In this week’s prayer email:
- Short Notes: Climate, Environmental Defenders, Yemen
- Loving God’s world: our neighbours at work
The need for good work is our focus this week – and it also figures in the week’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel, which contains the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father’s forgiveness and generosity is manifested primarily in his treatment of his wayward child – but the young man’s musings also suggest that the older man maintains fair relationships with those who work for him: “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!”
Pray that people in the UK and in other countries may have access to good work with fair remuneration and safe working conditions. And as International Women’s Day approaches, pray especially for increased justice for women in the working world.
Short Notes: Climate, Environmental Defenders, Yemen
- There’s much that calls for prayer in recent developments around the climate – though also material for thanksgiving. Some commentators have focused on the spike in atmospheric temperatures for February, which soared 0.83 degrees centigrade over normal. While this isn’t the most reliable data, taken in tandem with the low extent of Arctic sea ice , concerns around the Greenland ice sheet, and four prior consecutive months of surface temperatures more than 1 degree over normal, it is a reminder of how urgent it is to take action to limit emissions.Please pray that all the warning signals we are experiencing will inspire governments, businesses and individuals to take action, especially action to speed up the drive for energy efficiency and less carbon-intensive energy generation. In particular:
- Give thanks for the way that numerous EU governments pressed this week for the EU to up its emissions reduction targets in response to the Paris Agreement – and pray that such arguments are translated into action.
- Give thanks, too, that China, which set energy consumption caps this week, is progressing more rapidly than expected in increasing energy efficiency – pray that this trend continues.
- Pray for a meeting of the Canadian Prime Minister and US President this Thursday, from which news of further climate initiatives is anticipated.
- And give thanks for the success in the UK of the Big Church Switch campaign, which is calling churches and individual Christians to change to renewable energy suppliers.
- The assassination of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres has drawn attention to the disturbing level of violence against people seeking to protect sensitive lands and waters and to ensure that indigenous peoples are properly consulted about projects that may affect their territory. Global Witness states that killings of environmental defenders averaged slightly more than 2 a week in 2014.Berta Cáceres, recently the winner of a prestigious international environmental award, was protesting a series of hydropower dams for which there had not been appropriate consultation; three of her colleagues had already been murdered, and the government had not acted on international calls to offer her protection.Please:
- Pray for all who mourn Cáceres.
- Pray for the safety of her colleague Gustavo Castro, who was with her and was injured in the assassination, and for wisdom and safety for environmental and human rights defenders worldwide.
- Pray for an end to the culture of impunity in Honduras and many other countries, which creates an atmosphere in which violence can flourish.
- And pray that governments everywhere will have an understanding of and respect for creation and the rights of indigenous peoples.Action Point: There’s a Spanish-language petition asking for protection for Gustavo Castro here. If you’re comfortable with Spanish, might you sign?
- The murder of 16 people, including 4 nuns and volunteers, at a nursing home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen, has provoked shock and condemnation around the world. It is also a reminder of the wider continued toll on civilians of Yemen’s conflict: the UN has recently stated that more than 80% of the Yemeni population is in need of some form of protection or humanitarian assistance.In a statement to the Security Council last week, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said: “The most pressing concern today is the protection of civilians, millions of whom face relentless and often indiscriminate bombing and shelling of urban areas by the parties to the conflict every day … Protected places, such as hospitals, schools and homes continue to be hit by all parties … In the absence of a politically negotiated end to the conflict, the security situation across much of the country is rapidly deteriorating.”He called on the international community “to impress upon the parties to this conflict their obligations to take greater measures to protect civilians, to facilitate unconditional and sustained access to all parts of Yemen” and asked the Council “to press the parties to resume peace talks and agree to a cessation of hostilities.”
The European Parliament recently called for an EU arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, which stands accused of targeting civilians in its air war against Houthi rebels.
- in thanksgiving for the courage and witness of those Christians who have continued to minister in that country despite the personal danger
- for the safety of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest from India, abducted during the attack, and for the superior of the Missionaries of Charity community, who escaped and is under police protection.
- for all civilians suffering because of the conflict
- that the international community will continue to press for protection, humanitarian access, and peace talks and will make progress in these areas with all parties to the conflict.
Loving God’s World: Our neighbours at work
What is good work?
This vital question underlies many of our current areas of concern. And this week, Fairtrade Fortnight and International Women’s Day (8 March) offer an interesting opportunity to reflect on it – and on some ways we can express love of God and neighbour in rediscovering the relationships at the heart of work.
In Christian teaching, work in its broadest sense is an integral part of much human life. Many point to the creation accounts to show just how fundamental: man is put into the Garden of Eden “to work and to keep it,” and the early chapters of Genesis point to the fact that caring for creation and ‘ruling’ over it as God’s stewards* are part of what makes human beings human.
Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, work is shown to be inherently relational at a number of levels. Not only are the materials for work – whether physical resources or skills – gifts from God, to whom we are responsible for our use of them. The law and the prophets also indicate that the right use of them – a use that provides good work – involves provision for the needs of the self, family and community in a way that respects the humanity and interdependence of all within the community. Workers are to receive fair wages; all are to partake of the Sabbath rest; all are to be protected by the law; every fifty years the Jubilee is to restore all families’ access to the most fundamental resource – land; a certain percentage of the fruits of human labour are to be set aside to give thanks to God and to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves.
And yet, just as sin distorts all relationships, it distorts the relationships of work. The Old and New Testament show us a world in which, despite God’s commandments, people all too quickly prioritise not right relationship in work but the accumulation of power and goods. In place of the ideal, they are withholding workers’ wages, ignoring the Sabbath, pushing the land beyond its capacity, depriving those without power of their due rights, taking advantage of others’ misfortunes to aggregate assets, and hoarding what should be offered to God and others.
We recognise this world. We live in it. And we participate in its injustices, caught up in a system where the products of work are valued, but the people behind them often seem to be seen simply as units of production … and their needs – and the needs of the natural world – are what an economist might call an ‘externality’. And the potential for distorted relationships is amplified as we become ever less likely personally to know the people who provide the goods and services we use. In particular, globalisation’s attenuated supply chains mean that we are unlikely ever to meet many of the people who grow the crops we eat, respond to the calls we place, or create the clothing and technology we use every day.
So how do we respond?
“Be careful,” the Church of Sweden once warned, “there are people in your shopping trolley.”
The slogan was on one of their posters supporting Fairtrade, and it got at the heart of the matter. Part of our calling as Christians is to refuse to allow ourselves to be focused simply on work’s products and the way they relate to our wants and needs, and instead to care as much as we can for the brothers and sisters whose labour provides them … as Dewi Hughes said, to recognise that our interaction with what people’s work produces makes them the ‘neighbours’ we are commanded to love.
is one way of doing that. At its heart, Fair Trade is about restoring the human dimension to some of the most historically problematic working and trading relationships – those of small producers selling to often vastly more powerful marketers and retailers. Built into its standards – whether for Fairtrade products or Fair Trade organizations – is a commitment to paying a price for goods that relates to the costs of sustainable production, taking into account both people’s needs and the environment’s. But that’s not all: there’s also a commitment to prepayment so that producers don’t fall into debt, to the honouring of contracts and long-term partnerships, to ensuring safe working conditions and the right of people to organise and have input into their working conditions. There’s a ban on forced labour and a commitment to ending discrimination on the basis of gender. And there are environmental standards, which ensure that products don’t ‘cost the earth.’
When we buy a Fairtrade-labelled product, or any product from a Fair Trade Organization like Traidcraft or CafeDirect or Divine Chocolate, therefore, we’re signalling that we care enough about our neighbour to want to guarantee them ‘good work’.
That’s part of the success of Fair Trade. It’s not just about the roughly 5,000 Fairtrade products and £1.6 billion in Fairtrade retail sales in the UK … or the 1.65 million farmers, workers and producers who benefit from the international Fairtrade market and who last year received over 100 million Euros in Fairtrade premiums (in addition to the price they received for their goods).
It’s not just about the maternity clinics and mobile clinics and new forms of industry and wheelchairs for the elderly and computer classrooms and electrification schemes that Fairtrade has enabled producer groups to fund.
It’s also about the wider change in perceptions. Fair Trade’s growth has shaken conventional economics’ view that we are selfish beings who care only about our wants and price. It’s showed that where people have enough disposable income to have choices, love of neighbour can be a factor in the way we choose to allocate our spending.
Looking more broadly …
what are other ways in which we can look beyond the products of labour to the people involved and help to ensure their wellbeing?
- The garment industry employs significant numbers of people globally, and there are major issues around safe working conditions, the right to organise, and decent wages. Labour behind the Label, War on Wantand Fashion Revolution ask us to raise awareness of the people involved in the sector – and to press for better conditions and wages. Could you visit one of their websites and participate in their campaigns?
