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A Let it Grow sign in a patch of tall grass

The Book of Revelation tells of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first rider clothed in white comes out to conquer. The second in red represents civil war and slaughter. The third in black is famine. The fourth rider is on a pale green horse:

“Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine and pestilence and by the wild animals of the earth.”

As Christians in the 21st century, we know and understand these four terrible riders and all they symbolise. We see the war of intended conquest in Ukraine and witness the suffering which flows from that. We see civil war in South Sudan and Yemen and the terrible toll on entire populations. We understand famine and want and the rising numbers of the world’s population who live below subsistence level. And we know that Death and Hades have come closer to home through a global pandemic which has claimed so many lives.

But in the 21st century there are two new riders, and they are the subject of much of our Synod meeting this March.

The fifth horseman is invisible. This rider represents the unseen blanket of greenhouse gas which silently envelopes the earth, year by year trapping more of the sun’s energy inside the atmosphere and raising global temperatures to critical levels. This horseman has the power to disrupt weather, to extend deserts, to set fire to the forests, to cause floods and storms, to melt the ice caps and raise sea levels to disastrous levels.

This rider can be stopped. The world has a small window in which to act. But only if every nation, every institution, every faith, every family act together to reach net zero and do so without delay.

The sixth rider is astride a grey horse, made of gunmetal; a machine, not a living creature, spewing an invisible poison from its mouth. This rider is hard to see against the landscape. Its work is gradual, not sudden, a silent undermining of the vital web of life.

Earth is the only planet, the only corner of this vast universe, where we are certain there is abundant life. Yet the once rich tapestry of life on earth is now being degraded year by year because of the expansion and greed of a single species, ourselves.

The sixth rider represents the systemic destruction of nature, the second great environmental challenge of our time. This rider works destruction by stealth and in secret. The birds fall silent. The insects disappear. The soil is less rich in micro-organisms. The fish die in the rivers. Humanity is putting at risk the very eco system on which our life depends.

There are signs that the world is waking up to the environmental disaster we face. Wildlife populations worldwide declined by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. Latin America and the Caribbean experienced a 94% drop in the wildlife population. Wild animals now account for just 4% of mammal biomass globally: humans and our livestock account for the other 96%. 60% of the UK’s flying insects have vanished in the last 20 years. They are vital for pollination and for the food chain. Britain is currently one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Over 1 million species are currently threatened with extinction.

These two new horsemen of the apocalypse work closely together in a spiral of destruction. Biodiversity loss is one of the accelerators of climate change. Global heating leads to more diversity loss. Both need to be addressed together. Both need to be addressed locally as well as globally.

Why should Christians care?

This is a critical moment. In December the world agreed a new set of global targets for restoring nature at the COP15 conference in Montreal. The principal goal of the Kinming-Montreal agreement is to protect 30% of the earth’s land, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030.

Just six days ago, the news led with agreement of the UN High Seas Treaty setting 30% of the world’s oceans into protected areas. 30% is not a random number. It represents the scientific consensus on the minimum protected area which will allow the regeneration of the whole. Tomorrow, David Attenborough begins a major new television series, Wild Isles, focussing on the decline in biodiversity in Britain and Ireland and how that can be addressed.

But why should Christians care? Why should the diocese or the local church invest resources in restoring nature alongside working towards net zero? Why do we need to work at the ecological conversion of every disciple, in the words of Pope Francis? Why should we be giving our time today to this aspect of God’s mission?

There are a million reasons why. The most immediate is, of course, the whole future of life on earth; the love we bear our neighbours, our children and grandchildren and those who will come after us. Our life is inextricably linked to and dependent on the biodiversity of the earth. Yet scientists have named these decades as the Age of Extinction.

If we sleepwalk through the next ten years, the tragedy will be indescribable and irreversible for the whole future of life on earth.

From Genesis to Revelation

The Bible teaches us from Genesis to Revelation that humanity is part of God’s creation with a particular relationship with the natural world. If you doubt that you might want to explore Psalm 104 or the final chapters of Job or Proverbs 8 or the Sermon on the Mount or Colossians 1. Read each text through the lens of these two terrible Riders.

But for today let me take you to just a handful of verses in the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1, as you will know, describes the creation of the heavens and the earth with humankind created on the sixth day. There God gives to humanity responsibility for the earth:

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”.

