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Faith communities have vital role to play in tackling climate change

Ed Stourton, Christine Allen, Professor Munasinghe

Ed Stourton, Christine Allen, Professor Munasinghe

Faith communities have a “vital role” to play in tackling climate change, a Nobel laureate told a packed Progressio AGM on 19 October.  “Whatever religion you espouse” said Professor Mohan Munasinghe, “they all teach you values of fellowship and respect for others and it’s very important to build on that base when addressing this issue”.

A 200-strong audience at London’s Royal Commonwealth Society heard the internationally-recognised expert on energy, sustainable development and climate change, speak about viable models of development that can alleviate poverty without exacerbating climate change.

Professor Munasinghe, a Sri-Lankan former Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with IPCC colleagues and Al Gore, for his efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about climate change, and to lay the foundations for measures to counteract it.

“Business as usual just won’t do” said Professor Munasinghe, and he called for a “development transition” which would embrace green investment, sustainable development and greater assistance to poor countries who are already having to adapt to climate impacts. China and India should, in his view, be helped to leapfrog dirty development which pollutes the atmosphere. He referred to the ruling cabinet of the Maldives who held a meeting underwater last week to highlight the threat to their nation, and to the people of Bangladesh who are set to lose at least 17 per cent of the their low-lying land area by the end of the century. He feared that “political will” is lacking to ensure that December’s Copenhagen Climate Summit will deliver the tough agreement that is necessary to reduce carbon emissions. But also felt individuals must not underestimate the importance of taking “small steps” to reduce their carbon footprints.

“There are many things you can do, such as plant a tree or use fluorescent light bulbs” he said, “and in this way you can build up momentum and influence your neighbours and friends to do the same”.

Professor Munasinghe praised Progressio, formerly the Catholic Institute for International Relations, for “bridging the development and environment communities” and empowering people internationally to make a difference. Executive Director Christine Allen explained how the organisation has examined its environmental impact this year and made adjustments to reduce it. She also highlighted Progressio’s development work in 11 countries, from work with HIV-infected prisoners in Zimbabwe to supporting East Timor’s efforts to build a just society, to highlighting access to water as an issue in Copenhagen.

During question time, chaired by journalist Ed Stourton, it emerged that when the Pope makes an official visit to Britain next year, he may be lobbied to come by train. Progressio and CAFOD were urged by theologians Tom Cullinan and Edward Echlin to write to Pope Benedict XVI, calling upon him to reject flying for the trip because of its heavy carbon footprint.