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/ 14 January 2010

Copenhagen Conference

Location: House of Lords
Date: 20100114

My Lords, I, too, am grateful for the constructive way in which the noble Lord, Lord Stone, introduced this significant debate. Clearly, post-Copenhagen we need to find ways of making progress that will lift spirits. A recent Brookings Institution paper by Alex Evans and David Steven, entitled Hitting Reboot, is the best analysis that I have read, recommending 12 specific ways forward.

There are many other people in your Lordships’ House much better qualified to speak about the specifics. We have already heard the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, talk about the necessary work in transforming our global institutions and we have heard something about the confidence in the scientific consensus, which, if opinion polls are to be believed, is under threat. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Rees, in particular, reflecting on that.

The climate challenge starts with science but the action needed to deal with it depends on politics and, as we all know, politics revolves around the electoral cycles. Ed Miliband called for civil society to exert pressure, but the challenge is so complex and the canvas so vast that uncorking the kind of constructive passion that made a success of the Jubilee Debt Campaign on debt relief and the Make Poverty History campaign has been difficult to do. As we have heard, NGOs have been active, but what we need are mass civil society movements that are not afraid of messages about ethics and justice, sacrifice and solidarity-movements that have legitimacy and social influence around the world.

Religious organisations and communities are in touch with more than 85 per cent of the population of the globe. Even in Greater London, 650,000 Christians are at worship every week in more than 4,000 churches, not to mention substantial communities of believers from other faith traditions. Recognition of the potential of such communities lay behind the joint effort mounted by the UN and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation to organise an event in November as a preparation for Copenhagen. Under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General and the Duke of Edinburgh, a cross-section of world religious leaders unveiled their seven-year plans for their own communities. The plan for the Church of England is called Church and Earth.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt was another participant. He outlined a programme of teaching about climate change in Islamic schools. We heard earlier about the extraordinary importance of making profound common cause with the Islamic community, and he has been planning for climate change lessons in Islamic schools, using renewable energy in mosques and the inculcation of green habits in places of pilgrimage. The message is spreading. The Pope, in his New Year message, took as his theme, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect the creation”.

Ed Miliband has pointed out that, if Martin Luther King had said “I’ve got a nightmare”, rather than a dream, nobody would have taken much notice or followed him. The task now is to build a global movement that goes beyond G20 territory and embraces Africa and the poorest communities in the world, on which the burden of adapting to climate change is already being felt most acutely.

Polling evidence reveals a dispiriting picture of the growing numbers of people feeling bored, paralysed and disempowered by talk of climate change. Copenhagen was a demonstration of the limits of the global reach and capacity of our present institutions. The experience of the conference should challenge us all to find the wisdom and care for the common good capable of unlocking the vast resources of altruism and the resources of the knowledge that we have acquired through the progress of science.

It was in a speech to the UN 20 years ago, in 1989, that the challenge was most clearly expressed, by someone who is today a member of your Lordships’ House. These words continue to have enormous resonance for us. It was said then that,

“another of the beliefs of Darwin’s era should help to see us through”,

this crisis-

“the belief in reason and the scientific method … Now we must use our reason to find a way in which we can live with nature, and not dominate nature. We need our reason to teach us today … that we must not try to be … the lords of all we survey. We are not the lords, we are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself-preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder. May we all be equal to that task”.

The words were, of course, those of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.

The Bishop’s contribution may be seen in context here.


About Richard Chartres

The Rt Revd Richard Chartres KCVO was the 132nd Bishop of London from November 1995 until March 2017.

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