Those words fill and subdue and ‘have dominion’ are sometimes misunderstood as giving authority to exploit creation and misuse nature. But properly interpreted they give dignity and agency and responsibility – a sacred trust – to every human person, male and female. This is the stewardship of a good shepherd with responsibility to care for the flock, not the authority to plunder or destroy.

That responsibility is made very clear in the second creation story in Genesis 2. Here we read:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

The word translated ’till’ here is found again in Genesis 3.23:

“… the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken”. We have the command to till before and after the fall.

To serve and steward

So what is the core meaning of that word ’till’? The Hebrew word is not the normal word for ploughing or gardening. The Hebrew word is ‘ebed. The root meaning of the word is ‘to serve’. ‘Ebed can also mean to worship and to work. It is the word used of the service of God and of the servant of the Lord in other Old Testament texts. It is a key word for Jesus understanding of his ministry and our understanding of who Jesus is. The word keep means to watch over, to guard.

Humanity is here given a sacred responsibility to serve and steward and watch over the earth: the land and the water and all that lives in them. Hebrew scholars note that ‘ebed can also be translated as observe, preserve and conserve, all variations of the English verb to serve. Tilling and keeping the earth are foundational to the exploration of human identity and vocation.

Pope Francis’ great encyclical, Laudato’ Si explores these texts in Genesis. They “suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin.”

Restoring our relationship with the earth is therefore core to our own salvation, won by Christ on the cross. In Romans 8, Paul explores the relationship between our own salvation as women and men and the salvation and healing of the earth:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God, We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;” (Romans 8.19-22).

Conservation is not enough

So what are the ways in which we can, with others, repair and restore creation in the places where we live? Conservation is not enough. We have a tremendous opportunity as a diocese to shape and influence the ecology of the Thames Valley in the coming years.

We are able as we know to help and support the pathway to net zero through the actions we take in schools and churches and vicarages across the three counties. Every single place has a church and congregation who are able to work together with their community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and work to restore and rebuild the natural world. We have green spaces and churchyards. Individually we own farms and gardens.

Churches across the diocese are rewilding their churchyards to encourage biodiversity and provide a rich habitat for flora and fauna to flourish within the framework of EcoChurch. St Mary’s Church in Wargrave introduced a Let it Grow zone in part of their churchyard by halting regular mowing and strimming of the grass. This has promoted wildflower growth and provides habitat for animals and invertebrate species helping to increase the biodiversity of the churchyard. The church has also installed bat boxes and bird boxes and created a large compost area that provides shelter for hedgehogs. Imagine if Wargrave’s story was repeated over 800 times in every churchyard in the diocese?

As Christians we can work in partnership with others. I’m delighted that the diocese has an active partnership with the Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. The trust will be running two training courses in our churchyards in April and May – one about managing green spaces and the other on doing a basic site survey (species identification, vegetation types etc). There is an inspiring webpage called Wilder Churches, which features examples of churches in the Diocese of Oxford taking action and steps others can take.

Engaging with green issues

Local Christians and churches can stimulate wider initiatives for nature. Hungerford has a great story about tree planting – 6,440 trees supplied by ⁦the Woodland Trust to date! Churches in Greenham and Wendover and elsewhere are also planting trees, though not at such scale. Engaging with gardening and green issues and biodiversity is becoming a normal part of church life across the diocese.

There will be a particular opportunity in the next few years for local government to play a key role – and therefore for Christians to be involved in shaping nature recovery. Last year the UK government launched the Nature Recovery Network through Natural England, which draws together partners across the community. A key part of the Nature Recovery Network will be for every county and local authority to draw up its own Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LRNS). These will be a key building block for the recovery of nature nationally. They are a key outcome of the Environment Act 2021.

The government is taking further initiatives on local planning, on land use, sustainable farming, care of the soil and rivers which all offer opportunities for partnership and for the voices of local people to be heard. We must not be silent for the sake of the earth. As many will know, I’m part of the House of Lords Environment and Climate Select Committee. We have just begun our third major enquiry on protected areas to scrutinise the government’s plans to protect 30% of our land and coastal areas by 2030.

The earth needs humankind to till it and keep it. Humanity needs the earth for our survival, for our health, for human flourishing. We need clean air, clean water, abundant biodiversity. We need not just to conserve but to restore the natural world carefully and intentionally in the coming decade.

The Church of England is not able to do this by ourselves but we can and we should offer leadership wherever we can for the sake of the Earth.

