AT THE START of The Big One climate protest on Friday 21 April, Church of England leaders, including Lord John Sentamu and a number of bishops, took part in the No Faith In Fossil Fuels Service at St John’s Church, Waterloo. After the service, the church leaders led a march via Shell HQ to Parliament, to join the protest. But questions remain about the C of E’s own investment policies.
The Big One, taking place from 21 to 24 April, is set to be one of the biggest UK climate protests, with around 100,000 people gathering around Parliament across four days to demand an end to the fossil fuel era. It is a protest designed for mass participation, with family-friendly activities planned throughout the four days.
Former Archbishop of York and current Chair of Christian Aid, John Sentamu said: “Climate change is the most insidious and brutally indiscriminate force of our time. The people suffering the most have done the least to cause it. That is why continuing to search for new sources of fossil fuels, despite explicit warnings against this from the International Energy Agency, is such an offence against humanity. If we want to limit climate suffering we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground. The Church has a proud history of standing up against injustice and once again we need to see Christians calling on the [UK} government to take decisive action.”
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, the lead Church of England bishop for the environment, said: “I commend this peaceful, prayer-fuelled service and pilgrimage. The message is loud and clear: ‘Wake up world!’ It is time to stop playing political games and take action now. We are already seeing the effects of the climate emergency around the world – and it is the world’s economically poorest people who are already suffering the most. So it is our moral duty and a Christian calling to do all we can to try to turn the tide. Our leaders must seize this moment and deliver real and impactful change for the future of God’s creation. We don’t have a spare Earth – this is our one precious home.”
Christian Climate Action planned other prayer and worship activities across the long weekend. On Saturday 22 April there was worship led by Black Majority Churches and today (Sunday 23 April) there will be worship led by young people.
A number of Christian groups are taking part in The Big One, including Tearfund, Christian Aid, CAFOD, the Salvation Army, Young Christian Climate Network, Student Christian Movement, Operation Noah, Just Love, A Rocha UK, Engage Worship, Green Christian, All We Can and Christian Climate Action.
In 2021, the International Energy Agency said that exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating. Since this stark warning, all major oil companies are continuing to explore for and develop new fossil fuel reserves.
Despite the advice of the IEA, the UK government has opened a new licensing round for companies to explore for oil and gas in the North Sea. Nearly 900 locations are being offered for exploration, with more than 100 licences set to be awarded. The UK government is also subsidising the fossil fuel industry. Since 2015, the UK government has given £20 billion more in support to fossil fuel producers than to those of renewables.
Last year, a YouGov poll commissioned by CAFOD found that 59 per cent of Christians felt the government had done too little to tackle climate change over the last year. Only 16 per cent of Christians surveyed thought the government had done the right amount.
The Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford said: “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. We have time, just, to respond to the climate crisis. This is the moment to send a clear message to the Government that they must go further and faster to tackle carbon pollution.”
The Rt Rev Olivia Graham, Anglican Bishop of Reading, said: “Our faith calls us to take a stand against suffering, whatever form that takes. Fossil fuel expansion will lead to tremendous suffering for our young people, for those in climate vulnerable countries and ultimately for all humankind along with many other species. Our faith also calls us to nurture and cherish our Planet Earth, knowing that our health and survival, along with that of all living things, depends on it. I am here to stand in prayerful protest against fossil fuel expansion and to pray for just, wise and swift decisions from our Government. On this issue we must stand together.”
The Rt Rev Anne Hollinghurst, Anglican Bishop of Aston and Acting Bishop of Birmingham, said: “It’s time to act on what we know about the effects of burning of fossil fuels and how this continues to accelerate rapidly rising global warming and the environmental disaster that follows, impacting especially the poorest communities across our world.
“As Christians it’s also time to act on what we know about God’s call to care for creation. That’s why it’s so good to see Christian environmental organisations coming together to offer prayers and walk in peaceful protest in support of the forthcoming Big One climate protest in London. I and others from the Church of England in Birmingham will be joining them in asking our government to think again about allowing development of further oil and gas fields and invest instead in renewable energy to create a responsible future for our precious planet.”
