Leeds Diocese ‘Climate Change Conference’

November 8, 2015
By Ellen Teague
Independent Catholic News

The Leeds Justice and Peace Day on Saturday was opened by the Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission, John Battle, who reflected that the Commission has been highlighting the Church's social teaching for 40 years, and its current campaigns are: 'Poverty in the UK', 'Palestine', and 'Climate Change'. With the help of three speakers the Saturday event focused on Climate Change and links with the Pope's environment encyclical 'Laudato Si'. It was held at St Benedict's Parish Centre in Garforth, and, at the end of the day, panels along one side of the centre showed more than 200 actions which around 50 participants had suggested. A small group of participants had joined the day from Sheffield in Hallam Diocese.

Actions included studying 'Laudato Si' using the Columban study programme and supporting awareness raising work leading up to the Paris climate talks, plus signing the CAFOD Climate petition. Participants will also be examining their pension funds and looking into ethical investment. It was pointed out that the National Justice and Peace Network Environment Group recently wrote to all the bishops to give suggestions for a Diocesan Environmental Policy. Tackling vested interests would be followed up with Global Justice Now, the London Mining Network, the Ecumnical Council for Corporate Responsibility and Columbans UK. A 'Laudato Si' prayer card would be widely distributed throughout Leeds Diocese. Personal lifestyle changes were aired, with the aim of reducing carbon footprints.

Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC pointed out key issues in Laudato Si' - Climate Change, Biodiversity and Water - and the concept of integral ecology where Pope Francis says that we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. Climate Change is a moral issue and we must hear "both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor". Indeed, "ecological conversion" is called for.

Andy Challinor, Professor of Climate Impacts at the University of Leeds, spoke of his research work examining the impact of Climate Change on food production and security. He is currently working on the UK Food Security Risk Assessment - evaluating the risks to our own food security arising from Climate Change. Although the UK is more buffered than tropical regions, he said, already half a million British people lack good access to food and the European Union throws away 89 million tonnes of food each year. There needs to be more "systemic resilience" in food production. "There is no evidence for an optimistic view of Climate Change" he said, "but I am ever optimistic about human resilience and action by faith-based groups".

Alex Scrivener, the Policy Officer with Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement), saw little evidence of political will mounting for a strong deal at the UN Climate talks in Paris at the end of this month. He suggested some "righteous anger" was needed to demand justice for poor countries suffering the world impacts of Climate Change. "If Climate Change is not a reason to have righteous anger then I don't know what is" he suggested. There should be significant lobbying of corporations, particularly over such trade deals as the TTIP, which undermine the rights of the nation states to protect their environment. "There is massive vested interest in continuing the fossil fuel economy", he warned, but felt faith-based groups could be a powerful force for tackling economic powers. He agreed with Pope Francis that "a true ecological approach is a social approach" and thought 'Laudato Si' was a powerful and influential document.

The speakers were all impressed with the justice, peace and ecology commitment of St. Benedict's parish, which includes setting up a parish garden and supporting fair trade. The parish is working towards the Livesimply Parish Award, which is being promoted throughout Leeds Diocese.

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