Climate talks falter as Bishop Huggins criticises Australian response

Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins says Australia must lift its game on climate change despite the failure of the Madrid talks

A message from faith-based organisations near the end of COP25 said in part: "We call for systemic, cultural and spiritual transformations that may be translated into changes in the ways we live, produce and consume. It is indispensable that our lifestyles -- supported by socio-economic policies and institutions -- respect ecological boundaries."

By Stephen Cauchi

December 13 2019Australia needs to do far more on climate change despite the unsuccessful United Nations Climate Change talks (COP25), according to conference attendee Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins.

The talks were attended by delegations of Anglicans and other faith groups from around the world, who prayed and protested for agreement to limit human-made carbon emissions.

Bishop Huggins, who attended the talks in his capacity as President of the National Council of Churches Australia, said in a statement that “we have to lift the tone and substance of Australia’s contribution”.

“The time left to prevent climate change getting beyond humanity’s control is now so short.”

Bishop Huggins made the comments as former Federal Liberal leader John Hewson, in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, also urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take more action on climate change.

Mr Morrison urgently needed to follow the example of Saul of Tarsus on a matter of science and morality, rather than religious belief, and “accept the need for a climate conversion”, wrote Mr Hewson.

Bishop Huggins – who retired from the Diocese of Melbourne in 2018 – added in his statement that Australia now had two urgent objectives.

These were, firstly, shaping new national climate plans for the crucial November 2020 COP 26 in Glasgow; and secondly, mobilising support and finance for communities affected by climate change.

“While it is tempting to just be very critical of the minimalist outcomes from the COP in Madrid, there is too much at stake and we must focus on building a 2020 national consensus around these two issues,” he said.

“Our neighbours in the Pacific are among people who need more assistance.

“While Australia is struggling with the domestic politics of coal exports, they are going under and anticipating more frequent and extreme weather events, like cyclones.”

COP25, or the 25th Conference of the Parties, ran between December 2 and 13 in Madrid, Spain. Its objective was to steer countries back towards carbon emissions targets that would limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The talks, however, were mostly unsuccessful. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “as officials scrambled to finalise a complex set of rules to implement the 2015 Paris climate accord, a handful of larger-emitting countries squared off again and again against smaller, more vulnerable ones.

“In particular, negotiators came to loggerheads while crafting the rules around a fair and transparent global carbon trading system, and pushed the issue to next year.

“Fights also dragged out about how to provide funding to poorer nations already coping with rising seas, crippling droughts and other consequences of climate change.”

Bishop Huggins, an official delegate on behalf of the World Council of Churches, also played a music clip made by Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School students at the conference.

The school acquired the rights to the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song "What the world needs now is love", and made a video directed by filmmaker Richard Keddie.

"It is our hope that the delegates will come together to address the global climate issues in a compassionate and caring way,” said Lowther Hall Year 11 student Mia.

Mia, also chair of the school's social justice committee, said the song was “our plea for constructive and co-operative leadership to guide us through these complex issues.

“As children of today and adults of the future our voices need to be heard and our concerns listened to."

Bishop Huggins said the clip was a “message of love and peace”. "To give our young people a better future this conference must succeed. We, the human family need to become a more benign, a more loving, presence on the planet."

A statement from the World Council of Churches just prior to the end of conference called for "ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions...with a view to attaining carbon neutrality by 2050 and limiting warming to not more than 1.5°C.”

Among the other Anglicans present at COP25 were a delegation of US Episcopalians representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

“The overarching theme, which continues to remain uppermost on the agenda, is the need to ramp up [carbon target reduction] ambition significantly, not only by member states but by all parties, including private sector, civil society and individuals,” Lynnaia Main, the church’s representative to the United Nations, told Episcopal News Service.

On December 2, the delegation and other faith organisations held a prayer service on the theme of “Praying For Climate Justice”.

A faith-based climate demonstration also took place at the conference, according to Green Anglicans (Anglican Church of Southern Africa Environmental Network).

The demonstration was organized by the ACT Alliance – a global alliance of more than 145 churches and related organisations – and was made up of Christian climate activists from Scotland, Chile, the US, Canada and many other countries.

“During the event, Christian climate observers from many countries joined together at the entrance hallway of the COP to read the stories of people on the front lines of climate injustice, say prayers, and sing songs,” said the statement from Green Anglicans.

“Especially powerful was the stirring song “The People Gonna Rise Like the Water.” It was painful to hear the stories of devastation from across the globe.

“People stopped to watch, listen, take photos, and even sing along.”

Anglican Archbishop Julio Murray of Panama led the prayers with US church planter and environmentalist Lowell Bliss.

This included a prayer based on Psalms 40 and 70– when in a time of great urgency David prayed “You are my God, do not delay.”

To view the Lowther Hall song, visit  or 

See Bishop Philip Huggins' opinion piece "We can't allow distraction in the climate debate" here