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The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in the House of Lords during today’s Lords debate on the technological and lifestyle efforts to address climate change, and to meet the 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target

My Lords, I welcome this report and this vital debate. Never before in the scale of human history has there been such a wide and deep threat to our ecosystem or to human flourishing. Technology alone is not enough.

In his letter to the whole world in 2016, Pope Francis notes how “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor”.

Our response must be nothing less than an ecological conversion of every person and every part of society. Responding to the current emergency is the responsibility of every family, every workplace, every village, town and city, every company, and every public institution.

The earth is God’s gift as well as God’s creation. Human beings are far more than consumers: we are called to be just stewards of creation, to care for the poorest and the weakest. Human fulfilment lies not in escalating consumption but in meaningful rest and labour and learning to be content.

The Churches and faith communities must play our part and are beginning to do so. The Church of England’s General Synod is to debate the climate emergency next week. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book this year, Saying Yes to Life, focusses on the environmental crisis. It is supported by an extensive digital campaign – Live Lent – asking every Christian to review their lifestyle choices.

Many dioceses, including Oxford, are placing care for the earth at the top of our agenda for the coming years, recognising the distance we still have to travel. This means measuring and restricting our own carbon emissions, commending lifestyle changes, undertaking energy audits and campaigning for wider change. It means identifying challenging but achievable targets and the practical path to reach them. We need to hear the voice of government in policy detail and not just principle.

The Church Commissioners have led the Transition Pathway Initiative backed by investors representing over $16 trillion in assets under management and advice, increasingly drawing companies into line with net-zero targets. Our sister churches and faith communities are each taking similar initiatives. This summer, hundreds of bishops from across the world will gather for the Lambeth Conference, many from regions already deeply affected by ecological disasters: low rainfall, rising sea levels, fire, flood and hunger. A major theme of our gathering will be the global climate emergency and the response needed by every section of society.

I invite the government to provide clear and ambitious policy signals, as it has just done with petrol and diesel vehicles, and to invite every institution and organisation to engage in this great question of our day so that the leadership we offer to the COP summit is demonstrably grounded in the trinity of policy intervention, technology solutions and the changing lives of our entire population.

 

Steven Croft

Bishop Steven references the UK FIRES report ‘Absolute Zero’. UK Fires is a collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London that is funded by EPSRC: The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

Watch Bishop Steven speaking in the debate and follow Bishop Steven on Facebook

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in the House of Lords during today’s question for short debate to ask, ‘what consideration the government has given to the linkage between our leadership of the COP 26 Conference and the pledges we will make at the Tokyo Summit in December.’

My Lords, I welcome this timely debate and the opportunity offered by the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit.

It is moving to note that from 2015 onwards, the number of people suffering from hunger has been increasing, albeit slowly. Behind the statistics lie terrible and moving stories of human suffering, of disease and death across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is sobering to ponder, on the one hand, the challenge of providing a sustainable diet and preventing the lifelong consequences of malnutrition, and on the other, the striking rise in obesity across the world and the consequent health problems.

Seven years ago, the UK Government exercised global leadership through the first Nutrition for Growth conference and has delivered on many of the pledges made there. I support the calls made by other noble Lords in this debate for a renewal of that leadership at the Tokyo summit, for a strong United Kingdom delegation, and for generous pledges of £800 million per year for nutrition between 2021 and 2025.

The Tokyo summit will take place just a few weeks after the key COP 26 conference in Glasgow, which the UK Government will host and chair.

Short term interventions to combat malnutrition are vital, but the world must also engage with the long term multiple linkages between poor nutrition and climate change.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on the four pillars of food security: availability, access, usage and stability. The climate emergency means that the world needs to increase spending on nutrition adaption and mitigation just to stand still.

We see across the world the impact of extreme weather-related disasters which have more than doubled since 1990. More than 70 per cent of agriculture is rain-fed. This directly affects the ability of drought-affected countries to grow their own food, as we see currently in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. Agricultural land will be lost to rising sea levels, fires and flooding.

Two years ago I was privileged to visit our link Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman in South Africa. It was excellent to hear reports of local feeding programmes to combat malnutrition, some supported by parishes in the Oxford Diocese. Those signs of hope were set against a background of growing concern about the climate and poor harvests.

There is increasing evidence that high ambient carbon dioxide in the atmosphere decreases the nutritional quality of important food crops affecting the entire world, including wheat, rice and maize. The science suggests lower yields of micronutrients: protein, iron and zinc decrease as CO2 in the atmosphere increases.

Changes in the climate affect agriculture. This, in turn, affects livelihoods and the economy of the affected regions, all too commonly leading both to malnutrition and mass migration in search of a more sustainable future. There is a vicious circle here which can only be broken through a sustained global determination and action to address the climate emergency.

