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Pilgrims in walk for climate-change deal

20 November 2015


On your marks: some of the pilgrims at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, last Friday, at the start of their journey from London to Paris

On your marks: some of the pilgrims at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, last Friday, at the start of their journey from London to Paris

DOZENS of pilgrims are now halfway through a walk from London to Paris to demand a strong deal at the UN climate-change summit.

The pilgrimage, supported by the Church of England, Tearfund, Christian Aid, and CAFOD, set off from St Martin-in-the-Fields, in Trafalgar Square, last Friday, after a short service.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, who leads the C of E’s environmental campaigning, said that the 230-mile walk was intended to put the Church’s strong words on climate change into action: “We are trying to do what we say we believe in, but there is a gap.”

The Church was keen to get its own house in order, he said, besides demanding action from politicians. He said that the campaign Shrinking the Footprint and new ethical-investment guidelines on the environment were “good first steps” (News, 1 May).

But the rest of the world was also struggling with the failure to match climate rhetoric with action. “Nearly everybody agrees that we have got to limit the temperature increase to no more than two degrees, but it’s actually very difficult to get the agreement to do that.”

He noted that the current deal on the table in Paris would limit temperature rises to between 2.7 and 3°C — well short of the 2°C that scientists agreed was needed to prevent calamity.

The pilgrims reached the south coast on Wednesday, and are now walking through northern France. The co-ordinator of the project, James Buchanan, said: “It’s amazing people are giving up two weeks of their time to walk from London to Paris. Hopefully that will send a strong message to world leaders that they care about this issue.”

The pilgrims range in age from 20 to their seventies. They include Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Quakers. Once they arrive in Paris, they will join walkers from Germany and Italy before handing in their demands to the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres. Bishop Holtam said he would meet the pilgrims in Paris and hold an interfaith service with other religious leaders.

On Sunday, the group will take part in a demonstration calling for climate justice. Other demonstrations will be held in London and other cities around the world.

“It’s a spiritual problem, that gap between words and actions,” Bishop Holtam said. “Today, there are 40 people planning to walk to Paris; but there are others of us coming for a day, or part of a day, and, in the communities they go through . . . , more people will join in the journey.”

The C of E’s head of responsible investment, Edward Mason, joined the pilgrimage for a day in Brighton this week. Speaking last Friday, he said that the Church was using its money to work for a greener future.

It had now divested from the dirtiest fossil fuels, and he would not hesitate, he said, to pull money out of other companies if they were deemed to be obstructing the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“[We are] designing an engagement framework which will set out what our expectations for companies are,” he said. “We have the scope to divest from other companies if we don’t believe they are taking a constructive approach.”

Successful shareholder resolutions on climate change at both BP and Shell (News, 12 December) — which Mr Mason described as “unprecedented”, and the highlight of his career — were already making a difference.

“[They are] actually changing the behaviour of the companies. BP and Shell were two of the companies who wrote to the UN and said ‘We want to help this, we want to help bring about two degrees, we need carbon pricing.’”

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