A thousand supporters have been on the streets in Manchester for a march organised by Christian Aid, Tearfund and CAFOD. Their aim: to persuade the coalition government to work harder to deliver climate justice.
For many years, churches in the UK have campaigned to end global poverty. Now, Christian organisations are taking on climate change, on the grounds that much like the third world debt, global warming is a poverty-related issue.
Paul Brannen who leads Christian Aid’s advocacy work says:
Around a billion people go to bed hungry every day and we believe that climate change will increase that number and push more people into poverty. The poorest people will be the worst hit and we as Christians need to say that we are concerned and add our voices to those calling on the government to do something about global warming.
At the heart of the Christian campaign to tackle climate change is the ‘love thy neighbour’ ethic and the need to protect the poor. John Griffith, a volunteer aged 71 from Warrington said he came to the event to remind the government of their responsibility to the marginalised. He told me:
What with the financial problems, I think we need to make sure that this stays on their agenda and that those least able to guard themselves against climate change in places like Bangladesh are protected.
Campaigners on the march earlier. Photograph: Arwa AburawaLoretta Minghella, director of Christian Aid, adds that the Christian world-view states that the earth and its resources are for everyone to share so that people can live and flourish. Yet in reality, unequal distribution of resources is the norm, she says, adding: What’s more the current government is failing to meet the majority of its own low carbon commitments.
According to a recent report by Christian Aid and other green organisations, the government lacks a clear low carbon transition strategy and needs to step up its international engagement on the issue. Minghella says:
In the run up to Durban next month [the next UN climate change conference], the Prime Minister needs to make sure that the Kyoto Protocol which is the only binding deal in town to cut carbon emissions gets extended. If he puts his political capital in, there is a chance that that it will happen but if he doesn’t, it won’t.
So far, however, the signs don’t look good. The level of commitment shown by the current coalition government to extending the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, has been poor and it is still unclear where money pledged to support poorer nations adapt to climate change is going to come from. The organisers of the ‘Bearing Witness’ event even struggled to secure a single Conservative minister to speak at the proceedings despite repeated attempts since April, which they call “extremely disappointing.”
While the Christian community is undeniably new to the issue of climate change (Christian Aid has be campaigned on the topic for just four years), they do boast a number of influential Christian environmentalists. For example, executive director of Friends of the Earth Andy Atkins recently said at a faith and sustainability conference in Cambridge that he was ‘coming out’ as a Christian leading an environmental charity. He said:
I avoided talking about my faith when I first joined Friends of the Earth in 2008 as I didn’t want to be seen as the ‘Christian guy’. However, I do think that faith organisations need to co-ordinate and meet more regularly with secular groups on the issue of climate change.
Even so, observers reckon that there is still a long way to go before the entire Christian community really gets to grips with climate change and understands it in the same way the do poverty. Paul Brannen from Christian Aid admitted that the level of support they had been able to garner so far is small when you consider the scale of the problem. He acknowledged there are very few churches actively talking about the dangers of global warming and although he insists that this is slowly changing, the time left to take effective action on climate change is quickly running out.