A Kenyan climate activist told the Lambeth Conference that those on the frontline of climate change “keep drowning in the empty promises” of richer nations, as the bishops of the Anglican Communion committed to use their resources and influence to address the emergency.
Elizabeth Wathuti, founder of the Green Generation Initiative, said that local churches should demand decisive action from their governments. The primate of the Anglican province of Central America, Julio Murray Thompson, who last year led the Communion’s delegation to COP26, said that bishops should become “influencers” to encourage governments to meet the pledges made there.
“Although a lot has been said, not a lot has been done,” he told reporters at the start of the conference’s day on environment and sustainable development, held at Lambeth Palace.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, warned that “climate change will cause wars before it causes a clear loss of environment”, citing the growing conflict between farmers and pastoralists in Nigeria as desertification reduces the land for grazing.
He urged energy companies to lead efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions, and said that the Church of England would consider divesting from those which did not invest recent profits green energy.
Referring to his own experience in the oil business, he said there was “enormous talent” in the industry which could be used to combat climate change.
“What I would say to those in the industry, you have the logistics skills, the technological skills, the imagination and the capital to change the world, and go from being held in suspicion…to being the heroes who changed the way that the world used and created energy.”
He continued: “The energy production companies have enormous talent, and gifts, and financial capital. Use it for good.”
These remarks came ahead of the conference’s discussion of two “calls” on the environment and on sustainable development – both of which received the bishops’ assent – and the launch of the Communion Forest, a worldwide scheme of projects in each Anglican diocese. These will include reforestation, restoration of grasslands and wetlands, and coastal protection, according to the local conditions.
The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, described the Communion Forest as “both a symbol of hope and an act of hope”. Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Murray Thompson initiated the forest with a liturgy on the main lawn of Lambeth Palace, and ceremonially planted an oak tree there. This will be re-planted in the autumn, during the English planting season.
There was a festive atmosphere at the palace following the tensions of recent days, the bishops and their spouses enjoying lunch in a large marquee in the archbishop’s garden and returning to Canterbury after a river cruise to Greenwich.
Ecumenical and inter-faith guests included the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, and the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, who is part of the Catholic delegation to the conference.
Archbishop Longley told The Tablet that environmental projects presented ecumenical opportunities, and noted that Pope Francis had quoted from a number of ecumenical resources in his writings on the subject.
As a diocesan bishop, he said, the conference gave him an opportunity to engage with his neighbouring Anglican bishops, and that he hoped to engage with the four whose dioceses overlap with his archdiocese on local environmental initiatives.
The Queen sent a message of greeting to the conference, noting that the environmental themes under discussion were close to the heart of her late husband, Prince Philip.
“Throughout my life, the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and in them I find hope,” she wrote. “It is my heartfelt prayer that you will continue to be sustained by your faith in times of trial and encouraged by hope at times of despair.”