The Heat Is Online

U.K. Church-based Group Takes Aim At Climate Crisis

Christians draw swords on climate Sept. 1, 2005


A new U.K. organisation hopes to combat climate change through harnessing the political power of the church.


Stop Climate Chaos brings traditional environmental groups such as Greenpeace together with Christian development agencies like Christian Aid.


It is asking the government to cut Britain's greenhouse gas emissions, and to ensure that overseas aid money is invested in clean technologies.


The group plans to expand its reach to include faiths other than Christianity.


"The big difference about Stop Climate Chaos is the united voice," the group's director, Ashok Sinha, told the BBC News website.

"It brings together voices from across the development and environmental sectors to ask for definitive action on climate change."

Its key demands are:

  • the UK government must deliver substantial annual reductions in UK greenhouse gas emissions, meet its target of cutting CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010 and commit to an EU-wide greenhouse gas reduction target of 30% by 2020
  • the UK government must make climate change a top international priority so that global warming is capped at a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This will require global emissions to have peaked and be irreversibly declining by 2015
  • the government must ensure that its policies on combating global poverty include investing in low-carbon technologies and clean energy and providing significantly more assistance to the developing world to adapt to climate change

The government admitted last year that the national 20% target, a commitment in Labour's 1997 election manifesto, is unlikely to be met; indeed, over the last two years emissions have risen.


Moral imperative


The involvement of Christian groups such as Cafod, Christian Aid and Tearfund alongside Friends of the Earth and WWF may bring a new moral dimension to debates on climate change.


"As a development organisation, we can't ignore climate change," said Tearfund's advocacy director, Andy Atkins.


"But in addition, as a Christian organisation, Tearfund has in its operating principles that Christians should be involved with the whole of God's creation, not just people.


"We have a good biblical mandate to be involved in climate change."

The idea that Christians have a duty to campaign on climate change is already well established in the US, where organisations such as the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) lobby on Capitol Hill and in their networks of churches across the country.


"We are creation care advocates," said NAE's vice-president for governmental affairs, Richard Cizik, "and it comes straight from scripture, straight from God, who in his words said in Genesis, for example, that we are stewards of what he has created; we are to watch over and care for it.


"And the mere fact that evangelical Christians, who compose 40% of the Republican party's base, are beginning to say that this is an important issue, believe me has got the attention of people in the White House."


Prayers for the planet


In the UK, the Church of Scotland has taken a lead in the field though its Society, Religion and Technology Project, which has produced a special liturgy on climate change, and took part in a silent protest outside July's G8 summit in Gleneagles, where leaders concluded a climate agreement which has been widely derided by environmental groups.


The Church of England's report, Caring for God's Planet, endorsed a concept called Contraction and Convergence, under which all countries would limit future greenhouse gas emissions in an equitable manner.


Generally, though, religious groups in Britain have confined themselves to pointing up the problem and urging individuals to change lifestyle, through initiatives such as Operation Noah and Eco-congregation, rather than stepping into the hurly-burly roughhouse of political lobbying.


Ashok Sinha believes the decision of religious organisations to sign up to Stop Climate Chaos is an indication that things are changing.

"What it demonstrates is that this is a cross-cutting issue of our time; it's not just an environmental issue," he said.


"It will have massive impacts, including on the world's poor. That's a moral question, so it's not surprising that religious organisations will want to be involved."


Broad church


The initial line-up of Stop Climate Chaos includes no organisations linked to faiths other than Christianity, but that may change.

"The idea is to embrace people from all sectors of society," said Dr.Sinha, "and we have been talking to other faith groups.


"It's early days, and we hope that they will get involved."

Potentially, the involvement of faith groups will give Stop Climate Chaos a new route into 10 Downing Street, where resides one of the most overtly Christian British prime ministers of modern times.


"We're certainly keen to discuss with Mr.Blair how it affects his thinking on climate change," said Andy Atkins.


"We're not sure whether it will give us any extra access; but he is already convinced, we think, of the need to do something, although actions and policies haven't gone as far as we would want him to go."