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Reconciliation is vital to avoid climate conflict, Archbishop of Canterbury urges

11 November 2021

Mark Radford

Archbishop Welby delivers his keynote speech at the Rising Global Peace Forum on Armistice Day, on Thursday

Archbishop Welby delivers his keynote speech at the Rising Global Peace Forum on Armistice Day, on Thursday

TO COMBAT climate change, the world will require generosity and understanding, the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the Rising Global Peace Forum on Armistice Day, on Thursday.

The annual event is organised by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, in partnership with Coventry Cathedral and the city council. It is being held in-person in Coventry from Wednesday to Friday, having been held entirely online in 2020 owing to the pandemic.

Humanity was facing a scale of change beyond that even of the World Wars, Archbishop Welby said — geopolitically, economically, and environmentally, with both scientific and technological advancement. He quoted research which suggests that there would be 800 million climate migrants by 2050 — movement which led directly and inevitably to conflict.

“The question is whether we have put in place the infrastructures of reconciliation, the architecture of reconciliation, of peace building, that enables competition to happen robustly, fiercely, but not violently. That enables people movement to happen, not without fears and difficulties . . . but in a context that enables it to be managed in which those driven out by our historic failures in the climate and the natural world and biodiversity are able to be generous and hospitable. To look for a world beyond the moments of climate change, to look for a world in which there is a genuine alternative to destructive conflict.”

Archbishop Welby was co-director of the international ministry at the International Centre for Reconciliation in Coventry during his curacy, and studied the subject during his sabbatical earlier this year (News, 27 November 2020). His speech focused on “why leadership which embodies reconciliation matters more than ever” at a local, national, and international level.

He began by quoting Provost Richard Howard, who had preached at Coventry Cathedral on Christmas Day 1940, shortly after the building was hit during heaviest bombing the city had seen during the Second World War. Howard argued that a more Christ-like world was needed.

“Peace is a slow-growing plant,” Archbishop Welby said, “its fruit fragile and easily bitten by the frost of hatred. But Dick Howard saw what needed to be done, and he set a path that has continued to this day. He heard the call that God gives us to move toward transformation and reconciliation. . .

“Howard’s words show that even at that time of extreme grief and hatred of our enemies, it is possible at the most local level, amidst destruction, to call for peace and reconciliation. It’s not popular. Looking around I can see people here who have experienced the lack of popularity. But that leadership can bear fruit internationally and nationally for decades to come.”

Mark RadfordArchbishop Welby in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral

The Archbishop gave examples of growth he had witnessed, including during his time as a residentiary canon and sub-dean of the cathedral (2002-07), when an elderly guide, who had remembered the Blitz, met and forgiven a German who had flown one of the bombers.

These small acts of local reconciliation were seen by God, Archbishop Welby said, and were essential to national and global reconciliation.

Reconciliation did not equate to unanimity, however, rather flourishing with diversity, he said. “Reconciliation is done by the people in conflict — not by outsiders. It is done by the people hurt by conflict and people deeply scarred by conflict. It doesn’t happen in sterile environments, orchestrated by people in suits and clipboards. And those who do come to seek to support it, must do so from the back, invisibly.”

The perfect example was the incarnation of Jesus Christ — unheard of at the time of his birth, but who “was part of conflict and scarring and struggle and pain”. Archbishop Welby continued: “Today, Armistice Day, we remember those who gave their futures for our present. As part of this ‘reimagining’ we need at the next level for reconciliation to be an in-built part of our diplomacy, security, and economic thinking. It needs to be, at every level.”

Reconciliation was the responsibility of everyone. He concluded: “We see false dawns, we see dead ends, we see turning points. The responsibility of leading in reconciliation is to bring God into the midst of it, so that at all these points there is a turning point. Through the power of God, turning points can be created out of dead ends. . . God’s peace is offered to the whole world. . . Dick Howard got that. To the glory of God, this Cathedral burnt.”

The Archbishop spoke alongside the Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell QC, who spoke via Zoom on global leadership. Other speakers include Lord Hain, who helped to negotiate the Northern Irish power-sharing deal between Sinn Féin and the DUP while he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under Tony Blair; and a retired senior British diplomat, Lord Ricketts, who was the UK’s first national security adviser from 2010 from 2012.

The chair of the Rising board, Professor Mike Hardy, said that, since its launch six years ago, the scale of the challenges facing communities worldwide had continued to cause concern. “Many countries appear stuck, unable to adapt and respond. We require leaders at all levels in our communities to step forward with both a new vision and strategy for building and sustaining peaceful communities.”

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