Stockholm (NordSIP) – A new global alliance aimed at shifting billions of dollars of faith-based investments into initiatives supporting sustainable development and the environment has been launched in Zug, Switzerland.
The alliance – “so new it hasn’t even got a name yet,” according to Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), which organised the meeting – was agreed upon following the Zug Faith in Finance meeting, a three-day gathering of faith leaders and financial investors. The Faith in Finance gathering also served to launch the Zug Guidelines to Faith-Consistent Investing, the first collection of guidelines curated in cooperation by eight major faiths.
The guidelines give an “unprecedented overview of where religious investment is placed now,” highlighting the principles each tradition calls upon when deciding its investment priorities, and makes explicit statements where appropriate that considerable proportions of the money available should be invested in environmental and sustainable development. “We have long known what faiths are against,” ARC Secretary General Palmer told NordSIP in an exclusive comment. “Historically Islam against usury; Quakers against armaments; Jains against the taking of any animal life. Now for the first time in the Zug Guidelines we know what faiths are for. What they want to invest in to produce a more environmentally and sustainable world.”
“They want to invest in sustainable forestry – some already do, like the Church of Sweden,” Mr Palmer continued. “They want to invest in organic Traditional Chinese Medicine – as the Daoists already do. They want to invest in alternative energy, as Muslim groups do in North Africa. But most of all they want to invest in a way that is faith-consistent – the title of a new alliance designed to shift faith investments into pro-active investing.”
Participants to the Zug conference included over thirty different faith traditions from eight religions, representing over 500 faith investment groups and trillions in dollars in assets, as well as senior United Nations figures and leading impact investment funds. The event, which was held in partnership with the Swiss Impact Investment Association, included a procession through the medieval city of Zug.
“[The alliance] will enable faith groups to share information, experience, knowledge, research and resources to ensure they put their investments and assets into initiatives to help create a better world for all,” said Palmer. “This initiative is backed by the UN and by many traditions within the religions. [It] will develop a faith response to the challenge of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
The alliance is being founded to spearhead proactive sustainable investment objectives and develop faith-consistent investment goals. Established by unanimous agreement at the Zug Faith in Finance meeting, the alliance will mark a shift to a proactive policy of ensuring faith assets and investments will have, as Mr Palmer emphasised, a positive “faith-consistent” impact. This means, for example, “making money work for good,” while still bringing in the returns needed by faiths to fund their activities, and marks an addendum to the previous broad stance held by religious traditions of negative screening unethical investments such as weapons, tobacco, fossil fuels or pornography.
The event was also attended by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who was recently asked by Pope Francis to head up a new agency in the Vatican with the task of “promoting integral human development.”
“The long-term impact will be to empower faith groups – and the billions of people who make up their congregations – and decide how to use their investments, their pension funds and their assets to create a better world, one that as Cardinal Turkson says, responds to two cries, the cry of the poor and the cry of creation,” Palmer added.
The alliance was welcomed by Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UN Environment Programme, who said the initiative could potentially be “one of the great achievements of this generation.”
Image: (c) Alliance of Religions and Conservation