- Traidcraft was one of several agencies that led campaigning to get an independent supermarket ‘watchdog’ to monitor major retailers’ treatment of suppliers. They continue to draw attention to the downward pressure supermarkets exert on suppliers, which has a major impact on the people at the bottom of the supply chain both in the UK and in other countries.Recent controversies in this area have focused on UK milk prices, with a parliamentary committee report on farmgate prices noting: “We question assurance from the retail sector that there is no link between the price at which supermarkets sell to their customers and the price supermarkets pay to farmers … the chronic low price of milk sold through supermarkets inevitably disadvantages farmers in the longer term. Supermarkets may choose to sell milk cheaply as a loss leader, but farmers must not be the victims of the supermarket wars currently taking place in the UK. Progress is uneven amongst supermarkets and assurances must be met with action.”Could you check with your supermarket to find out what price they give farmers for milk? Might you support retailers (or special schemes, such as Morrison’s Milk for Farmers) that seek to give a higher amount to farmers?
- The Living Wage campaign certifies employers who choose to pay their staff a wage that is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. On their website, you can check to see who is a living wage employer. If an entity with which you regularly interact isn’t one, could you encourage them to become one? If you have a pension, ShareAction has an easy way for you to ask your pension fund to press the companies in which it invests on this topic. You might also want to hold an event to raise awareness of the concept.
- The right of workers to organise and bargain collectively is enshrined in an international convention which the UK and European countries have all ratified. But not all countries have ratified the convention, and there are many where despite the ratification, those who lead protests against poor working conditions face significant harrassment and threats. The International TUC named ten countries as the world’s worst for systematic violations of workers’ rights: one of these was Colombia. Could you join in Justice for Colombia’s campaign action on behalf of a ‘disappeared’ trade unionist?
- Two groups which are often subject to injustice in the UK are immigrant domestic workers and care workers. Could you ask members of the House of Lords to support Lord Hylton’s amendments to the Immigration Bill, which are designed to keep immigrant domestic workers from being tied to abusive employers?
- Support people who are seeking to create good jobs, especially for the most marginalised. Perhaps this is something you can do in your work. Charities are also beginning to work with the private sector: a new initiative from Christian Aid, Traidcraft, Practical Action, Twin and Challenges Worldwide links investors with small and medium enterprises in rural areas that have the potential to grow.
*Many environmental theologians emphasise that the term ‘rule’ or ‘dominion’ would have expressed stewardship and a duty of care as well as power.
A powerpoint Elizabeth prepared as the Paris climate talks approached, offering us a way of reflecting on climate and preparing for the climate talks in the light of Advent.
Download it here: Advent Light
In this week’s prayer email:
- Short Notes: Votes, Tropical Cyclone Winston, ‘Hope in a Changing Climate’
- Loving our neigbour in a globalised world
- How then shall we live?
“Abraham believed the Lord, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – a text from this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts that has been very important to many Christians! Can we follow Abraham’s faith, trusting to God to bring to pass even those good things that seem impossible?
Short Notes: Votes, Hurricane Winston, ‘Hope in a Changing Climate’
- The date of the UK referendum on EU membership has been announced. This is a vote with implications not only for the UK but for the future of the European Union, already facing a period of strain. Please pray for wisdom and discernment for those campaigning on the issue within the UK and for UK voters. Pray also for wisdom and discernment for the politicians and media of other EU countries, as they respond to the uncertainties facing their countries and the union. There’s an interesting roundup of EU press reactions here.Uganda’s elections have resulted in a fifth term for President Yoweri Museveni – but have been widely criticised, with EU Chief Observer Eduard Kukan noting that the governing party’s “domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign.” The chief opponent in the election (who has rejected the election results) is under house arrest, and the government is alleged to have used threatsto discourage voters from choosing for the opposition. These are tense times: please pray for wisdom and discernment for all people with influence in the country, and for a movement towards stability with justice.
- Another category 5 tropical cyclone has hit the Pacific; pray for the people of Fiji, some of whose islands are receiving a direct strike from Tropical Cyclone Winston, the first category 5 storm known to have hit the islands. The main airport is in the hurricane’s path – pray that any hurricane damage does not prevent humanitarian relief from arriving quickly and being used effectively.
- On the 15th and 16th of April, a group of agencies and churches, including A Rocha UK, All We Can, CAFOD, Christian Aid, CCOW, the Church of England, Commitment for Life, Global Justice Now, Operation Noah, Progressio, and Tearfund are putting on a conference called ‘Hope in a Changing Climate‘. It will offer a chance to get updates on what happened in Paris, reflect on Christian responses, share ideas and experiences, and learn about ways in which we can act to make a difference – whether through advocacy, investments, practical action or prayer.Speakers include leading climate scientist Professor Myles Allen; theologians such as Michael Northcott, Martin Poulsom, Rosalind Selby and Ruth Valerio; climate communicator George Marshall; church leaders such as the Rt Revd William Kenney, Rachel Lampard, and Jo Herbert; specialists in advocacy and activism Paul Cook and Mark Letcher and many others.Pray for the speakers as they prepare. Pray that the event may be a blessing to Christians in the UK and elsewhere as they seek to care for creation.
