CLIMATE : the ethical responsability of Churches

Behind the climate issue, and the economic responses to it, lies everyone’s and every nation’s responsibility for ethical behaviour and solidarity towards their peers, near and far. The Church, as an authority and a people, has a share in this responsibility.

(Article published by AEFJN in Forum for Action n° 56, Nov. 2011)

What is at stake for a future climate agreement?

The 17th session of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP17 Durban for short, will take place in Durban, South Africa, from 28th November to 9th December. This international meeting hopes to come up with a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of greenhouse gases, an agreement that expires at the end of 2012.  However, several major nations have announced that they are not in favour of a future agreement that compromises their economic growth. Among them are Canada, Japan and Russia that, in spite of their Kyoto commitment, have seen an increase in their greenhouse gas emissions.  A legal gap risks appearing which allows each state to do as it wishes, according to its own priorities.


With the climate and economic crises being linked, a common solution needs to be found for them and, as the implications are global, this solution has to have solidarity at heart. We know that climate change has serious effects on human life and the environment, in particular the most vulnerable people whose lives depend directly on the survival of the ecosystems. This, on top of the financial crisis, causes a bush-fire effect, bringing with it problems to do with health, access to education and work, potentially leading to grave social crises.  The human being is worth more than gas and temperature statistics.


The destinies of man and of nature together before God

Remembering that environmental and climate concerns are an integral part of the Catholic faith, Pope John Paul II offered two ways forward: ecological conversion and mankind’s ecological vocation.  Human beings do not rank above nature but are part of it.  They need it in order to live, just as nature needs them to look after it like good parents.  Benedict XVI stresses interior conversion.  The love of money and a desire for comfort, together with spiritual pride lead us to rejecting the limitations of nature.  These personal errors of judgment have repercussions for the environment and society.  Humbly accepting nature’s limitations teaches us to become more human before the Creator. Mankind cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions without first reforming, at domestic and national level, an economic system that disregards human beings and the environment in its search for money and individualism.


Towards climatic, social and economic justice

For this reason, several Churches are coming together to weave an ethical thread into the global debate on climate change. They are encouraging solidarity with the most vulnerable populations who have mostly scarcely contributed to the climate change that is already afflicting them.  For example, between 1970 and 2006, Malawi experienced 40 catastrophes linked to meteorological conditions.  Until 2001, only 9 districts in Malawi were deemed to be liable to flooding; this had risen to 22 by 2012[1]. Moreover, the governments of these peoples have fewer resources to guard against the consequences.  By contrast, Europe and other wealthy parts of the world, are spending vast amounts on mathematical models and meteorological forecasts that are able to predict and prevent the damage that could be caused by future so-called millennium storms. For example, the Flemish region of Belgium is investing 300 million Euros on strengthening its coastal storm defences as it has calculated that it would cost more than that to repair the damage.  France and Great Britain are investing even more.  These investments help the wheels of the economy to go round.  Carbon markets have been set up and so-called ‘adaptation’ aids which are in fact a way to create new markets, sometimes virtual, under the guise of the struggle against climate change[2].  The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) network, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other networks are working for social and economic justice and promoting climate justice.  They denounce the global development model based on hyper-consumption and avarice that prevails in climate policies.


The duty of the Church

After considering the climate issue at the 2009 Synod, the African bishops called for the Church and its members to lobby their local and national policy makers[3].  This is a very concrete action.  Small farmers need support for climate adaptation.  They need to be informed about long-term climate tendencies and their implications for rain, temperature, influxes of pests and crop diseases.  They have a right to receive advice on selecting plants and to be trained in agricultural practices that are best suited both to the new ecosystem and to family farming.  The Church, having a strong presence and being an extensive network responsible for educating its people, can play its part in sharing information and in training.  At the same time, keeping Gospel values in sight, it needs to strengthen the capacity of social and political action groups, such as Justice and Peace groups, in order to deepen the understanding of the relationship between living conditions and political choices.  She can also support the demands of family farming networks by lobbying politicians to protect small-scale farming and the respect it has for the ecosystem and human beings. Moreover, the Church needs to take action so that EU aid development and other policies support the networks of small African farmers who are taking climate adaptation initiatives locally.  Without these priorities, the local economy and society will die.  The prices small farmers receive are declining to such an extent that they no longer have enough to pay for their children’s schooling and they have to mortgage their future; sometimes the prices are too low to cover the cost of feeding the family.  Each state, however, has the duty to assure a framework that will guarantee the right to food and a decent standard of living.  The Church, both the institution and the people, must call out for this and contribute to it actively.


Church members also have an advocacy role with the decision-makers at COP17 Durban.  The religious implications of climate change will be debated there by Caritas International, Religions for Peace and the WCC who are preparing a parallel event for 7th December. An inter-religious meeting is also being arranged.  The faith communities of Africa and of the world have joined together to present a united front at COP 17 and have a secretariat and a website[4].  The education of the younger generation has not been forgotten.  At Durban, the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation are organising a seminar called

“Youth for Eco-Justice” for young Christians between 18 and 30.  They will learn about environmental and socio-economic justice with a view to their leading projects afterwards in their own countries. It is up to all of us to see where our own share of responsibility lies and decide what action we, our communities and parishes can take.


November 2011


[2] Read: Forum for Action AEFJN n° 53 : « Climate Change : the socio-political challenge of the century»

[3] Proposition 22 ‘Environmental Protection and Reconciliation with Creation’ et Prop. 30 ‘Land and water’

[4] Website of the secretariat of the world  faith communities united front:

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