Where is the voice of the church on climate change?


To help answer this question Operation Noah co-hosted a meeting with Christian Aid at the church at which I’m vicar, St John’s Waterloo, on 24 February. It was attended by around twenty-five Christian organisations involved in different ways in helping the churches to respond to the challenges of climate change.  Among groups represented were the Church Investors’ Group, Christian Ecology Link, National Justice and Peace Network, Churches Together Environmental Issues Network, A Rocha, Tearfund, CAFOD and SPEAK.

The meeting went well. It was characterised by a shared determination to help the churches speak and take action more clearly and more urgently on the challenge of climate change. We had a wide range of opinions and didn’t seek agreement on every issue, but we networked well and ended the meeting with some clear proposals to take forward.

Bishop Peter Price gave the keynote address. He spoke of how, 10 years ago, as Bishop of Bath and Wells, he had predicted that in 10 years’ time he would be visiting his diocese by boat. And last week large parts of his diocese were indeed under water.

He said that, in his view, campaigning has four elements that are interconnected and cannot be considered in isolation:

  • Environment – in this case climate change
  • Human Rights
  • Peace-building
  • Development (socioeconomic)

And he said he thinks it’s necessary to have two components in our response: (a) a degree of humility – the recognition that we are all part of this and can’t escape it – we don’t have [all] the answers and (b) repentance – by which he didn’t mean beating ourselves up about this but opening ourselves up to new possibilities – allowing our minds to expand.

A number of great ideas for collaboration came out of the afternoon, and different groups agreed to take them forward:

1.       Developing a clear, unified ask of politicians

In the run-up to the General Election (GE) in May 2015 and the EU elections in May 2014, we should come together behind one, clear campaign ask calling for action from our politicians.

2.      Working with the churches as investors

The churches have a responsibility to steward their resources fairly and ethically. There is scope to challenge the churches to invest and procure more sustainably. What are our levers for change when working with church structures around issues like investments and energy use?

3.      Campaign to the media to present a more balanced position on climate change

The media systematically misrepresents the level of consensus around climate change by giving equal airtime to climate sceptics and lobbyists, which creates uncertainty among the public when the science is clear. To counter this bias, can we support a letter-writing campaign? Or ‘climate watchdogs’ – a network of people around the country monitoring their regional media outlets and writing to complain whenever they encounter biased reporting.

4.      Climate ‘Jubilee’ / A theology of climate change

The Jubilee 2000 movement truly mobilised the grassroots churches to campaign for social justice. It worked because it had a key theological principle behind it. What’s the equivalent for climate change? A lot of good theology already exists, such as the Ash Wednesday Declaration (AWD), but the challenge remains of getting it into churches and making the message simple.

5.      Day of Prayer for our changing climate

There was desire for an annual, ecumenical drawing together of people to pray for our climate as well as additional days of prayer for significant events. This could be held on the anniversary of the UK floods, because it would be Dec/Jan, and so motivate people before the May General Elections and the November Paris COP.

We’re going to hold a follow-up meeting in September, and in the meantime we’re also seeking to build the coalition outwards so that we can link with other NGOs and other faith groups, hoping to help revitalise the grass roots movement so it can really make a difference.

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Giles Goddard, Board member of Operation Noah