Loving our neighbour in a globalised world
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
It’s easy to understand the lawyer’s question. We all have finite resources – emotional, material, of time, of space. If we are to love our neighbour as ourself, extending the definition of neighbour too far can feel overwhelming. The temptation is to circumscribe the number of people to whom we have obligations so that life feels manageable, and we can say confidently: “I have done this.”
But Jesus’ response allows neither the lawyer nor us to take that route.
Instead of getting an answer that enables him to classify others into the category of neighbour or not neighbour, the lawyer is instructed to act as a neighbour to those whom he encounters, whatever their circumstances.
That’s a challenge. And in a globalised world, it raises numerous questions. What does it mean to ‘encounter’ someone? Does it apply only to those whom we meet in our daily lives? Or also to others whom we may or may not meet face to face? Pondering this, the theologian Dewi Hughes has suggested that we ‘encounter’ anyone on whom our actions have an impact – and that with respect to such people, we are responsible for applying the principle of love in all our actions that affect them.
So, for example, the person who sold me the tea I drank on my travels yesterday is my neighbour, and I have a responsibility to treat her with loving respect and to care about whether the cafe where she works pays her adequately. But the producers of the tea and the milk I have drunk are also my neighbours. I benefit from their labour – and I have a responsibility to care that they were paid fairly for it … and that they were not compelled to work in conditions that imperilled their health or wellbeing.
But are they the only people affected by my actions? Boiling the kettle required electricity – and hence the production of energy. The paper cup in which it was served required the felling of trees and the moulding of plastic. Were these actions undertaken responsibly? Or were they contributors – albeit minuscule contributors – to the climate change and degradation of earth’s natural resources that are causing difficulties for people around the world?
We live in a world that prioritises consumption – that constantly encourages us to focus on fulfilling our own desires and touches only briefly, if at all, on their impact on others and on the earth. But the command to love your neighbour requires us to take into account our daily choices’ impacts on our global neighbours and our common home, whose finite resources are so sadly overstretched.
At times seeking to live in a way that is mindful of our impacts may feel overwhelming. And certainly it can require an investment of time or energy, especially if we’re just starting to look at a particular area of our life. But we don’t need to be discouraged – there are plenty of fellow Christians (and others) walking alongside us who can help us along the way; issues can become clearer; and we can, by God’s grace, grow in courage and confidence. … and ask for forgiveness when we don’t get it right.
And this is not a joyless thing. To the contrary, trying to live in a way that is mindful of others and of the earth we share can bring tremendous enjoyment and a restorative awareness of connection with our fellow humans, the creation and God. Pray that God will guide us – and all people – along this way of life, for the good of our neighbours and ourselves.
How then shall we live?
There are so many ways in which we can act lovingly towards our global neighbours and creation – in a short piece one can just begin to scratch the surface. But for this week, we’ve chosen three areas where meaningful action can be easily taken in our everyday lives (the way we invest in these areas is also important, and will be the subject of a future reflection) – and we reflect on how a changed mindset may be helpful. And, as these action points and suggestions may well be statements of the obvious for many readers, we end by providing some suggestions of books that explore the subject in more detail.
The Paris climate commitment to “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C” cannot be achieved without a switch away from fossil fuel sources of energy. Christian Aid and Tearfund have teamed up in a practical initiative, which launched on Ash Wednesday, to help churches and individuals make the switch to 100% renewable forms of energy. The ‘Big Church Switch’ will use the buying power of all who register their interest to secure the best deal from the cleanest suppliers in the UK. A quote will be provided to the registered churches and individuals who then decide if they want to sign up. ‘The Big Church Video Switch’ notes: “This small action is one of the biggest things your church can do to reduce its carbon footprint… By using clean, renewable energy the Church can demonstrate its commitment to care for our neighbours and for the earth – our common home”
What we eat is potentially the most significant way we interact (albeit unwittingly) with our global neighbours and our common home. The science journal Nature reports that “The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions”. Agriculture on farms is responsible for about 13% of total global emissions, with animals releasing methane and the use of nitrogen fertilizers the most significant contributors. However, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – a massive squandering of Earth’s finite resources. UNEP say, “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”. What about figures for the UK? Here, UNEP report that around a third of all the food purchased each year is not eaten.
How might we act more caringly towards our global neighbours and God’s creation?
- Eating more thoughtfully. A study of the carbon footprints of the real diets of more than 50,000 people in the UK found that the benefits of altering one’s diet “could be huge”: “if someone eating more than 100 grams of meat a day simply cut down to less than 50 grams a day, their food-related emissions would fall by a third. That would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York”. Similarly a study in the USA found that “Although food was not the biggest source of emissions, it was where people could make the biggest and most cost-effective savings, by wasting less food and eating less meat.”
