Climate emergency: we have no option but to respond, says Welby

20 September 2019

Sophie Mbugua

Protesters at the climate strike in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday

Protesters at the climate strike in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has thanked young people for taking part in climate strikes around the globe on Friday. Responding to the climate emergency was an essential act for Christians, he said.

In a Twitter post sent on the eve of the strike, Archbishop Welby shared a photograph of cards sent to him by children concerned about the lack of action on climate change.

He said: “It’s inspiring to see young people so passionate about protecting God’s creation and calling our attention to the #ClimateEmergency. Thank you for showing us where our priorities should be. Praying for your voices to be heard here and around the world.

“Please be safe in all you do — and encourage your school to organise participation activities, as many schools, churches and cathedrals are already doing. . .

“As a Christian, responding to the #ClimateEmergency is not optional — it’s essential. We’re called to protect God’s creation and love our neighbour. Thank you for your leadership.”

Millions of people around the world walked out of school or work, or took the day off, to demand greater action to tackle climate change ahead of a summit of world leaders in New York on Monday.

The day began in Australia, with more than 300,000 people taking part in demonstrations in more than 100 towns and cities. Large-scale mobilisations have taken place in London, Berlin, Paris, New York, and numerous capitals, but also in more than 4000 smaller locations across 139 countries, far from the attention of the media gaze.

One such place is the Hebridean island of Iona, population 150. Community members from the island, home of the ancient Iona Abbey, joined children from the primary school who were staging a strike. A demonstration was organised in the town centre and several businesses closed for the day in solidarity.

HEINZ TOLLERProtesters on the Hebridean island of Iona on Friday. Several children from the local primary school joined in

Sarah Macdonald, a resident and member of Oran Crafts Co-operative, said: “In our small island community, we see shorelines eroding and changing. The gales that hit our exposed wee island are growing more frequent. Most importantly, we see that the island’s children care deeply about this issue. We have to support them, speak out with them for their future. And we have to do it now.”

The remarkable scenes around the world were sparked by a single protest from a Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, who last year sat outside her parliament building instead of attending classes on Fridays.

She has sailed to New York for the leaders’ summit, and two days ago appeared in front of Congress, where she admonished them for not acting fast enough. “This is not the time and place for dreams, this is the time to wake up,” she said. “This is the moment in history we need to be wide awake. Dreams cannot stand in the way of telling it like it is, especially not now.”

Richard Baker, Christian Aid’s youth and campaigns manager, said: “The youth climate strikes have been nothing short of prophetic. One seemingly defiant act of protest by a 16-year-old girl in Sweden has grown into a thundering movement for change that is sweeping the globe.”

Dr Ruth Valerio, Tearfund’s global advocacy and influencing director, said: “I am joining the strike with my teenage daughter — it is only right that we stand beside our young people and ensure the voices of the most vulnerable communities are heard ahead of the crucial UN climate summit in New York.”

The climate strikes have been widespread in the developed world, but have also taken place in the Global South, including in Nairobi, Kenya, where protesters have been calling for financial assistance, promised by wealthy countries, to help populations that are already suffering the consequences of climate change.

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a climate-and-energy think tank, said: “We have had the hottest July on record. Wildfires are raging from the Amazon to the Arctic. In February this year, a fire high on the slopes of Mount Kenya charred almost 20,000 hectares of land, and killed wildlife within Mount Kenya National Park.

“The good news is that countries in Africa don’t need to follow the fossil-fuel development path of the developed world that has caused this crisis: we are blessed with renewable energy. But we need the finance and support from richer countries to harness it, as well as support for the vulnerable who are most at risk.”

Numerous churches and Christian organisations have supported the strike. Richard Bickle, chair of trustees for peacemaking charity the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said: “As followers of Christ, we are always reminded that it was the disciples who tried to turn the children away from Jesus, while Jesus himself welcomed them for conversation.

“On the topic of the climate, we see the power of non-violence in the student-led mass-protests, and urge individuals, churches, and church institutions to welcome the young people into their conversations about how to protect God’s planet and all God’s people living on it.”

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
For 2020 the Bloxham festival celebrates ‘The Power of Love’. Book tickets

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Competition opens in November - more details coming soon. Read about the 2019 final

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)