Ed Milliband, Britain's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has congratulated CAFOD for its new campaign to raise awareness and mobilise popular pressure on the issue of climate change. Speaking at the launch on 12 March at Westminster Cathedral Hall he said 2009 was a crucial year for action in the lead-up to December's meeting of world leaders at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, where a new global deal is to be worked out. "Britain is ahead of the climate change debate compared to other countries" he boasted "and a greener lifestyle will not only contribute towards saving our world, it is a better quality of life as well".
However, he was challenged by members of the packed audience of several hundred to explain how the British government was going to "walk the talk" whilst supporting a new runway at Heathrow, a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth and £70 billion of expenditure on the renewal of Britain's Trident nuclear system. One person suggested that Britain's arms spending should be transferred to investment in renewable energy. Ed Milliband did not respond to specifics but said the government was committed to reducing greenhouse emissions from aviation, and had already reduced defence spending significantly. To concern over government plans to expand nuclear energy, he responded that "given the urgency of climate change we cannot rule out a low carbon fuel". Members of the audience nodded their heads in disagreement as he reported feeling reassured by scientists that deep geological repository of nuclear waste is safe storage.
CAFOD wants the UK government to push for the Copenhagen conference to commit industrialised countries to at least 30-40 per cent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, based on 1990 levels. It wants the UK to take a lead in establishing a fair and binding agreement that
recognises the right to sustainable development of people in developing countries and ensures sufficient funding and technical support to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. CAFOD supporters were asked to adopt more "carbon-friendly lifestyles" and cut their personal greenhouse gas emissions by reviewing products bought, energy use and transport. "This will also give a signal to the government that we are willing to support tough measures to cut emissions" said CAFOD Director Chris Bain. He announced that CAFOD has undertaken an ecological audit, cut its paper use by 20 per cent and recently won an award for the number of staff who walk or cycle to work. CAFOD is one of more than 170 Catholic groups internationally who called for urgent action on climate change in December 2008.
The urgency of the problems that climate change is posing for CAFOD partners were highlighted at the London launch by Lay Sophea from Cambodia. He told of families who have been unable to grow rice because of extreme weather. Some had resorted to cutting down trees in order to make a living, while others were having to rely on weeds normally used for animals to feed themselves. Changes in waterflow patterns were affecting fish and the livelihoods of fisherfolk. Severe flooding regularly prevented children from reaching school. "Communities can adapt to climate change but only up to a point," he explained; "we need international communities to support our communities to adapt to climate change."
CAFOD's chair, Bishop John Rawsthorne of Hallam, urged everyone in the room to become "ambassadors for climate justice" and to take the campaign message into their parishes. The London launch was the first of a series of CAFOD Climate Justice campaign events across England and Wales. CAFOD is also urging its supports to attend a Put People First march in London on 28 March when the leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies are meeting in London. Joanne Green, CAFOD head of policy, says: "The world's poorest must have a full and equal say in developing a radically different economic system - one which puts people and the environment first. We're calling on Gordon Brown and the other G20 leaders to look to the future and seize the opportunity to put the global economy on the path to sustainability". This will be followed by an international day for climate change action on 5 December 2009.