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Leader comment: Faith and works

24 September 2021

THE paradox is too serious for flippant comparisons. Suffice it to say that we were impressed by the speed of the Government reaction this week when it was discovered that the UK was producing too little carbon dioxide to preserve packaged food, kill animals humanely, and cool nuclear plants — all unforeseen outcomes from the rise in natural gas prices. We wait to see how quickly the Government will react to the production of too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With all the enthusiasm of a new convert, the Prime Minister has been lecturing other countries this week on the need to put into practice the promises of past years. He told a UN round table on climate on Monday: “You know by now how this conversation goes. I talk about the need to rid the world of coal-fired power and internal combustion engines, the need to stop deforestation, and for developed nations to find that $100 billion. . . And everyone nods and we all agree that Something Must Be Done. Yet I confess I’m increasingly frustrated that the ‘something’ to which many of you have committed is nowhere near enough.”

There was no hint that the UK efforts so far had been “nowhere near enough”. As one example, Rachel Maclean, a Minister in the Department of Transport, said last week that the public needed to carry on taking international flights because, “if the sector lacks confidence in its future, it will not be backed by its shareholders” to invest in sustainable aviation fuel and other steps towards zero-carbon flight, at some indeterminate point in the future. Aviation accounts for eight per cent of the UK’s annual emissions. As a second example, the unwillingness to make the UK’s housing stock more sustainable has brought the militant wing of the loft-insulation brigade on to our motorways.

There is an unwritten equation that politicians ignore at their perils, and of which the Church might take note. It is simply this: one environmental action buys you one announcement describing it. Two environmental actions grant you the right to talk about the need for urgent steps to be taken. Three environmental actions allow you to talk modestly about the contribution that your country is making towards a solution. We are not sure how many environmental actions you need to have made before you lecture others on their inaction, but it is more than Mr Johnson’s Government has so far accomplished. We expect a raft of announcements in the short run-up to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow at the start of November. Announcements are not to be confused with actions, of course.

The Church, meanwhile, has made various calls for urgent steps to be taken. Fortunately, the Green Church Showcase, a collaboration between the Church Times and the C of E’s environmental group, has identified plenty of actions being taken by church groups from different denominations. We look forward to showcasing them during COP26.

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