- The Love Food, Hate Waste website has some great ideas for cutting down food waste and recipes for leftovers.
- Increasingly choose foods that fulfills at least one of the LOAF criteria – Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly Traded – an initiative of Green Christian (formerly Christian Ecology Link).
- Look for labels: whilst the variety of labels signifying ethical sourcing can be confusing, some to look out for are the blue Marine Stewardship Council label (which signifies the seafood has been responsibly caught by a certified sustainable fishery), the Fairtrade mark, the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Marque (an environmental assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products) and the Carbon Trust footprint label (which indicates the producer’s commitment to measuring and reducing the resource footprints of the product).
- Try growing more of your own food.
Ruth Valerio writes, “Our demand for paper is one of the key factors behind deforestation, which, in turn, is the second highest contributor to climate change, only behind burning fossil fuels” (L is for Lifestyle, p 114).
Great Britain is the world’s sixth highest consumer of paper and paperboard (2013 statistic) and, according to the Confederation of Paper Industries, “in the UK, we produce less than half of the paper we consume. In fact, the UK imports proportionately more paper than any other country in the world”.
So what actions might we take?
- First, is to reduce our paper usage, reuse what we can and buy recycled paper.
- Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on paper, timber and other forest products. The logo guarantees you are not contributing to global forest destruction. There is also an FSC Recycled label, which means the product has been made from at least 85% post-consumer reclaimed materials.
- Cut down on the junk mail you receive by going to the Mail Preference Service where you can get your name taken off mailing lists.
A changed mindset
In their paper, “Overconsumption? Our use of the world’s resources”, Friends of the Earth write,
“In order to create a more sustainable and equitable world, regions with high levels of per-capita resource use, such as Europe, will need to sharply decrease their resource use in absolute terms.
More fundamental questions about economics, development and resources need to be addressed in the medium term. Most significantly, ‘How can new models of development be created in Europe and other industrialised countries that focus on well-being instead of increased production and consumption?’ This will require rethinking the role of economic growth and the links between resource use, quality of life and happiness”.
The need for “rethinking” and emphasis on quality of life is reminiscent of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.
It is very easy to get caught up in our current culture, which assumes constant consumption and acquisition are both good and necessary (how else can the economy grow?) – and hard to break away. But simply being abstemious – whilst clearly necessary given the parlous state of the planet – doesn’t seem sufficient response, because it is a negative “thou shalt not” type of response that can readily lead to debilitating guilt, feelings of failure and accusations of hypocrisy when well-intentioned resolutions are broken. Perhaps, instead, we can try thinking differently about how we live and what we consume. Rather than being consumers of “things” might we increasingly become “consumers” of culture, nature and friendship – not in a utilitarian way but in terms of where we take delight, find our identity and spend our spare time? Can we take to heart the injunction of Hebrews 15:5, “Be content with what you have” – perhaps literally looking at our possessions afresh and taking joy and pleasure in the good and lovely things we already have?
A very brief list – which undoubtedly leaves out many books that our prayer email readers have found useful! Do email us with suggestions, as we’re putting together an annotated list.
- A Moral Climate: The ethics of global warming (Michael Northcott, Christian Aid/ Darton, Longman and Todd)
- And God Saw That It Was Good (Carlo Carretto, Orbis)
- Angels with Trumpets: The church in a time of global warming (Paula Clifford, Christian Aid/Darton, Longman and Todd)
- Bible and Ecology: Redisovering the community of creation (Richard Bauckham, Darton, Longman and Todd)
- Cherishing the Earth. How to care for God’s creation (Martin J Hodson and Margot R Hodson, Monarch Books)
- Deep Economy: Economics as if the world mattered (Bill McKibben, Oneworld Publications)
- How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Tackling Climate Change, 2010 ed (Chris Goodall, Routledge)
- Laudato Si: On care for our common home (Pope Francis, Catholic Truth Society or available online)
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future – See more at: http://catholicclimatemovement.global/books/#sthash.DT9PKVjX.dpuf
- L is for Lifestyle. Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth (Ruth Valerio, Inter-Varsity Press)
- Planetwise. Dare to care for God’s world (Dave Bookless, Inter-Varsity Press)
- Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a finite planet (Tim Jackson, Routledge)
Sustainability Toolkit (Quaker Peace and Social Witness)
- When Enough Is Enough: A Christian framework for sustainability (ed. Sam Berry, Apollos)
- The Paris Agreement
- International Migrants Day – Welcome the Stranger
As we prepare for the coming of Christ, we encounter, in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, the Virgin Mary’s magnificent hymn of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. Rejoicing in God’s faithfulness and abundant gifts, the song anticipates the overturning of the ways of the world. Can we take time this week to read it daily, rejoicing in the promises it offers and praying for the coming of the Kingdom?
