The only way forward is in partnership
“Do not be afraid,” is one of the most common commands in the Bible. God’s not saying there isn’t anything to be afraid of; it’s an invitation to move beyond fear into faith, hope and action. We are rightly fearful of climate change. It is the biggest threat we face; ignored, it will become our fate.
Governments might be tempted to think “TDI” – which, when I was in the oil industry, meant “too difficult, ignore”. Individuals or organisations might feel paralysed, too small and hopeless to make a difference. This fear is dispersed in the light of knowing that we may all feel overwhelmed by the challenge, but together a new way forward, one in which each of us is indispensable, is possible.
The only way forward is in partnership. Earlier this year, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and I issued a joint statement for the first time ever between those holding these three offices, urging people to come together and “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) in obedience to God’s command – for the planet and for future generations.
In Rome, after agreement with scientists, leaders of faiths comprising about 70 per cent of the world’s population presented a declaration calling for bold action at COP26 to its president, Alok Sharma. Churches, businesses, communities, individuals, and governments all need to work together for our reconciliation with the creation given by God. Young people, women and people from indigenous and minority backgrounds need to be included and heard, especially in the most vulnerable parts of the world. In many places the threat is today, not in the future.
I will be praying for them to translate this moment of need into a future of hope
There are many things our governments and politicians can do in addition to showing leadership in their boldness and ambition. They can create an environment that supports a move towards a clean economy, with supporting financial architecture. They can help build genuine, just partnerships with the Global South – where millions of Anglicans live in areas of climate stress – to equip them to flourish in this new world.
Another fear might be one we sometimes don’t want to name: what if I lose out? What if taking action on climate change means smaller profits, travelling less, not expanding, upsetting constituents, losing elections? We need to find ways to shift our expectations from hopelessness and scarcity, to empowerment, possibility, energy and hope. We need to reimagine.
This is our hour of reckoning, and all our wealth, power and status will be as nothing in the face of global warming.
To paraphrase St Augustine, we have not realised that the Earth and our neighbour are much better investments towards a common future than focusing on our own wealth and prosperity.
We have got to choose to be a society that believes in community and supporting one another – we saw glimpses of it during the pandemic – because the problem might be too big for me to deal with, but it is not too big for us. In collaboration, we find that our fears can be more easily faced and dealt with.
When leaders from all over the world meet in Glasgow for COP26, I will be praying for them to translate this moment of need into a future of hope.
Politicians and their staff have an incredibly difficult job. They may feel as if the eyes of the world and the hopes of the planet are upon them. The answers are not found in government alone, far from it. The response must be top down, middle out, bottom up. We will (and must) all do our bit to bear the burden and then we can build a future where everyone can flourish and enjoy the fruits of God’s abundant world. The danger is great, but the hopes and possibilities that result from decisive action are far greater.
Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
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