Ethics & Morality

Climate change is not simply an issue of ecology, but also of injustice

This is a guest post by Joe Ware – Christian Aid‘s Church and Campaigns Journalist.


This week we witnessed a minor political miracle. Less than three months from what is likely to be one of the most fiercely fought general election campaigns in recent history David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all signed the same policy pledge.

After the trouble the Lib Dems found themselves in following their promise on tuition fees, getting political leaders to sign any kind of pre-election pledge is hard work. To get rival party leaders to sign the same one when they’re desperate to show how much they disagree with each other is even more remarkable.

Which all goes to underline its significance. The agreement they put their names to was a promise to seek a strong global deal to tackle climate change and importantly end the use of unabated coal in power generation – the most polluting kind.

The dangers of climate change have been warned by scientists for years. Recently economists and business leaders have started to speak up about the financial risks, among them the Governor of the Bank of England, something underlined by the volatility of the oil price and the plunging costs of solar energy. Now we see politicians putting aside their differences over the issue. In a culture of Punch and Judy politics this is to be celebrated. Later this year the Pope is set to publish his Papal Encyclical on the environment which will put this firmly on the agenda of church denominations around the world.

Already faith leaders are speaking out. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an Apartheid style boycott of fossil fuels, something echoed by the Diocese of Oxford and young Christians at General Synod last week. The World Council of Churches and other denominations have already divested and this movement is gaining momentum at a rapid pace. One finance executive described it as “one of the fastest-moving debates I think I’ve seen in my 30 years in markets”.

The reason this is moving up the agenda is that so many different groups are coming to realise the importance of tackling climate change. The party leaders signed their agreement in part thanks to the Show The Love campaign which saw members of the public sharing what they loved that would be affected by climate change. The movement included a rainbow coalition from the Women’s Institute to Surfers Against Sewage, as well as the British Medical Association, the bosses of Unilever and Aviva and faith based organisations such as Christian Aid, Cafod and Tearfund. Celebrities Stephen Fry and Jarvis Cocker, among others, even appeared in a short film produced by director Ridley Scott’s production company:

Climate change is no longer simply an issue of ecology. It is not something left simply for the eco warriors and the bunny huggers, it’s much too important for that. There is clearly plenty in the Bible about caring for God’s creation, from Genesis 2:15: ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it‘ (NIV) to Isaiah 24, which highlights the ecological consequences of immorality: ‘The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant‘ (NRSV).

But climate change is, at its core, an issue of injustice. Those that are least responsible for creating the problem, are the ones who are suffering the most. Livelihoods are being destroyed, people are forced to leave their homes and extreme weather events make widows and orphans. Many of these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. As a global network not operating on short term election cycles or profit margins, Christians and the Church are in a unique positon to speak prophetically for those without a voice.

James 1:27 says: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world‘ (NIV). In Jesus’ eschatological story in Matthew 25, He speaks about the people who haven’t fed the hungry and thirsty, clothed the naked or cared for the sick and imprisoned. Verse 45 says: ‘Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me‘ (CEV).

We await with interest the input of Pope Francis to this later in the year. But as Christians we have plenty of reason already to act and encourage our leaders to put climate justice at the heart of whichever Government is in power after the election.

To quote the Psalmist (in the words of the banner unfurled at Synod by the young Christians): ‘May God defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy’ (Ps 72:4). Amen to that.