Hope in a Changing Climate: conference report

Posted in: News
Date posted: 5 May 2016

Operation Noah was well represented at the Ecumenical World Development Conference, held over two days in April at Coventry’s Methodist Central Hall. Chair Nicky Bull reflects on what they learned.

With four main sessions of addresses and two workshop slots, it was a full programme with informative and inspiring speakers. Congratulations are due to the planning team from across a number of organisations who put the conference together under the leadership of Maranda St John Nicolle. The following reflections are the points that, for me, were the ‘top two’ from each session.

On Friday afternoon, in a session chaired by Operation Noah’s Jean Leston, we heard from Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University and Mohamad Adow from Christian Aid, providing ‘Perspectives on Paris and subsequent events’. From Professor Allen:

  • To reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions will cost a lot – perhaps the equivalent of one or two more global financial crises, but spread over the next 85 years.
  • Short-termism in climate policy is very costly in the longer term.

And from Mohamad Adow:

  • The outcome from Paris was a very significant diplomatic achievement and all who had campaigned, lobbied, marched etc should feel proud of what was achieved.
  • COP21 commits countries to decouple their economic development from the use of fossil fuels but we need our politicians to listen and to make our countries Paris-compatible.

The second set of speakers addressed the subject of ‘Responding in Hope’ with a theological discussion, chaired by Bishop Graham Usher. From Dr Martin Poulsom of Heythrop College, Revd Dr Rosalind Selby, Principal of Northern College, and Dr Ruth Valerio of A Rocha UK:

  • Although optimism, which may trust too readily in human ingenuity, and hope, springing from personality type or faith perspective, are separate and distinct they should not be completely segregated; at their best, human characteristics are not merely human.
  • Our action and God’s action going hand in hand form the basis of our hope.
  • How can we maintain hope and live well as Christians ‘stretched’ between our current reality and the ultimate hope we have in God?
  • Eschatology, incarnation and anthropology are all vital, so: spend time with God; spend time in nature; and spend time with other people.

On Friday evening, following a time of worship and an excellent dinner, we spent an ‘evening with Michael Northcott’, Professor of Ethics at Edinburgh University. He held up ‘the land’ as the central biblical message for the climate change movement. He found hope in the far-reaching actions of individuals but concern that Christians should avoid ‘blaming’ people who actually have very little scope to change their personal carbon footprint. In actions taken in some German and Danish cities, there were also some signs of hope in the political sphere.

Saturday’s programme began with a session chaired by Andy Flannagan, ‘Challenges and Opportunities: Responding in and Communicating for Hope’. From Paul Cook of Tearfund, who also introduced Jo and the work of Sustainable Blewbury and then Godfrey Armitage, who had organised the 2015 ‘Reconciling a Wounded Planet’ conference:

  • The Paris agreement passed a huge ideological boundary in recognising that the aim has to be net zero carbon emissions.
  • This cannot be left to politicians and industry: we all need to be involved in exerting pressure from the grass roots upwards.

And from George Marshall of Climate Outreach:

  • People are not motivated by facts and figures, and ‘disaster’ stories have little effect on attitudes.
  • People are motivated by shared values and identity and the joy of belonging, so there is a need to validate small actions. We need to affirm both that taking action on climate change is done by people ‘like you’ and that it will help to make the world more like ‘you want it to be’.

In the final speaker session, Maria Elena Arana of CAFOD introduced Jo Herbert from Tearfund and Rachel Lampard, Vice President Designate of Methodist Conference.

From Jo Herbert:

  • If we are going to move the church on climate change, we need to engage more deeply with theology and broaden our narrative to include the environment.
  • The importance of celebrating small changes in behaviour (such as recycling), which can represent a change in the other person’s heart.

There was then a selection of workshops for participants to attend, including an excellent session looking at the whole church divestment/reinvestment question run by ON’s Mark Letcher and James Buchanan.

This was an intensive but very useful couple of days during which there were plentiful opportunities for networking and exchanging news between a wide range of organisations.

Speakers at the conference.

Jean Leston chairs a session at the conference.

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