The two new Horsemen of the Apocalypse are truly terrifying. We have time, just, to respond to the challenges they bring. May God give us grace and strength to work together in this generation for the renewal of the earth.


Watch Bishop Steven’s address to Diocesan Synod

The once rich tapestry of life on earth is now being degraded year by year because of the expansion and greed of a single species: our selves. Our life is inextricably linked to and dependent on the biodiversity of the Earth. While there are signs that the world is waking up to the environmental disaster we face, Britain is currently one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Watch a recording of the Presidential Address to Oxford Diocesan Synod, given by the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, on 11 March 2023.

Archbishop Justin stands on a stage infront of large audience, a large photo of an oil refinery is shown on a screen.

Bishop Steven shares an overview of the key thread of Science and Faith at the Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury from 26th July to 7th August.

Bishop Steven’s address to Diocesan Synod in June 2022, calling on every household to respond to the climate crisis.

A few weeks ago, Archbishop Justin, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a powerful and historic joint statement on the environment as part of the preparations for COP 26.

Their joint statement was followed on 4 October by a gathering of faith leaders from across the world in the Vatican and the issuing of a new joint statement by all the world’s religions: Faith and Science: an appeal for COP 26. The appeal was presented to COP26 President-Designate, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma, and the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Luigi Di Maio

Again this is a remarkable common statement issued at a critical time. Leaders from the great faith traditions have recognised the crisis which faces our common home. Together, the faith leaders have spoken to the whole world appealing for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; improve financial support for fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity.

The wisdom of the faiths is combined with the insights of the sciences. They call for great ambition at the COP 26 gathering, which is now just days away.

But the faith leaders are not simply asking governments to do something. They recognise that the followers of religious traditions have a crucial part to play in addressing the crisis of our common home. So they commit to much more serious action and to recognising our obligation to future generations, to the poorest who are suffering most, and to young people: exactly the course we have set as a diocese.

These are some of the final, powerful paragraphs:

We are currently at a moment of opportunity and truth. We pray that our human family may unite to save our common home before it is too late. Future generations will never forgive us if we squander this precious opportunity. We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children.

Scientists have warned us that there might be only one decade left to restore the planet.

We plead with the international community, gathered at COP26, to take speedy, responsible and shared action to safeguard, restore and heal our wounded humanity and the home entrusted to our stewardship.

We appeal to everyone on this planet to join us on this common journey, knowing well that what we can achieve depends not only on opportunities and resources, but also on hope, courage, solidarity and good will.

Please take a moment to read the statement in full, and please continue to pray for COP 26 that it may truly be a turning point for the world.

 

+Steven


Creator of our common home
Hear the cry of the earth
Our world stands in great peril
Many are suffering
We have put at risk our present and our future
through the rapid warming of the earth and the careless destruction of its beauty
Give to the leaders of the world fresh hope and courage
As they gather for COP 26
Unite us all in a common mission to heal and cherish our environment
And steward the resources of our world for future generations
May this conference be a turning point in human history
For the sake of all the peoples of the earth.
Amen.


Photo credit:
Britain’s COP26 President Alok Sharma speaks during the “Faith and Science: Towards COP26” meeting with Pope Francis and other religious leaders ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November in Britain, at the Vatican, October 4, 2021. – Vatican Media Handout

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sets a child in the midst of his disciples and invites them to reshape their priorities. What would happen if we did that today in the public square?

It was good to be at St. Michael at the Northgate on Sunday for the Patronal Festival and to mark 50 years since St. Michael’s became the civic Church of the City of Oxford. The service was attended by the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Mayor of Oxford and members of the Council. The Bible Readings for Michaelmas were Revelation 12.7-12 and Matthew 18.1-11.

A sermon given by the Bishop of Oxford on Sunday 26 September 2021:

It’s very good to mark today the 50 years in which St. Michael at the Northgate has been the civic Church of the city of Oxford. It is good to express thanks and appreciation to those who have served as City Rectors in that time, including Anthony, and to all those who have served and serve as Mayors, Councillors and officers. Thank you for your leadership and care and especially in the challenges of the last twenty months.

St Michael’s became the City Church in 1971. We are looking back today over fifty years. By coincidence the new ITV series of Endeavour, the Inspector Morse prequel, is also set in 1971: a good reminder of some of the changes over the last two generations. The line that stays with me from last Sunday’s episode is the taxi driver charging 75 new pence for a ride from the station to Summertown.