The Paris Agreement
“This is a small gavel, but I think it can do great things” said Laurent Fabius, the president of the Paris climate talks, as the conference formally adopted the Paris Agreement.
Was he right? Throughout this year, people have been asking us: “Is this climate conference going to be different from all the failures?” “Can we stay below 2 degrees?” “And is there hope?”
Here are our thoughts, for reflection and prayer, on how the Paris Agreement relates to those questions. Read the top line to get the basics, the paragraphs underneath to get more detail, and the box at the end for prayer points.
Even without an agreement, Paris would have been different from previous climate talks.Two things stood out before the conference even started. Firstly, the climate action plans (INDCs) that countries had submitted, while not enough to hold temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (best estimates are 2.7 to 3.7 degrees), are enough to bring us out of the disastrous “business as usual” trajectory down which we’ve been heading. And secondly, Christiana Figueres and the Peruvian (COP 20) and French (COP 21) teams did an amazing job of bringing a wide range of groups into the UNFCCC process – not just the nation states that are ‘parties’ to it, but also businesses, civil society groups, financiers, faith groups, cities and regional governments. Many of these are moving faster towards a low-carbon world than nation states are. Their inclusion both reinforced the importance of these groups’ own efforts – the renewables initiatives launched were particularly notable – and also created an environment where action seemed possible.
And now we have the Paris Agreement – the first universal climate treaty, including some 195 countries. That really is a difference … and has wider significance. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, “every country in the world,” not just the developed countries, “has pledged to curb their emissions, strengthen resilience and act internationally and domestically to address climate change.” And while the document itself is far from perfect it has been agreed by all the parties in an unprecedented display of cooperation. Again, good process helped: the French and the UNFCCC Secretariat did a brilliant job in their diplomacy. But to get an agreement, there had to be a general will for shared, multilateral action – a sense that blocs that have long held very different positions could work together and that at least some level of solidarity was possible. In an often fragmented world, the fact that countries had that sense and were prepared to act on it offers hope … and not just for the fight against climate change.
The Paris Agreement leaves the door open for us to stay well below 2 degrees – and indeed possibly at the 1.5 degree limit. Since Copenhagen, countries have been saying that the goal is to hold warming below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Some scientists, however, feel that the pace of dangerous impacts increases well before we reach 2 degrees (cf this article) – and vulnerable states, such as the Pacific islands, have argued that for them a 1.5 degree goal is a matter of survival. The agreement sets a clear goal of keeping the global average temperature rise well below – not just below – 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and “pursu[ing] efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”
The agreement signals a clear shift towards a low-carbon world. The temperature target is ambitious and can’t be met unless there’s a significant and relatively rapid shift in how we produce and use energy. While some are waiting to see what actions countries take, there’s a sense in many quarters that the agreement – combined with the announcements on funding for renewables made earlier during the talks – sends a clear signal that the future lies with clean energy, and that coal in particular has no future. That changes the narrative about what is ‘realistic’ and should trigger investment flows into low-carbon, rather than high-carbon technologies.
But the agreement needs to be hugely strengthened over time to keep us well below 2 – let alone at 1.5 – degrees … and time is short. The concrete detail on how we achieve the temperature goals doesn’t match the goals’ ambition. The agreement mentions achieving global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” without giving a specific target. It talks about achieving a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in the second half of the century. And it talks about getting countries to up the ambition of their emissions targets on a regular basis, starting with a dialogue in 2018 and with regular stocktakes every five years from 2023 onwards. These all represent progress – but they’re not yet strong enough: Professor Myles Allen, for example, argues that to stabilise at 1.5 degrees, we would need emissions to peak now, and commitments to increase radically very soon. That said, getting the upward review mechanism was a triumph, and one that had looked unlikely not all that long ago. And its existence allows for stronger, faster action.
There’s more work to be done on climate finance, too. The agreement reaffirms the pledge from developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to enable developing countries to adapt to climate impacts and to undertake clean development. It extends the commitment to provide $100 billion/yr until 2025 and sets that figure as a floor for climate finance to be undertaken by “the parties” (ie potentially not just developed countries) from 2025 onwards. It also invites those developing countries that are in a position to do so to contribute earlier to climate finance for those who are poorer.
That’s better than it might have been – but the language is pretty woolly, and it’s unclear how it will be implemented. Two big questions are (a) what counts as “climate finance,” which is very contentious, and (b) the impact of climate finance on other areas of aid. The key here feels as if it will be both convincing developed countries that climate finance is actually an area of opportunity – the more resilient the world becomes, the more everyone benefits – and ensuring that we don’t see climate finance pledges met by the kind of diversion of aid funds that leaves other priorities wanting. And yes, while those figures sound huge, they’re not really adequate to the task – can countries be convinced to mobilise more?
