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G7 failed to deliver on climate

26 May 2023

Christians should respond vocally, say Rachel Mash, Cathy Rhodes, and Fletcher Harper

Christian Aid Ministries

A boy in Malawi stands in front of a destroyed building in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy in March (News, 17 March)

A boy in Malawi stands in front of a destroyed building in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy in March (News, 17 March)

THE G7 Summit was last weekend in Hiroshima, the location that inspired a global movement that culminated in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Today, fossil-fuel use is causing oceans to warm at the same rate as if five bombs of the size used on Hiroshima in 1945 were dropped every second. Burning coal, oil, and gas is heating oceans and supercharging droughts, heatwaves, severe storms, wildfires, flooding, and landslides.

In the face of this disaster, two things are clear. First, governments must phase out fossil fuels, which are responsible for 86 per cent of carbon-dioxide emissions in the past decade alone. Second, wealthy countries must commit funds for climate-vulnerable nations as they respond to a growing number of climate disasters that they did not cause and cannot avoid or adapt to. These grave humanitarian and ecological issues strike at the heart of our faith.

So, did G7 leaders announce commitments to phasing out fossil fuels? Sadly, they did not. Instead, the leaders supported fossil-fuel expansion in the form of “increased deliveries of Liquified Natural Gas” (see section 26 of the G7 leaders’ communiqué), and failed to agree on a date to stop making electricity with coal.

Did the Summit commit their countries to “loss and damage” funds? Again, no. G7 leaders were silent on the topic of finance for loss and damage. Rich countries had pledged $100 billion per year, beginning in 2020 to 2025, to help poorer countries to adapt to climate change and to undertake an energy transition. They have yet to make good on their promises.

AS CHRISTIANS, our response to these profound failures must be firm, vocal, and unequivocal. As world leaders fail to act, the Church must continue to move, with actions of stubborn resolve.

There is hope. In February, Churches in the Anglican Communion, meeting at the Anglican Consultative Council in Ghana, joined religious leaders and organisations worldwide, including A Rocha International, the World Council of Churches, the Dalai Lama, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Soka Gakkai International, and others, in calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This global framework, spearheaded by Pacific nations, calls for an immediate end to new coal, oil, and gas development, an equitable phasing out of existing fossil-fuel production, and funds for a just energy transition to support affected workers and communities.

Our current context requires a comprehensive, binding agreement that a Fossil Fuel Treaty would provide. We encourage all people of faith to sign the Multi-Faith Letter for a Fossil Fuel Treaty.

Across the Church of England, many are offering leadership. In 2018, the General Synod moved that the Church’s national investing bodies (NIBs) would disinvest by 2023 from companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement (News, 13 July 2018). This July, the NIBs report back to Synod. That report is keenly awaited.

In a welcome development, the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board — two of the three NIBs — said that they would vote against the boards of directors at the annual meetings of Shell, Total, Exxon, and Occidental Petroleum, for under-investing in renewable energy while ploughing huge sums into oil and gas. As the Acting Head of Responsible Investment at the Commissioners, Olga Hancock, has said, oil and gas companies, having made huge profits last year, have missed “a golden opportunity to invest very significantly in the transition to a low-carbon economy”.

THE Church can go further. In 2021, the International Energy Agency stated that to limit global heating, there can be no new fossil-fuel developments. Church of England members can encourage their Synod representatives to sign a private member’s motion that calls for the NIBs to scale up investment in renewable energy and disinvest from all oil and gas companies that are planning new fossil-fuel projects. Oxford Diocese also has a detailed motion, Responding to the Climate Emergency, to support. Your diocesan office can put you in touch with Synod members.

The faithful responses to disappointments such as the G7 meeting are renewed commitment and intensified public witness. More than ever, Christians across the UK are doing exactly that. More than half of the C of E’s dioceses have committed themselves to disinvesting from fossil-fuel investments (learn more and involve your diocese by contacting Operation Noah). Last year, 500 UK church leaders, including 68 bishops, called for the Government to support no new fossil-fuel developments (News, 25 March 2022).

This level of public engagement, unthinkable a decade ago, is now increasingly widespread. It reflects growing, global religious concern about the climate crisis, and is placing new possibilities, such as the Fossil Fuel Treaty, in the line of sight of people of faith and goodwill on every continent.

Deuteronomy enjoins us to “Choose life, so that you and your children may live” (30.19). There is no area apart from the climate in which this verse is more on point. Let us recommit ourselves, again, to putting our belief into action, for the sake of our precious planet and future generations.

The Revd Dr Rachel Mash
is the Environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Dr Cathy Rhodes is the Environment Officer for Sheffield diocese and a lay member of the General Synod. The Revd Fletcher Harper is a US Episcopalian priest and the Executive Director of GreenFaith.

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