“Do not be afraid”, church leaders implore climate negotiators

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

With the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen sputtering and showing signs of being less than legally binding, ambitious and fair, leaders of churches and international church organisations have sent a message to the negotiators from 192 countries imploring them to "not be afraid". The letter, which was signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the incoming and outgoing general secretaries of the World Council of Churches as well as church leaders from Europe, North America and the Pacific, says the negotiations are at a crucial stage and negotiators need to be steadfast to "act now."

The message also called on the negotiators to keep in mind the historical responsibility of the industrialised countries in climate justice: "At this crucial stage in the negotiations we would like to reiterate our firm conviction that there is an undeniable historical responsibility on the part of the industrialised countries for the climate change crisis that we currently face."

Church leaders, activists and organisations have been energetic in building up a wave of popular support internationally for a significant climate deal. On 5 December, justice and environmental campaigners formed a blue Wave around Westminster to lobby for an effective deal in Copenhagen. They called for a deal which would keep global warming under two degrees centigrade, which means rich countries taking the lead by reducing their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020. They also called for rich countries to provide at least $150 billion a year for developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. Church members were the key energy force in that Wave. As at least 50,000 people encircled Westminster, on both sides of the river, the CAFOD ‘hand’ placard, Christian Aid and Tearfund banners were everywhere and featured prominently in the TV images of the event. Chris Bain, CAFOD’s director, and other heads of church agencies, were amongst those who met with Gordon Brown that morning. And in his meeting with campaigners after the march, Ed Miliband, the government’s climate change secretary, acknowledged the contribution of communities of faith to the Wave. Leading players in Operation Noah, Christian Ecology Link, Columban Faith and Justice and A Rocha were present.

That morning at least 20 church leaders, including Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster were photographed joining the wave service, where a congregation of 2,200 people was in the main hall, with a further 1000 in overflow rooms two floors below, participating through large screens. More than 600 children attended a children’s educational event organised by CAFOD, and helped to prepare banners for the march. Some parishes, such as St. Erconwald’s in Wembley, were attending this kind of march for the first time.

Then, as the summit got underway in Copenhagen, many activists moved there. Mark Dowd of Operation Noah travelled on an electric train, a journey, he said, which is “nearly five times more expensive than flying there, but ten times less polluting to the atmosphere”. In his video blogs, ‘Faith at the Summit’ he highlighted the contribution of Christians and other faith communities to the lobbying and awareness raining processes. Then last Sunday, churches around the world rang their bells 350 times symbolise the 350 parts per million that mark the safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere.  Westminster Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster were amongst them.
Church solidarity with the victims of climate change has been powerful these past two weeks. Speaking at a side event in Copenhagen on Monday, "Renew the face of Earth: Faith-based approaches to climate justice," Joy Kennedy, a member of the World Council of Churches Working Group on Climate Change and the United Church of Canada, said:  "We have a bad habit, a belief in a theology of dominance that humans rule over the earth. Well, I have to tell you, sisters and brothers, it is past time that we confess that".  In exchange for the theology of dominance, Kennedy said, a theology of humility is needed. And now more than ever there is a need for making ethical and moral choices that benefit the whole creation, she added.

Whatever the outcome of the talks, church campaigning will continue and initiatives to promote low-carbon Christian living will feature ever more prominently in the churches’ mission.

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