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Hundreds of Christians hold vigil against fossil fuels outside Parliament

14 February 2024

Joe Ware

The start of the vigil in Parliament Square, Westminster, on Wednesday

The start of the vigil in Parliament Square, Westminster, on Wednesday

THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams called for urgent action to address climate change, as hundreds of Christians took part in a ten-day, 240-hour vigil outside the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday.

Participants in the “No Faith In Fossil Fuels” vigil, which will run until next Saturday, are calling on the Government to stop issuing new licences for fossil-fuel exploration in UK waters (News, 4 August 2023).

Despite its commitment at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai to a transition away from fossil fuels this decade, the Government has recently issued licences to drill for oil and gas in 24 new areas in the North Sea. The International Energy Agency has urged that, to prevent further rises in global temperatures, no new-fossil fuel reserves should be exploited.

Last week, the EU’s science service confirmed that, for the first time, global warming had exceeded 1.5°C across an entire year.

The director of global advocacy at the charity Tearfund, Dr Ruth Valerio, said: “From millions of people enduring the East Africa hunger crisis to a deadly cyclone in Malawi, this year, vulnerable communities have been confronted by the terrifying reality of life in a 1.5°C world.

“Every fraction of a degree counts and can make the difference between life and death for many millions of people; so every action to limit warming must be taken. We need governments to stop fuelling the climate crisis with fossil fuels and invest in a fairer and safer future.

“People living in some of the poorest parts of the world are already trying to adapt to an unpredictable climate. Solutions do exist, but the money must follow. It’s time for wealthy nations to stump up the cash owed to front-line communities.”

Tearfund is among the organisations supporting the vigil, as are Christian Aid, A Rocha UK, the Salvation Army, Operation Noah, and Christian Climate Action.

Speaking before the vigil on Wednesday, Lord Williams said: “Every day that passes increases the urgency of action on the climate crisis, for the sake of our whole human family. In Lent, Christians remember that they are part of creation, not lords of creation, and that their life and salvation depends on being willing to turn away from pride, violence, and greed in order to receive what God longs to give to all. This vigil calls us to renew that vision and respond to that invitation.”

The vigil organisers are also calling for a policy of “Polluters pay” for the world’s biggest polluters, and for the UK to increase its contribution to the recently created Loss and Damage Fund.

Bishops and priests are among the Christians who have taken, or were due to take, part in the vigil, including the Bishop of Kingston, the Rt Revd Martin Gainsborough; the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham; and the General Secretary of Churches Together in England, the Pentecostalist Bishop Mike Royal.

He said: “Climate change . . . impacts the poorest countries the most. Climate justice is racial justice and that’s why we’ll be supporting the Lent Vigil.”

The vigil is due to conclude with a service outside Downing Street. Sir Jonathon Porritt, a founding director of Forum for the Future and a patron of the organisation Green Christian, said: “So many continue to put their faith in the old world of endless economic growth powered by fossil fuels. The future can be so much more positive than this — but only if people of faith step up now and bear witness, in action, to a greater truth based on justice, compassion and personal responsibility. Please support the vigil.”

Christian campaigners have been lobbying charities, churches, and organisations to cease banking with Barclays, owing to its investments in fossil fuels (News, 2 February). Last week, the bank announced that it had updated its energy-funding policy and would no longer provide “direct” finance to new oil and gas projects.

Christian Climate Action responded in a statement, however, that this was not enough. “Cutting out funding for ‘new fossil fuel projects’ affects less than 10 per cent of the money going to fossil fuels. It doesn’t change the billions Barclays is continuing to funnel into the likes of Shell, Exxon and Total.”

Climate-friendly funerals considered. One third of respondents in a UK survey commissioned by the insurers Legal and General would consider the environment when planning their funeral.

In a survey of 2000 people, conducted in November, 40 per cent of the respondents said that they were aware of the environmental impact of traditional funeral practices such as burial and cremation, while 30 per cent indicated that climate concerns would play a part in their choice of funeral. This rose to 43 per cent among 16- to 24-year-olds.

Most respondents (54 per cent) said that they were open to aquamation (News, 7 July 2023), or alkaline hydrolysis, in which the body is placed in a chamber with potassium hydroxide to decompose without producing harmful emissions.

The study also found that almost one quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds (24 per cent), compared with just 12 per cent of over-55s, said that religion or culture would “strongly influence” their own funeral arrangements.

Joe Ware is Senior Climate Journalist at Christian Aid.

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