12 December 2014, The Tablet

Energy expert says Church is wrong to call for fossil fuel boycott

A church-backed campaign to boycott fossil fuels is unrealistic will not solve the challenges of climate change, a leading energy expert has said.

Paul Younger, the Rankine Chair at the University of Glasgow and a professor of energy engineering, wrote in The Tablet this week that alternative sources of fuel were not available at sufficient scale.

The Church was becoming increasingly involved in climate politics, he said, noting Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s support for a fossil fuel boycott, Cafod’s “One Climate, One World” campaign and Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on climate change.

In April Archbishop Tutu called in an article for The Guardian newspaper for boycotts similar to those used against South Africa during apartheid to be used against fossil-fuel energy companies.

In his article Professor Younger criticised calls – including those from the Church – for complete decarbonisation. “It would be wonderful if we could replace all of these uses of fossil carbon with sustainable biological alternatives. Yet it is already clear that insufficient sources of exploitable biomass exist to support this,” he wrote.

He pointed to Canada, where he said a power station equipped with carbon capture and storage technology in Saskatchewan, that was built by the fossil-fuel sector without subsidy, showed great promise.

Moreover a Christian response to climate change must bear in mind the needs of the poor, he said, noting that often developing countries managed to escape poverty “on the back of fossil-fuel use”.

However this week an international group of Catholic bishops called for “an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100 per cent renewables with sustainable energy access for all”.

The group, including the Archbishop of Ayacucho and President of the Peruvian Bishops' Conference, Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, and bishops from South Africa, Bangladesh and France, gathered in Lima to call for a global response to climate change that would prioritise poor communities.

In a statement they said that a disordered focus on market and profit had put human beings, and consequently their environment, in jeopardy.

“We express an answer to what is considered God’s appeal to take action on the urgent and damaging situation of global climate warning,” they said.

“The main responsibility for this situation lies with the dominant global economic system.”

They called on global leaders due to attend a climate change summit in Paris in 2015 to adopt a fair and binding global agreement that priorities the poor, and to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees C. “Central to this is to put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100 per cent renewables with sustainable energy access for all,” they wrote.

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