Letter to the Gazette: Church response to climate change

A letter published in the Chrurch of Ireland Gazette, 20 November 2015:


On 30th November, world leaders will meet for one of the most crucial conferences ever – the UN Paris Climate Change Conference, ‘Paris 2015’, also known as the 21st Conference of Parties or ‘COP21’.


The aim of the conference is to reach international agreement to keep global warming below 2°C. This is a good opportunity to reflect on why climate change is looming as a moral issue and to ask what actions we, the Church of Ireland, have taken.


Throughout 2015, Christian leaders have spoken out about the moral challenge of climate change. Pope Francis, in his encyclical, said climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day”.


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “We are now – like never before – in a position to choose charity over greed, and frugality over wastefulness in order to affirm our moral commitment to our neighbour and our respect toward the earth.”


Furthermore, our own Archbishops wrote a joint ‘Climate Change Letter from Faith Leaders’ to The Irish Times and The Belfast Telegraph (25th September).


This letter stated: “Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing our human family. Current impacts are already too much for poor countries to bear. In rich and poor countries alike women and men living in poverty are most vulnerable to the impacts of increasingly unpredictable weather and more intense storms, floods and drought. The opportunity to limit further warming to relatively safer levels and avoid even more devastating impacts will soon disappear. The continued inadequacy of the political response at all levels to this urgent challenge is a common, moral concern.”


Climate change is a moral issue because of the serious impact on the poor.


So, what action needs to taken? The 190 countries at COP21 must agree actions to lower pollution from fossil fuels to keep global warming below 2°C. To do this, scientists estimate that between 60% to 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. If we continue to extract and burn them as we have done, we will face dire consequences: droughts, floods, storms, sea level rise, extreme temperatures, failed harvests, social unrest, conflict, persecution and even greater refugee crises.


Each individual and select vestry needs to take action. But I believe the Church of Ireland itself can take decisive action that will speak powerfully to society.


The Church of Ireland has at least 5% of its General Unit Trusts invested in fossil fuel companies. Earlier this year, the Church of England divested from thermal coal and tar sands. Edward Mason, the Head of Responsible Investment, said: “Climate change is a key challenge of our time and it’s a moral imperative that we all take action as part of the transition to the low carbon economy.”


At synods this year, two dioceses passed motions calling on the Representative Body to develop a plan for divestment from fossil fuels, starting with the most polluting coal and tar sands companies. It is to be hoped that the Executive Committee of the RB is now drawing up plans to divest from fossil fuel companies.


Stephen Trew

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