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An issue of morality and justice

14 December 2012

Christians should act to break the deadlock on climate change, argues Joe Ware


Under threat: delegates and activists outside the conference on Friday

Under threat: delegates and activists outside the conference on Friday

THERE is something perverse about it when thousands of people fly thousands of miles in oil-guzzling aeroplanes to a country with the largest per-capita carbon footprint on the planet to negotiate a global response to climate change. When that country is Qatar, one of the world's biggest exporters of oil and gas, it is fair to wonder what the world is coming to.

But the real scandal was not the excess of people at the UN climate-change summit in Doha, but the lack of them. Numbers of delegates and journalists attending the 18th "conference of the parties" to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 18), were down on previous years to 17,000.

Owing in part to the unlikely location, as well as a lack of progress made at previous COPs, the summit was seen by many, governments and journalists alike, as a lower priority than last year's meeting in Durban, which attracted 25,000, or the one at Copenhagen in 2009, which drew 45,000.

The outcomes - a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, but with weak targets, and Japan and Canada joining the United States in opting out; and climate-finance pledges from the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, but no collective financial pledge from all rich countries - barely warranted a mention in many media outlets.

YET climate scientists have been ringing the alarm bells more loudly than ever this year. The UN Environment Programme, the World Bank, and even the CIA have all released detailed reports warning governments of the catastrophe that awaits humanity if we continue on our current course.

This year alone, severe droughts have parched the south of the United States, and the Sahel region of Africa; floods have twice killed hundreds in the Philippines, most recently last week; and Superstorm Sandy has devastated much of the Caribbean, before making a multi-billion-dollar mess of the east coast of the United States.

What is particularly troubling for many about climate change is that this is an issue of injustice. Those suffering its worst effects are mostly the world's poor, who have done the least to cause the current crisis. The Africans forced to flee their homelands, and the Bangladeshis and Filipinos swamped by frequent floods are the least culpable for their plight.

As in the transatlantic slave-trade, one group of people has benefited financially as a direct consequence of other people's misery. The carbon-intensive industrialisation enjoyed by developed nations has left millions facing poverty, and some low-lying small island states facing the prospect of extinction.

Wealthy polluters have not only caused the problem: they also have the power to do something about it - but, in many cases, show scant desire to do so. Like slavery, it is a question of morality and injustice, and, like slavery, it could be Christians who step in to make it right.

The Evangelical MP William Wilberforce helped to end the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. Now the Church must speak up with a prophetic voice for those who have no voice. As with Martin Luther King's struggle for civil rights in the United States, and the ending of apartheid in South Africa, Christians have a proud record of standing up to and overcoming oppression. Such breakthroughs have been the result of Christians' getting their hands dirty with the messy business of politics. Now it is up to us to call on our politicians to implement just policies, which reflect the urgent need to respond to what scientists are telling us is taking place.

THIS is where the Church can speak the truth to power. Unlike self-interested governments, the Church has a body that spreads to all corners of the globe. We speak often of the persecuted Church, but what of our brothers and sisters suffering persecution by an inhospitable climate? It's time for us to heed the words of 1 Corinthians 12.26: "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it."

For millions around the world, the greatest threat is the devastating effects of climate change, caused in large part by carbon-hungry Westerners. It's time we stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. Hundreds of Christians and others from vulnerable countries were in Doha pleading for governments to take ambitious actions to avert climate catastrophe, and yet their pleas fell mainly on deaf ears.

But, if policy-makers in Doha won't hear them, perhaps we in the Church will. If the voices of the poor won't move rich governments into action, perhaps voices from Christians in their own countries will trigger movement.

There are three practical steps that most people can take. One is to write to your MP. MPs have a duty to respond to all letters from constituents, and direct lobbying of parliamentary representatives remains a powerful and often overlooked tool of political change. Visit TheyWorkForYou.com to find out your MP's contact details.

Second, you can sign up and support movements such as Christian Aid's Time for Climate Justice campaign, or the many other groups that are lobbying on these issues. By adding your voice to thousands of others, you multiply the effectiveness.

Finally, taking steps to reduce your own carbon footprint is both a personal act of solidarity with those living with climate change, and a witness to others.

Ultimately, we need to get used to consuming less than we do now. The current trajectory of material consumption is simply not sustainable on a planet with restricted resources and a growing population. In the West, we have enjoyed plundering the earth and gorging ourselves on a carbon-intensive century of development; and this has led to an inhospitable world for our fellow man, woman, and child. It is time we made amends.

As G. K. Chesterton wrote: "There are two ways to have enough. One is to acquire more. The other is to desire less." It's time we started to desire less, and act more.

Joe Ware is a church and campaigns journalist at Christian Aid.

Christman Aid: Climate justice: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/ActNow/climate-justice/Index.aspx


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