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The Lord Bishop of Oxford to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions. Read his full speech given in the House of Lords on 20 November 2022.

My Lords

I appreciated the time given to this debate. We face many challenging issues but none is more serious than climate change and the environmental crisis. The context of our debate is the real prospect of global heating of more than 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century with escalating extreme weather events in the UK and across the world; rising sea levels; devastating fires and floods; significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure; wars over scarce resources; shifting patterns of harvest; increasing zoonotic diseases and a massive displacement of peoples as large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.

At the same time, the green economy offers genuine prospects for economic growth and diversity and the opportunity for global leadership. It is a privilege to be a member of your Lordships Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change under the able leadership of Baroness Parminter. Last week we published our first major report: In our hands: behaviour change for climate and environmental goals which I commend to the House. My questions to the government are largely based on the report’s findings.

To avert disaster in our lifetimes we need to reach net zero by 2050 or before. That means radical action in this decade and the next. The Committee agreed with the Committee for Climate Change that behaviour change is a key element in that journey: both the adoption of new technology and changing habits and practices around diet, transport, heating and consumption. Each of these behaviour changes has co-benefits. All of them have potential economic benefits. They are essential stepping stones on the path to net zero.

This government has given imaginative and committed leadership in the area of climate and the environment including at COP 26 through the COP President and in the recent Environment Bill. The government has acknowledged the need for behaviour change across the board: we all must play our part. It is good to see government commitments to behavour change summarised in the library briefing for this debate. To give just one example, the noble Lord the minister said in your Lordships house in September 2021:

“The government wanted to make it easier and more affordable for people to shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle while at the same time maintain freedom of choice and fairness’.

The Committee takes a similar view. We know that the public is looking for stronger leadership from the government in this area. 85% of the public are concerned or very concerned about climate change – double the number from 2016.

But the Committee found a very significant gap between what the government wants to do and the leadership which is being offered. There is a very significant gap in understanding the challenge from department to department. There is too little joined up thinking and policy. There are quick wins which are not being adopted. There are massive areas for development and leadership – particularly domestic heating which is the subject of our next enquiry. The leadership and committee structures are opaque. There is a lack of expertise and knowledge across government. There has been no real attempt at public information and engagement campaigns. The leadership debate over the summer has raised real questions around the new governments commitment to net zero which are being worked through even this week in the other place.

The report offers a set of recommendations to government in this area of leadership. Other speakers will no have other questions to the minister. Could I ask for reassurance that the government will take these concerns seriously and will put real energy and creativity around the process of supporting behaviour change into the future and as a matter of great urgency.

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 debate on 11 May 2022 on the Queen’s Speech following the State Opening of Parliament considering the upcoming Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

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.

With 63% of payroll jobs lost during the pandemic being held by under-25s, young people must have access to adequate training going forward.

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