We have a moral imperative to love our neighbour as ourselves, to feed the hungry. We own now a moral imperative as the pioneers of the industrial revolution, and those who have gained most from fossil fuels, to lead on the fight against climate change.

In this context, what consideration has the government given to the linkage between our leadership of the COP 26 Conference and the pledges we will make at the Tokyo Summit in December? Will the government continue to focus our own interventions in the areas of most extreme poverty and climate change?

Steven Croft

Watch Bishop Steven speaking in the debate and follow Bishop Steven on Facebook

Nutrition for Growth (N4G) is a global pledging moment to drive greater action toward ending malnutrition and helping ensure everyone, everywhere can reach their full potential.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in today’s debate on the Address in the House of Lords.

“My Lords, I rise to speak about the climate emergency and declare an interest as a member of the Advisory Board of the Environmental Change Institute in the University of Oxford.

The minister said in his opening address that Climate Change will test us all. And it will. David Wallace Wells book, The Uninhabitable Earth, should in my view be required reading for every member of this House. Wells begins his graphic description of the future of the Earth with the unforgettable words: It is much, much, much worse than you think. He goes on to describe the effects and the economic costs of bush fires, drought, mass migration, sea and air pollution, flooding and extreme weather. I read Wells early last year and have watched his words become the lived reality of people in California and Australia, across Southern Africa and Indonesia, and closer to home in the floods in South Yorkshire.

We are living through an environmental catastrophe, and that catastrophe will increasingly shape our foreign and domestic policy, our economic life and our politics over the next decade. The science is clear. The needs are urgent. How will we respond?

I welcome all that the minister said. The government are to be congratulated on embracing the target of net zero by 2050. The government are to be congratulated on their ambition to lead the COP talks in November. The talks have the potential to change the world.

The challenge now is to fill out this vision with specific planned action. First we need a detailed accountable plan of how our economy will reach net zero by 2050 or earlier. If we’re serious, we must have a year by year accountable strategy.

Second, governments and responsible investors, including the churches, need to stop investing in and subsidising fossil fuels and invest in renewables here and across the world. As Mark Carney has argued recently very powerfully.

Third bring forward some bold, eye-catching initiatives to show the world that Britain means business and that we can reach these targets: have the courage to bring forward the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030. Fund an ambitious new energy efficiency programme. Give more detail on the projected investment and mitigation in flood defences here and overseas.

There is a moral imperative to act for the sake of the earth and for the sake of the poorest. Those who have contributed least to climate change are suffering the most and will suffer most in the future. But this is one of those very rare moments when to do the right thing ethically is also to do the right thing for the economic prosperity of the country and our place in the world. The cost of acting slowly is increasing.

The 2018 forest fires in California cost $400 billion, the equivalent of the entire US Defence budget. Every year now counts.

Your Lordships will remember the story in the Book of Genesis of Pharoah’s dream, interpreted by Joseph. Seven fat cows consumed by seven thin cows. Seven years of plenty eaten by seven years of famine. We have no need of Joseph to interpret the impending disaster. We have the IPCC and the global scientific community. But we need a Government with the wisdom of Joseph to use these next seven years well and to put us on the pathway to recovery and set out a new agenda for the next decade for the world.

My Lords we must not fail.”

Steven Croft

Watch Bishop Steven speaking in the debate and follow Bishop Steven on Facebook

The Oxford English Dictionary have declared climate emergency to be the word of the year in 2019. According to the dictionary’s own data, usage of the term soared by over 10,000%.

I attempt to write at least one new hymn a year as the verse for my official Christmas card. This year I’ve revisited something I wrote in 2015. In that year, Pope Francis produced his great encyclical on the climate crisis, Laudato Si’: on care for our common home.

The encyclical certainly stands the test of time, but my earlier hymn lacked a sense of urgency and crisis which has become apparent this year in the campaigns around the world and in the escalating effects of climate change. I’ve tried to craft two new verses and reshaped the rest. The verses fit to the tune of the well-known hymn, The King of Love my shepherd is.

The Church is called to the worship of God the creator who loved this world so much he sends Jesus his Son to be part of creation and to redeem us. This must mean we are called to lead the world, not follow, in responding to the climate emergency.

Creator of our common home
And Maker of such wonder
You crafted stars and sky and stone
Dividing seas asunder

But now our waste despoils the Earth
Polluting all you gave us
The world heats up, the seas will rise
From fire and flood come save us

In Bethlehem you gave your Son
Creator in creation
Reason and love came to transform
God’s gift for our conversion

Forgive us our neglect and waste
Bring wisdom to the nations
Make us good stewards of the earth
For future generations

Creator of our common home
Redeemer of such mercy
Sustainer of all life on earth
To you always be glory.