There have been many changes over that time. Our first reading from Revelation uses the language of war in heaven and describes the conflict between good and evil as a battle.

As we look back we can see that battles have indeed been fought and won. Our city is more inclusive. Town and gown are better integrated, each more appreciative of the other.

Oxford is described by its poorest residents as a compassionate city; a place of safety for the most vulnerable. Women are better represented in our leadership. The church and faith communities work well together. The city has been able to welcome and to integrate into its life migrants from all over the world and to celebrate diverse cultures.

Year by year we welcome students, academics and scientists and help equip them for global leadership in the arts, the sciences and the social sciences. The influence of our city extends across the world.

St. Michael and all Angels is part of this social fabric in its role as a city church: as a place of prayer and worship; in the role of the City Rector as chaplain to the Mayor and Council; as a symbol of our City’s deep Christian heritage; as a witness to the Christian values of integrity, service, humility and safeguarding the vulnerable which flow through our gospel reading.

The Church, of course, makes no claim to perfection: we are often slow to change ourselves; we continually fall far short of our ideals; we are sometimes on the wrong side in these great battles. We are called continually to repentance and to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ ourselves as the only safe foundation of our message to those around us.

Greatness in the kingdom of heaven does not lie, Jesus reminds us, with politicians or religious leaders but with little children. Both politicians and religious leaders will be judged by the ways in which the interests of those children have first place in our decision making and in our actions.

Anniversaries are a good moment to look back and measure the journey we have travelled together. But they are also a moment to look forward. What are our hopes for this city as we look ahead now to another fifty years: to the year 2071. What battles lie ahead in the great war being fought in heaven and on earth? What will the Church dare say to the City in this next, uncertain chapter of our life together?

To put the question a different way: if Jesus were to place a child in our midst this morning here in Oxford in 2021, what battles would be uppermost in our minds as we look to safeguard the well-being of that child through the next generation? What needs to change?

Three are uppermost in my mind. I will be interested to know if they match your own.

The first is undoubtedly the battle being fought over the earth’s climate. The world faces twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss. Science tells us clearly that the next ten years will be decisive in that battle and will determine the future of life on earth. Will the child Jesus sets in our midst inherit a world in which all can flourish?

For Christians, we are stewards of God’s good creation. How can our city make a significant, world changing contribution to this great challenge of our age through our policies and example and convening power and the priorities we set? How can this City Church lift up and support the green agenda as part of our God given mission to the city?

The second challenge faced by the child Jesus sets in our midst is one of health and safety and especially mental, emotional and spiritual health. A child or young person growing up today will face immense pressures, many arising from the misuse and exploitation of technology.

COVID has revealed a tidal wave of mental health pressures on the young which has been building for decades. How can our city increase resources directed to the mental, emotional and spiritual health of the young through harnessing the churches and faith communities, the third sector and the health and social services? There is a battle here for investment and of priorities. How can this City Church be an advocate for children and young people as we imagine the child Jesus sets in our midst?

My third challenge for the next generation is the challenge of rising inequality: the gap between rich and poor which again has been revealed and has increased through COVID. Oxford as a city is a tremendous generator of wealth and innovation. The City anchors and will help drive the Oxford-Cambridge arc which will be an engine of the UK economy in the coming decades.

But we are also in danger of becoming a segmented city in which the gap between rich and poor grows wider to the detriment of all. How is it possible for us to become a fairer city in terms of access, health, transport, work and housing? Is it time for a fairness commission which can look at the future of our city through the lens of inequality? How can this City Church continue to set out a vision for justice and fairness for all as a core part of its role as the civic church of Oxford?

There was a war in heaven, says Revelation. As we look back over fifty years we give thanks for battles fought and won and for the role this Church has played in the civic life of this great city. We give thanks for all those who contribute to that civic life today.

But as we look forward we know that there are battles still to come and great resources to meet them both seen and unseen. Christ sets in our midst a little child and challenges our priorities for the future. Together as a city we are called to have a vision for a greener, more sustainable world; for a healthier world; for a fairer world.

We commit ourselves, imperfect as we are, to these great challenges. In this Church dedicated to St. Michael, we too, every single one of us, are called to fight on the side of the angels.

The entire future of life on the earth may be determined by what is agreed, or not agreed, in the autumn of 2021.

As the Environment Bill is read in the House of Lords, Bishop Steven urges the government to set an example on climate change policy.

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

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