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Rich are pushing world into crisis, Williams warns

04 April 2014


Closer to home: smog over London on Wednesday

Closer to home: smog over London on Wednesday

THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams has blamed the lifestyle of the affluent West for the effects of climate change in the world's poorest regions.

Lord Williams, who now chairs Christian Aid, singled out the "uncontrolled burning" of fossil fuels as a significant contributor to global warming.

His comments, in an article for The Sunday Telegraph last weekend, were timed to coincide with the publication on Monday of a report by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (News and Comment, 21 March).

The report says that climate change is already having an impact around the world, on areas from human health to agriculture and wildlife. Rising temperatures will increasingly threaten security, health, and food supplies, exacerbate poverty, and damage species and habitats.

It warns that, in many cases, people are ill-prepared to cope with the risks of a changing climate. Increasing numbers will be displaced by extreme weather events, and the impact of this could increase the risk of violent conflict among the displaced. 

Lord Williams said that the floods in Britain this winter had been a demonstration of what the future might hold. Weather-related catastrophes in the poorest countries were the clearest indications yet that predictions of "accelerated warming of the earth" caused by "the uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels . . . are coming true".

He said: "Our actions have had consequences that are deeply threatening for many of the poorest communities in the world.

"Rich, industrialised countries - including our own - have unquestionably contributed most to atmospheric pollution. Both our present lifestyle and the industrial history of how we created such possibilities for ourselves have to bear the responsibility for pushing the environment in which we live towards crisis."

He attacked those who believed that global warming was not man-made, and that people should merely adapt to the changes. "That approach might be all very well in the UK, where flood defences and other measures can be adopted relatively cheaply. . . But in the most vulnerable, poorest countries worst affected by global warming, that is not an option."

Oxfam's international-policy adviser on climate change, Tim Gore, said that the report "affirms what small-scale farmers around the world are telling us: seasons are changing; and weather is increasingly extreme and unpredictable, making it tougher to feed their families.

"Governments should learn from the mistakes of the global financial crisis, where warning signs were ignored, and listen to the experts before it is too late. They must take action immediately to slash emissions, as well as investing in building the resilience of people in poverty."

The UK executive director at UNICEF, David Bull, said: "How we choose to act now will make a vital difference to the lives of today's children and of future generations. We cannot allow them to face a future ruined by climate change. . .

"In the next two years, the world will have a second chance to agree a deal that can limit the damage. If we fail, our children will carry the devastating burden of our inaction."

Philip Fletcher, who chairs the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council, said that the IPCC report "makes clear that climate change will have serious consequences for all of us, but particularly for those most vulnerable to such changes. A rise in global temperatures of even two degrees centigrade exposes us to greater volatility, and the risk of extreme weather events.

"If we fail as citizens, nationally and internationally, to take the mitigating steps needed to avoid even higher temperatures, we face a high risk of irreparable damage to ecosystems, and to those societies already living on the edge, often as subsistence farmers. Christian Aid and other development agencies have made clear how serious that damage could be."

The Church of England seeks to make a contribution through its campaign Shrinking the Footprint. 

Question of the week: Do you think about the environmental impact before using a car? 

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