Steven Croft, 2015 and 2019
After Laudato Si’
Suggested tune: The King of Love my Shepherd is

 

Protestors with banners at a Youth strike for climate march in central London

I was in Westminster on 26 June with over 16,000 people. Thousands more were with us in spirit. We were meeting and marching and lobbying because the time is now to arrest the emission of greenhouse gases which are causing such lasting damage to the Earth.

“When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have ordained…”

From earliest times, people of faith have looked to the heavens and creation. The view of the night sky even seen with the naked eye evokes awe and wonder and a sense of God’s majesty. We are drawn to worship and also to the psalmist’s ancient question. Beneath the great canopy of the heavens and the vastness and beauty of the skies, what are human beings? Who are we, and where do we find our place?

Telescopes and space exploration and the sciences only add to that sense of mystery. We are in a vast universe. As far as we know, this is the only planet able to support the evolution of life in the form we know it here.

Christians see God’s hand in this as creator and see humanity as the pinnacle of creation, able to appreciate the glory and splendour of the galaxies. Christians and atheists alike acknowledge the slender balance by which life has been able to evolve on planet earth and the delicate forces which enable life to flourish over tens of millions of years.

But in the last century and a half, this balance has tipped. There is now a different answer to the question: “What are human beings?” We have entered the Anthropocene era. The world’s population and our technology is altering the delicate balance of life on Earth.

As we look to the other planets in the solar system and beyond it is terrible but not difficult to imagine what could happen to us. We are complicit in the creation of an environmental catastrophe which is already changing the climate. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Global heating continues and is likely to accelerate as a variety of feedback loops are engaged. Life on Earth is about to change in apocalyptic ways during the remainder of this century if we continue to do next to nothing.

The Bible is rich in images of hell. One such image is that of the flood waters rising bringing chaos, which will be the reality for coastal towns and cities across the world. One is a place too hot to live. This week much of Europe is preparing for a heat wave and temperatures high enough to endanger life on a massive scale. Another is of a rubbish dump. As I write this, the Guardian reports the news that the UN Special Rapporteur says our world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers. These are the futures we are bequeathing to our children.

I have been gripped over recent weeks by the BBC drama, Years and Years. I cannot say I enjoyed watching it. Russell Davies attempts to chart the future across the next decade. In the final episode, Muriel (played by Anne Reid) looks back across 10,000 days and declares to her whole family (and to us):

“It’s our fault. This is the world we built.”


What kind of world is each of us helping to build? That is the question today for politicians, for churches, for citizens, for discipleship. Setting the care for the earth again at the front and centre of our politics and our lives must be the priority if there is a fair and rich future for life on earth.

 

+Steven Oxford

#TheTimeisNow

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in a debate in the House of Lords this afternoon about protecting and representing the interests of future generations in policy making. Bishop Steven spoke on climate chaos, the rise of artificial intelligence and the impact of both on young people’s mental health.

Join Bishop Steven at the Mass Lobby of MPs on 26 June. Full details here: https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/thetimeisnow

“My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate and want to express my appreciation to Lord Bird for his intiative and his proposals. Lord Bird has set out very well the case for a Select Committee and for a Future Generations Commissioner.

The moral case has shifted in recent years. In the Anthropocene era, humanity’s effect on the environment means that that the interests not just of the next generation but every generation beyond that need to be protected in our policy making.

The world is living through deepening environmental catastrophe. The impact of climate change is already severe. It will become worse with each decade and each generation. The world is currently heading for average global warming of 2 degrees and more by 2050. Global net carbon emissions continue to rise. The risks of unforeseen and catastrophic compound effects on the environment increase with every year.

My Lords the two biblical images of hell are a burning planet too hot to sustain life and a rubbish dump. We are in danger of bequeathing both to our children and grandchildren. It is hugely irresponsible – to take short term decisions in the interests of only of the current generation.

I warmly welcome the government’s historic commitment to a net zero carbon economy by 2050 and I congratulate the Prime Minister on naming this goal as a vital part of her legacy. I warmly welcome the government’s international leadership and the bid to host the vital 2020 Climate Summit. These goals need support across Parliament. The voice of those future generations needs to be strengthened in that debate.

Future generations also need to be protected in the rapid pace of technological change. Here I speak as a Board Member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The pace of change and the effects of technology on the mental health of the young are significant.