The Rt Rev Rob Saner-Haigh, Anglican Bishop of Penrith, said: “As Christians we have a duty to look to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, seeking to sustain and renew the life of the earth, a duty reflected in one of our key themes in our ecumenical vision and strategy for Cumbria to ‘Tread Gently’. We wish all those well who make the trip to London this weekend, and encourage people to explore and use The Big One prayer collection.”
The Rt Rev John Stroyan, Anglican Bishop of Warwick, said: “The Big One’ is making a statement of the utmost urgency and importance to our Government, namely that humanity faces an existential crisis which threatens all peoples, all creatures and indeed the Creation itself. It is important that people across the whole nation, of all faiths and none, unite in calling our Government urgently to take steps to decarbonise the economy.”
The Rt Rev Dr Eleanor Sanderson, Anglican Bishop of Hull, said: “The Climate Crisis disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our world. I have seen first-hand the impact of climate change amongst our Pacific families and know their impassioned plea for the world leaders to see and respond with the urgency that they themselves are having to adapt. We must all take responsibility for the way our lifestyles contribute to this crisis and work together to create a more equitable and better reality for our global community today and for the generations yet to come. My hope and prayer is that a call to greater action and collaboration will be heard in this land too.”
The Rt Rev Dr Eleanor Sanderson, Anglican Bishop of Hull, said: “The climate crisis disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our world. I have seen first-hand the impact of climate change amongst our Pacific families and know their impassioned plea for the world leaders to see and respond with the urgency that they themselves are having to adapt. We must all take responsibility for the way our lifestyles contribute to this crisis and work together to create a more equitable and better reality for our global community today and for the generations yet to come. My hope and prayer is that a call to greater action and collaboration will be heard in this land too.”
The Rt Rev Hugh Nelson,Anglican Bishop of Truro, said: “The climate emergency isn’t a problem for the future; it’s a disaster that already affects many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Jesus said that he came to be ‘good news to the poor’ and I hope that many Christians will be in London for The Big One to stand with Jesus and speak up for the poorest of the world.”
The Rt Rev Richard Jackson, Anglican Bishop of Hereford, said: “Climate change is an international emergency, the consequences of which reach to every corner of the world. In Herefordshire excess rainfall has caused the Wye to reach its highest ever level in the last few years, bringing not just flooding but sewage outflows that have had a devastating effect on wildlife. We can do our little bits as individuals, but only concerted government action can bring the necessary changes to reach our net zero target. I commend Christian Climate Action for continuing to bring this issue to government for their response.”
The Rev Jo Rand, a Methodist Minister from Cumbria, said: “I’m really glad to see the number of mainstream charities and organisations that are taking part in the Big One. We must end our dependence on fossil fuels, and there’s strength in numbers as we show our leaders this isn’t a fringe issue but something that’s at the heart of working for a just world. Come and be a part of it!”
Fr Martin Newell, a Passionist priest in the Catholic Church, said: “This is such a critical time for life on our planet. The sad truth is that the window in which we are able to turn the climate crisis around is closing fast. This is a really difficult thing to comprehend. But I choose to believe in the Church. I believe that we will not let God’s creation be sullied by greed, by selfishness and all the horrible systematic sin we are seeing around us. I invite my fellow Christians to stand alongside me as we say no to fossil fuel exploration.”
Ekklesia director Simon Barrow commented: “It’s good to see Church of England bishops joining those from other churches in supporting action against the climate catastrophe their country, and our world, faces. But that only strengthens the questions the C of E still needs to face about its investment and disinvestment policies.”
The Church Commissioners have promised disinvestment from any fossil fuel companies not aligned to the Paris agreement by July 2023. An independent academic assessment undertaken by the Transition Pathway Initiative will determine which companies are aligned and those that are not. But critics say that this way of framing things enables companies to retain investment with words not matched by actions, and that there is lack of clarity on what will have happened by July.
“Condemning climate change while continuing to prop up the industry creating it is not good enough. Investment should be switched to renewables and Just Transition as quickly as possible. It was Jesus who reminded his followers that ‘where your treasure is, there is your heart also.’ We need decisive action from church leaders, not just symbolic gestures and words.”
* More information on The Big One here.