CHURCH leaders have responded with dismay and a call for action after the United Nations published a report that says that nature is now under rates of decline unprecedented in human history.
The Global Assessment Report says that one million animal and plant species are facing extinction, and the damage to nature is so severe that it is starting to have detrimental impacts on human communities.
The Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said: “We now know that we are beyond the age of consumption. Biodiversity is part of what makes for a healthy planet. To care for the earth is a priority for Christians, one of the ways in which we should be known.
“As Anglicans, since the 1980s, we have been talking about the five marks of mission. ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’ is not fifth, last, and least of these marks, but is integral to what it means to be a Christian in our day.”
The report, which is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken, states that only three per cent of the world’s oceans are free from human impact, and people have significantly altered three-quarters of the world’s land surface.
One of the report’s authors, Professor Sandra Díaz, of the National University of Córdoba, Argentina, said: “Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point.”
The loss of this safety net is felt most severely by the world’s poor, a point made by Dr Ruth Valerio, a director at Tearfund. She said: “We cannot go on living as if we are separate from the rest of creation: something people in poverty understand all too well.
“I believe a widespread movement of change is needed, and we’re investing in that at Tearfund: a movement akin to the civil-rights movement, with people, including the Church, calling on those in power to work in harmony with God’s creation and not against it.”
This rallying cry was echoed by the director of conservation at A Rocha UK, Andy Lester. He said: “With 55,600 churches in the UK, we have more collective power to change the future than any other group in Britain; and, if we work together to support nature’s recovery, we stand a chance to avert the worst impacts of one of the most serious crises to ever face this amazing planet.
“We have no planet B; each of us only has one life, one opportunity to influence the future direction of humanity. We all have a unique and God-given role to play. Our prayer is that each of us can step up to the challenges we face and be absolutely determined to make a difference.”
The UN report identified climate change as a significant cause of the ecological crisis, and comes on the heels of protests by the Extinction Rebellion in London (News, Comment 26 April) and global school strikes as hundreds of thousands of children have walked out of lessons to demand greater political action (News, 22 March).
Canon Rachel Mash of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who is a member of the Anglican Communion’s Environment Network, hailed this youth movement as an example to follow. She said: “God called us to be stewards and keepers of the earth, and we have failed. It is time to hear the voice of the youth who are rising up to be healers of the earth.”
Last week, the Government was told by its official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, to set a target of 2050 as the date by which the UK will have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero”, effectively ending Britain’s contribution to climate change.
Several charities have said that 2050 is too conservative a goal and that a date of 2045 is more appropriate. Dr Kat Kramer, of Christian Aid, said that setting the end date was important, but it also needed to be realised by actual policies. “Without short-term action, we will never reach the net zero destination on time, and the whole exercise will merely be state-sponsored greenwashing,” she said.
Elsewhere, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, has welcomed Cambridge University’s agreeing to explore disinvesting from fossil fuel.
Lord Williams said: “It is an important message to our own society and national institutions, but also to all those vulnerable populations across the world who are most at risk from climate change; and it is good to see that clear and focused advocacy in the university has produced so welcome and urgent a change.”
Operation Noah is urging churches to divest from fossil fuels. The charity’s campaign manager, James Buchanan, said: “It’s good to see Cambridge University looking to end its funding of fossil fuels. This is not only the right thing to do: it is the financially prudent decision. Churches can accelerate the zero-carbon transition by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in the clean technologies of the future. They should seize that prophetic opportunity.”
Read more on the story from Paul Vallely