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Dr Freier signs plea to world leaders to honour climate pledges as Queensland bishops speak out

Primate signs up as Townsville Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops speak up for the land, sea and people in their region

The letter to which Archbishop Freier is a signatory says to world leaders gathering in Bonn in November: "This is our generation's challenge, a significant part of how we love our neighbours."

By Mark Brolly

October 31 2017 

Governments must keep their promises made in Paris almost two years ago to take action on climate change, an open letter signed by Archbishop Philip Freier and six other Anglican archbishops and bishops among more than 580 Christian leaders has demanded.

Dr Freier, the Archbishop of Melbourne and Anglican Primate of Australia, signed the letter, which urged world leaders to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to limit global warming to the safe level of 1.5 degrees; invest in 100% clean energy, particularly using local grids so that it reaches those in poverty beyond the reach of national electricity grids; support more sustainable, low-emission agriculture, to stop communities going hungry and help them cope better with more floods and droughts caused by climate change; and publish national country plans in 2020 showing how each nation will move to zero emissions.

“This is our generation’s challenge, a significant part of how we love our neighbours,” the letter says.

On 30 October, the Anglican Bishop of North Queensland and his Roman Catholic counterpart issued a joint statement, In the Care of Our Common Home: ‘Sister Earth’, in which they said care for the Earth “is not an optional or secondary aspect of our daily living, rather it is ‘an essential part of our faith’,” quoting Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si (On care of Our Common Home).

Bishop Bill Ray and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Townsville, the Most Revd Timothy Harris, said modern society had compromised the intrinsic dignity of the world.

”It seems that the protection of Nature is something ‘secondary’ to ‘progress’ and only for the ‘greenies’ or ‘leftists’,” they said.

“Society has also developed a vision of ‘Dominating Nature’, a mastery over the world, and, given the chance, a mastery over the universe. Our ‘dominion’ over the planet should be understood more properly in the sense of ‘responsible stewardship’, especially to future generations.”

Other Anglican signatories of the open letter to world leaders are Archbishops Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa, Winston Halapua of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Albert Chama of Central Africa and Francisco De Assis Da Silva of Brazil, as well as Bishop Jwan Zhumbes of Nigeria, and Bishop Robert Innes from the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe.

The letter has been coordinated by Renew Our World, a Christian partnership bringing together organisations including the Anglican Alliance, Tearfund, Micah Challenge and the Jos Green Centre in Australia, Brazil, Europe, India, Nigeria, Peru, the UK, US, and Zambia.

Leaders from 197 nations will gather in Bonn, Germany, in November for the next phase of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23). At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“As Christians across the globe we are calling for action on climate change," the Renew Our World letter says. "The changing climate is causing great damage to people and planet right now, and we are particularly concerned about hunger and poverty hitting the most vulnerable communities, who did least to cause it.

“We urge each nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made in the Paris Agreement, to restore the natural balance.

“We’re committing to respond as Christians by living more sustainably, praying, and raising our voices; we’re asking every member of the church – the world’s largest network – to join in, alongside many others, and every national leader to lead the way.”

The two North Queensland bishops said in their statement that “the Elephant in the Room” in their region was the Great Barrier Reef “with back-to-back yearly coral bleaching across two thirds of its length… continuing toxic run-off from land holdings, increasing ocean temperatures, regular monsoonal failures, a prospective wholesale increase of freighter traffic, the loss of marine diversity and extensive marine pollution”.

“Another ‘Pearl of Great Price’ that is in danger is our incredible Artesian Basin and its age-old water resources,” they said. “The projected mega- mining developments across Queensland, especially the Galilee Basin, look to usurp this ‘coal resource for all ages’.”

The bishops – whose letter was published as a State Election was announced for Queensland on 25 November – also expressed concern about the significant increase in lung disease of local coal mine employees, the one-third increase in land-clearing across Queensland, a lack of governance and transparency for big business, and the escalating gap between the “haves” and have-nots”, “which we believe leads to extreme political stances in our communities and result in less community harmony, justice and peace”.

“The ‘White Australia’ Policy is alive and well in North Queensland with Indigenous Land Right claims and cultural development often viewed disparagingly by many,” the bishops said. “Our First Australians are still seeking recognition.

“Politics and Business have been slow to provide strong leadership or urgency for the common good: a leadership that incorporates environmental issues as much as the financial, social or political issues… There is a need for urgent dialogue in the critique of the ‘modern myths’ of ‘individualism, self-centredness, self-absorption, progress that is unlimited, the unregulated market, competition and consumerism as a remedy for all ills’.

“One might rightfully ask ‘Are the Churches going green?’ Quite simply, the answer is ‘Yes’, but not in a simplistic definition that much of the modern media would describe.

“We are people of hope. We are people of prayer.  We are people of action.

“With a deep sense of communion with all that makes up our common home we can bring a compassion, a tenderness to all of creation that will make a difference for this and future generations. In confidence we can accept the courageous challenge of the Millennial Earth Charter: ‘As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning … Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace and the joyful celebration of life.’

“Or, in the spirit of Francis of Assisi, let ours be a time where we treat our common home like ‘… a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us’.”                                                        

Ms Thea Ormerod, President of the multi-faith environmental organisation the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), praised Bishops Ray and Harris for their “prophetic witness”.

She said the bishops had clearly aligned themselves with that side of the public debate that would protect the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland’s forests, groundwater and the well-being of people.

Referring to Adani’s Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin, which “should never be allowed to go ahead”, Ms Ormerod said: “Regional hopes for employment of large numbers of people will be disappointed. Even in Queensland, many more people are already being employed in renewable energy projects and in industries such as agriculture and tourism which stand to lose because of the mine.  As a nation, we have the resources to support those communities who are being impacted by our necessary transition away from mining.”                                                           [with ACNS]