CHURCH leaders were at the forefront of a mass lobby of the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, in which 15,000 people from across the country urged MPs to do more to tackle climate change and protect the environment.
As part of “The Time is Now” lobby, crowds of people, grouped by region, snaked along both banks of the River Thames and spanned Lambeth Bridge, as MPs were conveyed in cycle rickshaws to their constituents, who were then able to make their case to their elected representatives.
The day began with faith leaders taking part in a “Walk of Witness” from St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, past Downing Street, to Church House in Westminster. Taking part in the walk was the former Archbishop of Canterbury and present chair of Christian Aid, Lord Williams.
He said: “Fewer and fewer people now doubt the urgency of our climate crisis, and a younger generation is showing us the way in resisting cynicism and passivity about this.
“It is imperative for people of faith to stand up and be counted – as witnesses to the sacredness of the world gifted to us by God, and as advocates in the cause of justice for all whose lives and livelihood will be most damaged by severe and unpredictable changes in climate.”
The event, which took place amid record breaking 40ºC heatwaves in parts of Europe, was a response to the growing calls for action to tackle the “climate emergency” highlighted in recent months by establishment figures such as Sir David Attenborough, as well as striking schoolchildren and the Extinction Rebellion protesters.
Last week, Pope Francis joined those declaring a climate emergency. At the lobby on Wednesday was the Roman Catholic Church’s lead for environmental affairs, the Bishop of Salford, the Rt Revd John Arnold. He said: “The Catholic community has been greatly moved by the injustice that communities overseas who have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions now find themselves hardest hit by climate change.
“As people of faith, we are here today to remind politicians they must focus on how we are going to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the quickest and fairest way possible, keeping those most affected by climate change at the centre of our prayers.”
Among those attending the lobby were supporters from more than a hundred charities that make up the Climate Coalition. These include Christian groups such as Tearfund, CAFOD, and Christian Aid, as well as organisations as diverse as the Women’s Institute and Surfers Against Sewage. Those attending brought with them alarm clocks, and at 2 p.m. they were encouraged to set them off in unison, to demonstrate the need for urgency from the Government to avert environmental disaster.
Also present was Brother Hugh SSF, from Hilfield Friary in Dorset, a joint-winner of the Church Times Green Champion Award in 2017. He said: “The climate crisis is by far the biggest crisis of my lifetime. At Hilfield, we have spent some years making our buildings more energy efficient and encouraging the biodiversity on our land, and I really value the chance to remind our politicians of how important climate is to us.”
Also in attendance was the Revd Nicky Davies, Associate Priest in the seven-church Avon Valley Partnership near the New Forest in the Winchester diocese. She said: “I am passionate about our care of God’s world. One of my churches is an Eco-Church. We know that millions of the world’s poorest people are experiencing climate change, through flooding and droughts, and are going hungry or are caught up in conflict. This is unacceptable, and we must act now.”
One husband and wife couple, Wayne and Sian Andrews, cycled 160 miles from their home in Hampshire to speak to their MP for Eastleigh, Mims Davies. Mrs Andrews, a member of St Luke’s, Botley, explained that she and her husband try and make as many journeys as they can by bike. “They’re usually much shorter ones than this.”
She went on: “As a Christian, I want to stand up against injustice and poverty, and climate change is one of the greatest injustices being faced by people today. We need to look after the earth, so that it, in turn can look after us and generations to come.”
On Wednesday, the Government’s net-zero legislation was due to pass through the Lords, the final stage before becoming law, having been approved by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday.
Many at the lobby were pleased about the net-zero legislation, but more were concerned about the lack of short-term policies to ensure that the UK reaches net-zero emissions before 2050. One of them was the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, who took part in the rally with his senior staff team.
He said: “The Bible is rich in images of hell. One such image is that of the flood waters rising bringing chaos, which will be the reality for coastal towns and cities across the world. One is a place too hot to live.
“Right now, much of Europe is preparing for a heat wave and temperatures high enough to endanger life on a massive scale.
“Another is of a rubbish dump. These are the futures we are bequeathing to our children.”