And while it was great to see ‘loss and damage’ enter the agreement, there needs to be some money behind it. The developing countries most vulnerable to climate impacts were glad to see a separate article for ‘loss and damage’ – which recognises that some vulnerable countries will suffer climate-related losses (irreparable impacts) and damages (reparable impacts) that go beyond anything to which they can adapt. It’s an important recognition of the reality of their situations. The agreement also invites cooperation to help them cope – but there’s not much concrete in the way of funding.
Overall, we’d call the agreement a framework for hope. As climate activist Bill McKibben said, “This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.” A universal agreement means that climate change is no longer some people’s issue – it’s everyone’s issue. There’s a clear acknowledgement that the time for discussing climate change as if it were hypothetical or uncertain to exist is over. And there’s a framework for action – the various goals give us something with which to hold governments, businesses and ourselves to account.
If countries implement what they’ve agreed to and take stronger, rapid action on emissions cuts and financial pledges; if the agreement inspires action for climate justice at every level – from the most local to the global … then we can look to a very hopeful future.
We all are a vital part of helping to fulfil that hope. What we do now – in terms of our own lifestyle choices, our advocacy with government, our prayer and our continuing to work with other Christians and others around the globe – really matters. It will not only make a huge difference locally, but will also help our countries to take the steps they need to take. And each country’s steps make it easier for other countries to take their own steps. We can be part of building a virtuous cycle.
For those of us in the UK, that’s a particularly important role right now. One of the few sadnesses of the COP was realising the extent to which the UK was seen as having gone from being a leader on climate change to being a country that was backtracking on commitments. If that’s going to change, we need to be among those who are changing it. We have our calling to care for creation and for our neighbours; we have the Paris Agreement; we have each other; and we have hope in God, who created and loves the world. Change is possible.
Christian leadership mattered at Paris. Our prayer and action as Christians mattered at Paris. And both will continue to matter.
Both before and at the climate talks, Christian leadership helped to reframe the negotiations – to move them away from being simply about economic options, historic and future responsibilities and power dynamics towards a vision of a future in which care for creation and care for our neighbour is at the heart of our common action. The best-known contribution was the Pope’s Laudato Si’, the impact of which is well documented. But contributions from the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Lausanne Movement, the Anglican Communion bishops, the Lutheran World Federation, the reformed churches, Methodists, Baptists, and the churches of France working ecumenically (just for a start) were also vital.
But it wasn’t just about leaders.
“To those who walked, to those who prayed … ” this is the opening of Christiana Figueres’ “Open Letter of Gratitude to All” who helped work for the Paris Agreement. Figueres was moved to tears when faith leaders, including church leaders, met with her after celebrating the climate pilgrimages to Paris and handed over faith group petitions, signed by almost 2 million people. The knowledge that people were praying clearly mattered to her – and to the talks.
As Christians, our prayer was a response to God’s loving outreach to humanity and encompassed both petition and an act of witness: by it we laid our concerns before our all-powerful and all-loving God, attested to our faith in God, spoke about God’s role in creation, and recognised God’s call to the churches to care for creation.
We were praying for an agreement that, as Pray4COP21 put it would “help the whole global community to put aside selfishness and to walk together in ways that bring peace, show love for neighbours near and far, and reconcile us all with the beautiful creation that God has given us to cherish.” The Paris Agreement is far from perfect, but it has the potential to offer that help. Now we pray that its potential may be realised.
|Our prayers are taken from the final prayers of Pray4COP21. Please:
From “A Christian prayer in union with creation”
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
God of love, show us our place in this world
The poor and the earth are crying out.
Praise be to you!
International Migrants Day: Welcoming the Stranger
This past Friday, 18th December, was International Migrants Day. With so much attention being paid to migrant routes through the EU we may feel well acquainted with the issues. But refugees in Europe are only a small part of the global picture (and even the local one).
The majority of migrants are not refugees (those who have fled their home countries because of conflict or persecution) nor are they forced migrants (a broader category including both refugees and those forced to move due to extreme poverty, climate change or natural disasters). At the close of 2013 UN figures estimated that there were 235 million migrants globally. Most were economic migrants seeking employment. Many are simply pursuing work in countries with similar economies and opportunities to their own. But just over one third were moving from South to North, from regions with an average wage of $3,300 to nations where wages average just over ten times that figure. As inequality increases these numbers are increasing. Often their increased earnings go to fund family in their home countries. Figures from 2006 show that migrants sent home $300 billion (often in small amounts of $100 or so), almost three times the amount developed countries gave to developing nations in aid that year.
