Time for the Wave
When I think about how to wake people up to climate change, I think about Balaam’s ass. It’s a rather strange story in Numbers 22, in which Balaam refuses to obey God’s message and so God uses his donkey to stop Balaam going the wrong way, and even (temporarily) gives it the power of speech.
In a similar way, about half way through 2006 a lot of the UK media started covering climate change far more often and far less sceptically than before, and they still are. I won’t tell you exactly which media outlets I think are donkeys and was astonished to find talking sense in this way, but it was a great answer to prayer that has really helped the public and politicians start to realise the scale and urgency of climate change.
This autumn that media coverage is reaching a crescendo as the Copenhagen climate talks get closer. Those two chilly weeks of 7-18 December are not the last chance for governments to forge a global agreement on climate change, but they are the best chance.
These negotiations rejoice in the name of COP, the annual conference of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, organised by the United Nations, and to which Tearfund have been going for several years to bring the voices of poor communities affected by climate change and make sure they’re not forgotten. Each year we bring some of our local church partners from Africa, Asia, and Latin America so they can lobby their own governments and all of us can speak out together, and we’ve had a real impact.
In some ways that’s a thrilling experience and it’s what I joined Tearfund for: getting the voices of the poorest people heard when the decisions that affect them are made. But to be honest I also find it depressing, because there’s such a huge contrast between the vastness and urgency of climate change, a matter of life or death for millions of people and of devastation for ecosystems, and the slow pace and myopic focus of much of the negotiations. Short term national self-interest often sets the tone.
This year needs to be different. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012 and the Copenhagen COP is the best moment to negotiate its successor, in time for countries to ratify the agreement before 2012. It’s also the right time for a new global deal on climate change because we now know so much more about the science than we did even two years ago when the UNFCCC’s Fourth Assessment Report came out - www.realclimate.org is one of many good summaries - and we can see the impacts are faster and harder than we thought.
So we need leadership from the top. The UN process negotiators don’t have the power to give it, and nor really do the environment ministers most countries send to COP – it needs heads of government to put time in personally and work together to reach agreement. That’s what leaders are for. Gordon Brown’s commitment to attend Copenhagen himself is a very encouraging sign and we hope others will join him. There have been other good signs too, including a US president who takes climate change seriously, the G8 formally recognising the importance of keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and China embarking on a major low carbon investment programme. But we’re going to need a lot more, and that takes me to my favourite part of the picture, which is campaigning.
I love campaigning. I love it when ordinary people realise the power they have if they speak out and start to use it. I love it when we combine truth with fun and find new ways to get decision makers’ attention. I love the unity of many different groups working together. I love it when public pressure builds up like a burning fire under a politician’s chair and compels them to act. But the thing I love most is when Christians are loud and clear in the forefront, not only a powerful influence that improves governments’ decisions, but a powerful way to show people that our God is a God of creation, a God of compassion, and a God of justice.
This kind of public pressure is vital in getting big changes, like a strong and fair global deal on climate change. Expert lobbying, prayer, media coverage, careful evidential research and voices from the frontline are all important, but they all have more impact with a big head of steam of public opinion behind them. Recently we saw that with the UK’s Climate Change Act, the first national legally binding climate change targets in the world, which the government was persuaded to pass because they received over half a million letters, cards and emails from members of the public asking them to. Then we saw it working again in Scotland, whose Climate Change Act is even better.
Tearfund has been campaigning about climate change for a long time. We use postcards called Act Fast which take less than five minutes to read, send and pray for and work well to hand out in churches – over 26,000 people now get these four times a year. We have Global Action magazine for campaigners with a little more time, and Global Action emails, all free at http://www.tearfund.org/Campaigning/Globalaction/ We have the unique SuperBadger Facebook app. We’re using all of these to raise our voices ahead of Copenhagen. But we’re doing something special as well.
The Wave will be Britain’s biggest climate change rally, with over 100 groups representing 11 million people coming together to stop climate chaos in London on Saturday 5 December. A Rocha, Tearfund, CAFOD, Christian Aid, CEL and several other groups are organising a service at Westminster Central Hall at 11.00 am, with the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, and, we hope, Tim Hughes leading worship. The march leaves Grosvenor Square at 1.00 pm, and ends with a giant loop around Parliament and across the Thames. We’ll then serve tea and cakes, indoors. We’re asking people to bring or wear something blue to make The Wave look special. It’ll be a safe, family friendly day organised very closely with the police, featuring a wonderful diversity of groups from the Salvation Army to the WI, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, churches, students – it’s a long list and that’s what makes it powerful.
There are trains chartered, coaches booked, and cycle routes planned. There’s even a blue dragon coming from south Wales. Go to www.tearfund.org/wave or www.the-wave.org.uk to find out more, and to order flyers and posters – choose Tearfund’s, which promote the service and the march, or the Stop Climate Chaos ones which just have the march, depending who you’re inviting. Tearfund are running some climate justice evenings, mostly in the South East, to equip people to mobilise their friends, communities and churches to take part. Many people have told me they’re coming, but these two stand out - Janet Berrill said, “I feel God closest to me at rallies. I feel I'm being who God wants me to be.” And Christine Clarke said, “It's actually my birthday that day, but what a great place to spend it!” There’s also a Glasgow Wave www.stopclimatechaos.org/thewavescotland the same day.
All of this activity is aimed at one thing – calling our government to do the hard work required to seal a strong and fair deal at Copenhagen, a deal that protects the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people and makes big enough emissions cuts to stop runaway climate change. In particular that means two things:
Please do pray for our leaders, and for The Wave to influence what they do. And I hope to see you there. Do get in touch if there’s anything else you’d like to ask me.
Head of Campaigns