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Resolutions for the earth in 2016

01 January 2016

Christians need to keep up the pressure on climate, say David Atkinson and Ian Christie


Holding to account: climate activists in Paris for the summit last month

Holding to account: climate activists in Paris for the summit last month

“WE HAVE frittered away the last 22 years.” This bleak judgement on the lack of progress on sustainable development and climate policy since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 comes from the academic and UN adviser Jeffrey Sachs. Does the recent Paris climate summit offer more hope?

It was in 1992 that world leaders agreed that urgent action was needed to find pathways of development to enable everyone to live a decent life within the earth’s ecological limits, and to avoid irreversible disruption of the climate and other life-support systems.

Since then, despite copious scientific evidence, and repeated official pledges of action, the world remains on course for a disastrous 3 or 4°C rise in average surface temperature by 2100.

Perverse and complacent policy-making continues. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (Comment, 3 October 2014) threatens to diminish social and environmental standards in the name of free trade, and to contradict international policy goals for sustainable development and climate-change mitigation.

In the UK, the Climate Change Act (2008), with all-party support, led the way in setting long-term, ambitious, and binding targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2010, however, the Coalition Government abolished its Sustainable Development Commission.

Since May, the Conservative Government has frustrated renewable energy investors by slashing subsidies and increasing VAT for clean energy; it has abandoned support for carbon capture and storage; and now the UK has dropped out of the top ten countries investing in low-carbon energy. So many mixed messages have been sent that it remains hard to detect any consistent concern about environmental risks.


AND YET . . . the Paris climate summit has reignited hope (News, 18/25 December). Negotiators from 195 countries toiled to deliver a historic deal to curb global emissions, and to provide financial assistance for countries that are least able to adapt.

To meet the goals set at Paris, we need massive investment in clean-energy technologies, convinced political leadership, constant pressure on policy-makers, and example-setting in civil society and business. Paris is but one (crucial) step in the process of ending poverty and hunger, protecting the planet, and fostering peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.


THAT an ambitious accord was agreed in Paris owes a great deal to the pressure exerted over recent years by a broad coalition of NGOs, large companies, cities — and Churches. Many corporations are developing enterprising strategies for sustainable production and consumption, and have demanded radical action from governments.

Faith communities have been urged to use their influence and unique capacities. In 2015, there were many inspiring signs that Churches were waking up to the challenges, and a growing realisation that environmental issues are not primarily economic or political, but spiritual. They are about our vision, our values. The challenge is for a change of heart and mind, away from the sins of over-consumption, and towards justice, generosity, and care for the common good.

The General Synod’s Environment Working Group, under the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, is taking a lead. The Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders made the Lambeth Declaration on climate change (News, 3 April).

Pope Francis issued his magnificent encyclical Laudato Sí’, drawing on theological and spiritual resources, urging the world to respond to the connected plights of the earth and of the poor (News, Comment, 26 June). Christians of all denominations, and people of all faiths and none, responded to calls for prayer, pilgrimage, and demonstration in the run-up to the Paris summit.


THANKFULLY, climate change and sustainability are now central to our Christian witness and mission. In the General Synod in November, Archbishop Sentamu said: “Concern for the planet is not a Christian ‘add-on’, but intrinsic to our understanding of the gospel today. The affirmation we make when reciting the creed — ‘God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth’ — is foundational for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Care for God’s creation is an essential and vitally important dimension of our Christian discipleship and mission.”

In the light of this, here are nine New Year Resolutions for the Church of England:


1. Pray for our mission “to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”, “to respond to human need by loving service”, and “to seek to transform unjust structures of society”.

2. Include regularly in our worship gratitude to “God the Creator”, especially during Creation Time in early autumn.

3. Review our carbon footprints and those of our churches, parsonages, and church offices; and live with more restraint, less waste, more generosity, more gratitude.

4. Hold our Government and large corporations to account, and (for example, by PCCs’ writing letters to MPs) urgently encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy, to minimise dependence on fossil fuels; and work for clean energy and against deforestation and further loss of biodiversity.

5. Work for a reshaped economic system that prioritises the alleviation of poverty, and works for the common good and the well-being of all creatures.

6. Move our investments towards a zero-carbon portfolio.

7. Critically examine the proposals for TTIP in the light of the Church’s mission.

8. Hold our Government to its pledge of increased aid for less developed countries.

9. Encourage links with overseas dioceses to keep fully informed — for our prayers, our giving, and action — of the local effects of climate change and the loss of sustainability.


Dr David Atkinson is an Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Southwark.

Ian Christie is a Fellow at the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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