Forced migration is also increasing rapidly. It is well know that the violence in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa has swelled the number of refugees to around 60 million, the highest figure on record. But the problem is not only the significant numbers of displaced people, but that people are remaining in poor temporary accommodation (including refugee camps) for long periods of time and their chances of returning home are becoming less likely. In Al Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan 80,000 Syrian refugees are living in temporary accommodation, some for up to 3 1/2 years. But it is Africa which has the greatest number of refugees and some of the longest displacements. Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya hosts 400,000 refugees (mostly Somali) and is 24 years old. Many residents of these camps are unable to move home or to move on to a more permanent living situation. Last year 126,800 refugees (globally) returned to their home country and 103,000 were permanently settled by the UN but 6.4 million were known to be living in long term (5 years or more) exile without a permanent solution.
It is clear that those who are currently displaced by conflict, persecution or climate change (a factor which is expected to force between 50 and 200 million from their homes by 2050) will continue to face challenges for many years as they are forced to find ways to live in host communities for long periods of time often without a permanent legal status, with inadequate accommodation, a lack of language skills, little money and poor employment prospects.
The significant and increasing numbers of migrants together with the relationship between migration and issues of trade, climate, conflict and human rights means migration will be a key global issue in the decades ahead. The Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe argues that migration should also be a central issue for the Church:
‘Thinking about migration is not a marginal theological undertaking but touches central points of every theological reflection: What is humankind? What does it mean to be obliged to this God of the Old and New Testament? How can our confused human history be reconciled with a divine plan? How are theology and ethics related? And what, after all, is the task of the church?’
In other words, a coherent and faithful Christian response to migrants begins with understanding our relationship to migrants in light of God’s creation and relationship to us. Any practical response we can offer should come out of this understanding.
Welcoming the Stranger
One strand of theological reflection around migration involves the idea of ‘welcoming the stranger.’
This is an ethical imperative we see throughout the Bible. In Leviticus 19:34, for example, we read that ‘the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’
The central part of this verse (together with others, see Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19)reminds us that the migrants ‘strangeness’ is actually a point of similarity for the Israelites who were also once migrants. In the New Testament we also see a sense of God’s people as a migrant community. Christians are to know themselves to be strangers in the world, a people who live in the world but are not of it, whose citizenship is in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). This understanding of ourselves as displaced people might encourage us to empathise with, and find common ground with, migrants. But it might also encourage us to hold our goods and land more lightly, knowing ourselves to be temporary guardians rather than owners.
Leviticus also reminds us that we are not to treat aliens or migrants according to their label, instead we are to treat them as citizens, as one of us. As numbers of migrants increase there is a tendency to forget that the headline figures are made up of millions of individuals with rich and varied identities with often tragic stories of loss and hardship. As countries struggle to deal with forced migrants they may also rely on labels (‘illegal immigrants’) which dehumanise and seek to place a distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’. For Christians our theology might encourage us to forgo unhelpful labels and seek to treat migrants as citizens, one of our own, with a shared identity based in our foundational belief that all are made in the image of God.
This verse in Leviticus also contains an implicit reminder that it was the Lord God who reached out to Israel and brought the people out of Egypt. In Christ we too know God’s movement towards us and our call to mirror that movement in seeking to be those who spread the good news, who reach out to others. As we seek to respond to migrants, it is right that we should step out in welcome and move towards those who are displaced, not wait for them to bring their needs to us.
This stepping out in welcome will not only be for the good of those we seek to serve. Responses to migration from the UN, development agencies and researchers have recently been seeking to emphasise the positive contributions forced migrant communities can make to their host countries (often with an economic focus). Pope Francis has also noted that migration is ‘a significant “sign of the times”, a challenge to be discovered and utilised in our work to renew humanity and proclaim the gospel of peace.’ As we seek to welcome the stranger we can also expect to reap rewards as we see God at work in restoring humanity.
Even if we accept the call to welcome the stranger, we might still ask what form this welcome should take. Whether a Christian response to migrants must entail open borders which allow free access for all. We hope to address these difficult issues soon, in the meantime you may wish to access the Bible Societies resource which looks at a number of ethical approaches to borders.
Some theological reflections on migration include:
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Asylum Theology
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Mission Migrants and Refugees
Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, Theological Reflections on Migration: A CCME Reader
Jubilee Centre, The Famine, the Foreigner and the Threshing Floor [A reading of the book of Ruth in terms of immigration]
Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Love of Christ Towards Migrants
Praying in Times of Extreme Weather is a gathering of prayer points and links to online prayer material for use before, during or after an extreme weather event. It includes materials that can be used by those directly affected and/or by those praying for them. Download it here.