does want to encompass those that are usually ignored.” 

For the past 40 years, Caritas St. Joseph has supported people with intellectual disabilities, as well as their families and friends, in the English Diocese of Westminster. Formerly known as St. Joseph’s Pastoral Centre, Caritas St. Joseph wants to share its expertise far beyond the borders of Westminster diocese, which includes all of London north of the River Thames and some outlying areas.

Williams believes that some parishes are scared of catechizing those with learning disabilities. She is on a mission to persuade them that it can, in fact, be “a really joyful journey.” 

Her interest in catechesis began when her oldest son, who is severely dyslexic, started his First Communion course at the age of seven. 

“Nobody understood how he functioned. In those days, it was all ‘sit down and read from the book,’ and it was so difficult for him,” she recalled.

She realized that her son’s faith grew by listening to the words said at Mass, as well as through the sounds and smells at the church they attended. 

In 2006, Williams attended a course called “Symbols of Faith” at St. Joseph’s. When she returned to her parish with a deeper knowledge of how to teach the faith to people with learning disabilities, she made a disturbing discovery. 

She found that there were families that didn’t bring their children to church because they couldn’t cope with crowds or remain still during the quieter parts of Mass.  

“To go back and find that part of my parish family was missing because of all these reasons was a real eye-opener for me,” she remembered. “That’s when I really felt quite strongly that everybody should be included.”

Williams continued: “When you’re a parent of a child or an adult with a learning disability, and you are on the phone constantly to doctors, fighting for them at school, the last thing you really need to do is to feel shut off from your faith.”

The latest catechetical directory is the third since the Second Vatican Council. The first, the General Catechetical Directory, was published in 1971. The second, the General Directory for Catechesis, was issued in 1997. The latest version updates catechetical methods for the digital age and is likely to have a profound impact on the teaching of the Catholic faith around the world. 

When Williams begins catechizing a child, she takes them into an empty church and helps them to appreciate all the sensory elements: the colors, sounds and smells. She may lead them to the altar and explain why it is much more than an ordinary table.  

“It’s not about long, convoluted words. It’s about showing and supporting them in making their own discoveries,” she said.

Williams urges parents of disabled children to raise the directory’s new recommendations with their pastors. If their parish doesn’t know where to begin, she advises them to contact Caritas St. Joseph or similar organizations where they live. 

We can come out and we can train people, and we can share our knowledge, expertise and resources. But once you are trained, don’t be afraid to be the voice for those people who are left on the fringes of your parish,” she said.

Williams noted that, while her work is deeply rewarding, it can be emotionally draining. At one point, she was visiting families after finishing her day job. 

“Sometimes you would spend one minute with the child because he had had enough at school that day and just wasn’t interested,” she said. “But then you would spend half an hour with the mum, because she hadn’t seen anyone all week or he had had a difficult day at school and she needed to talk to someone.”

“At those times you think ‘Well, I can’t catechize today.’ But actually you’re supporting the whole family. And it’s so important that even if it seems impossible, actually it isn’t. Kindness, patience and time is the best gift.”

There are also heart-lifting breakthroughs. Williams talks about discussing transubstantiation with a child who responded by making two sign-language gestures, one meaning “change” and the other signifying “creation.” 

“So then you know that actually she’s understanding that that’s the Consecration, that the bread and the wine is changing and creating the Body and Blood. You get moments like that, that absolutely clarify what you are doing,” she said.

Above all, Williams wants parents to know that, thanks to the latest directory, a new path is open to them.

“It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are. God can always be present in your life,” Williams said.

“Quite a lot of time we get the question ‘Do they really know?’ And yes, they really do. Sometimes you have to work with someone for four years, sometimes for a year. Sometimes you can support them straightaway on the Communion program.”

“Just don’t be afraid,” she concluded. “It is possible for everyone.”