I warmly commend the Information Commissioner’s Office recent guidelines on Age Appropriate Design, which aim to protect the most vulnerable from the predatory big tech companies. I warmly commend the government for bringing forward the Online Harms White Paper. I hope both will be turning points in the development of new technologies which protect rather than exploit the most vulnerable.

We will need in the coming years agility and public leadership in responding to new technologies and data in the areas of health, education, the labour market, smart cities, algorithmic decision making, facial recognition and the regulation of the mining of personal information for commercial gain. The interests of future generations need a voice.

Finally these proposals are so helpful in that they address a decrease in social cohesion across the generations. The APPG on Social Cohesion recently published a comprehensive study on intergenerational connection.

The generations have become increasingly segregated. We can allow that process of drift to continue with serious social consequences. Or we can exercise leadership to build social capital between the generations. Families and faith communities have a vital role to play and are part of the glue which binds generations together. Local government has a role as does business and the third sector. But national government must play its part.

The proposals to give a structured voice to the interests of future generations is warmly to be welcomed. I warmly support Lord Bird’s proposals and hope they will attract the support of the whole House.”

Steven Croft

The Time is Now: The past, present and future of climate change

 

I’m taking time out on Wednesday 26th June to be in Westminster. On that day the Climate Coalition will draw together thousands of people from every corner of Britain. We will be there to tell our politicians that the time is now to end our contribution to climate change and protect our natural environment. There will be a march and a mass lobby of MP’s. Please come and join us. Full details are here theclimatecoalition.org/thetimeisnow

I’ll be there with many of our senior team and, I hope, hundreds of people from the Diocese of Oxford. It’s good that each of us takes responsibility for our own waste and energy. It’s great our churches are having energy audits and thinking about their investments. But to deal with the greatest crisis of the age: the growing climate catastrophe we also need to make our voice heard with many, many others.

Why now?

This summer, the Government will decide whether or not it will plan to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by committing to a net zero emissions target. The recent report of the UK Committee for Climate Change believes it is possible and necessary to do that by 2050. Earlier would be better.

This summer Government will also have the opportunity to agree to a new, strong Environment Bill. We are in the midst of political turmoil as a nation. All of our national attention is consumed by Brexit and a change of Prime Minister.

This is the moment to put climate change back on the political agenda. That can only happen as people show we care enough to be there.

The bishops of the Anglican Communion will come to Lambeth in 2020, many from areas of the world already scarred by drought and storms and deserts and rising sea levels. They are our sisters and brothers. What will we say to them? The United Kingdom is bidding to host the vital United Nations Climate Change Conference, also in 2020. These are the critical make or break years for the future of the Earth. Can we make our voice heard?

In the story of Genesis, God places the man and the woman in the garden to till it and keep it, for the blessing of the Earth, not its exploitation. John 3.16 reminds us that God so loved the world, the cosmos, whole of creation that he sent his Son to save it. But faced with a growing climate crisis, there has been insufficient energy or interest across the Church in recent years.

There are some hopeful signs and prophetic voices. David Attenborough continues to speak powerfully for the Earth through books and documentaries. Greta Thunberg has mobilised a generation to seek to lift climate change up the political agenda. We must not leave them to carry this issue alone, or to the more strident and militant voices that will grow unless governments respond with action and commitment.

Three new books are unflinching in the lessons they have to share with us. They spell out the urgent need for a global, political and economic way forward:

Learning from the past: Losing Earth

Nathaniel Rich has recently published Losing Earth: the decade we could have stopped climate change. Rich tells the story of the attempt to limit global warming in from 1979 to 1989 by restricting greenhouse gas emissions. For a short time there was a window, following the discovery of the “hole” in the ozone layer. Action was taken globally to restrict the use of gases which caused this.

But our politicians failed us when it came to global warming. More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since 1989 than in the entire history of civilisation preceding the first global climate change conference. Why have our politicians failed us? Partially, it’s because you and I, the voters in the democracies, looked away. We simply could not face the reality of what was coming towards us. We still can’t.

The New York Times recently published an interactive presentation by Nathanial Rich. It’s well worth a look. 

Learning from the future: The Uninhabitable Earth

A second journalist looks to the future. David Wallace Wells published The Uninhabitable Earth: A story of the Future earlier this year. The opening line of the book is all you need to know:

“It is worse, much worse than you think”.

The book explores the catastrophic effects of present and future climate change (future means within my lifetime and the lifetime of my children). The chapter headings are sobering enough: heat death (as temperatures rise), hunger (as we cannot grow food), drowning (as sea levels rise), wildfire (as nature burns) and unbreathable air.

Today, 5 June, is World Environment Day, and the theme is growing air pollution. A report published yesterday by the European Academies Science Advisory Council concludes that almost 30,000 early deaths a year in the UK could be prevented by ending the burning of fossil fuels.

The substance of every single chapter of Wells’ book was worse than I expected it to be. The science is irrefutable. We are on a path to three or four or more degrees of global warming. Radical change is needed now to limit that warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees. We are currently failing. Even if we are “successful”, we are still talking about damage limitation.

Half of all British Co2 emissions come from 4 sources; inefficient construction, food waste, electronics and clothing. In the US, the same 4 categories account for 66 per cent of wasted energy.

Eliminating Co2 increase now is much easier than (theoretically) trying to remove it later. Wallace Wells makes this point forcefully and highlights the gap between theoretical, technological promise and current reality.

At the present rate of change, a MIT 2018 study shows that we will take 400 to years to get to fully clean energy. And while the cost of solar energy has fallen 80% since 2009, current technology proof-of-concept plants show we would need a billion Carbon Capture and Storage plants to reduce the carbon count by just 20ppm.

The second part of the book explores the central paradox of climate change: at one level we know that change is happening, yet we do nothing year after year – in fact, together we are creating an abyss of human suffering. I will explore this further in a future article, but the question we face is stark: ‘Will we simply burn ourselves up and destroy the environment we need to survive? Will the Earth we love become as barren as Mars and Venus?’

Lessons for the present: There is No Planet B: a handbook for the Make or Break Years

Mike Berners Lee is a professor in the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University. He’s written one of the best practical handbooks on how to live in the present and on what needs to change.

There are no single, simple solutions. We all have our responsibilities. Flying less or changing our energy supplier or eating less beef are all good things to do. But to avert this catastrophe we also need to look at the larger picture…

 

The time is now

We need a global, political and economic way forward. An essential building block is a national, political and economic way forward. The only way to do that is for as many people as possible to find their voice, to contact their Member of Parliament.

You can do that at any time, but it is simply more powerful when we do it together. Come and join us on 26th June.

If you are coming from the Diocese, please let me know too. I’ll see you there.

 

+Steven
5 June 2019

Address to General Synod

2017 was BP’s biggest year of exploration since 2004. Shell boasts on its website: “We have no immediate plans to move to a net zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years”

At Shell’s annual meeting in May this year, only 5.5% of investors supported a resolution calling on the company to set emission-reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

According to a 2017 report from ShareAction, Shell and BP’s ‘base case’ scenarios for business planning were both found to be ‘consistent with 3-5°C+ of global warming (source)

The world is on a trajectory to catastrophic climate change if nothing more is done. We need a much greater urgency in this debate grounded in a hope that things can change.

I sit as a member of the Advisory Board of the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute, one of the most respected global institutions for interdisciplinary study on these themes. I was asked to join the board 18 months ago in recognition of the key role that faith communities need to play in the change we need to see.

Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science at the ECI and closely involved in the IPCC. Myles has argued that the most important figure in the Paris Agreement is not 1.5 or 2 degrees. The most important figure is zero: we need net zero carbon emissions to stabilise global temperatures at any level: 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees.

We potentially need to reach net zero as early as 2050 if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met. Any company making 40 year investments that does not have a plan for net zero by 2050 is either counting on Paris goals not being met or neglecting its duties to its shareholders.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to see global peak carbon in 2020 and a reduction to net zero by around 2050.

Therefore the most important question to ask fossil fuel companies now is what are your plans for the reduction of carbon emissions to zero by 2050? What are measurable the staging posts along the way? How will you remain profitable through that transition?

I am sure that the period 2015-2020 (or thereabouts) is the right period for engagement. I am really grateful for all that NIB’s have done and for the Transition Pathway Initiative. The work has been outstanding. I think TPI will be needed for a long time into the future whatever the outcome of our debate today.

But there is a growing global community of churches, institutions and investors who are realising that engagement alone is not enough. Laboured and incremental change is nowhere near what is needed. Internal engagement needs to be combined with external pressure to make radical change.

We have a very serious ethical issue before us as a Church. Achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement requires 30% of oil and 50% of known gas reserves to remain unburned. If we continue to invest in these companies beyond 2020 we will be making money from practices which will harm the poorest people on earth and the planet itself.

The threat of imminent divestment beginning in 2020 is not an alternative to engagement but a vital part of that engagement. We will not be walking away. Engagement can and should continue by different means.

The Church of England has a responsibility to lead on this issue within the United Kingdom and internationally through the Anglican Communion. That moral leadership depends on aligning our investment practice and our lifestyle with the global vision for a net zero carbon world by 2050.

 

+Steven
8 July 2018

Further reading

Bishop Steven at General Synod

Time for divestment. Image of an empty fuel guage