Lambeth Conference: Environment and Sustainable Development
12th August 2022
Every ten years (or thereabouts) all the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet together as the Lambeth Conference at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their meeting this year was the 15th such gathering with over six hundred bishops – and spouses – convening from all parts of the globe: Alaska, Australia, Brazil, South Sudan, the Philippines, Scotland, India and the Solomon Islands, and more. (Sadly the bishops of Nigeria, Rwanda Uganda declined to attend).
The theme of the conference has been ‘God’s Church for God’s World – walking, listening and witnessing together.’ In fact the conference begins before the bishops arrive with the preparation of a document called ‘Lambeth Calls’. On each issue to be discussed at the conference a paper – or “call” – is drafted by a group made up of bishops, clergy and laity from around the communion led by a Primate or senior bishop. Each Call includes:
- A declaration, summarising what the Christian Church has always taught about these matters.
- An affirmation, summarising what the bishops want to say on these matters in the present time.
- Specific requests (The Calls) to future witness, sharing actions or challenges that the bishops want to give to each other, to fellow Christians and to the world.
Within each ‘Call’ there are be matters to discuss and decisions to be made. It may be that not all bishops will want to add their voices to every element of every call. As has always been the case at every Lambeth Conference bishops will confer together but they will not necessarily agree on everything. And the work of the conference continues after each participant has returned home as matters are taken forwards. https://www.lambethconference.org/programme/lambeth-calls/
The conference itself takes place in Canterbury but midway everyone travels to London for a day at Lambeth Palace. The focus for this day was the Environment and Sustainable Development. You can read the material prepared for this day here, pages 19 to 21 – https://www.lambethconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Lambeth-Calls-July-2022.pdf The Call clearly states the biblical imperative that humans should care for all creation, as well as being honest about the crisis we now face –
“the triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is an existential threat to millions of people and species of plants and animals across the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that it is “code red for humanity”; “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C”. Drastic action is needed in the next three years to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Call also addresses the need to take action – “With crisis comes opportunity: for the Church to listen to God’s voice, to imagine how the world could be different, and to help build towards God’s Kingdom” – and is realistic about the lack of time available. “By the next Lambeth Conference, increasing areas of the Communion will be uninhabitable, because of drought, rising sea levels and other impacts as we reach tipping points in climate change. Meanwhile despite these terrible realities, carbon emissions continue to rise and there are over 50,000 new fossil fuel developments in the pipeline. Our oceans and rivers are clogged with plastic and people are choking and dying from polluted air. The web of life is becoming so damaged by the loss of biodiversity that the integrity of creation is under threat.”
The Call then moves on to action that needs to be taken:-
“We call on world leaders to:
1. Enact bold and urgent policy changes, including:
• achieving net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
• fulfilling and substantially increasing their commitments to climate finance, including for loss and damage due to climate change.
• halting new gas and oil exploration.
• protecting and restoring biodiversity and tackling pollution.
2. Challenge wealthier nations and those with greatest responsibility for climate change to take the lead on climate action and just financing for other countries to reduce emissions.”
Those assembled to hear, think and talk about these pressing issues included those from communities already suffering the dire consequences of the climate crisis, those from communities who have historically been most responsible for the causes, those who have most to offer by means of practical and financial help, and those least able. As such the Anglican Communion can, together, speak from a basis of lived experience. This does not make the dilemmas any less tractable. Certainly some of the bishops spoke from experience when they highlighted the dangers of speaking out against the views of both governments and big business. For some communities the idea of living within reliance on fossil fuels seems a near impossible ask.
I spent the day outside the Palace with Christian Climate Action actively praying that the outcome of the day would be that bishops would have a clear understanding of the need to end reliance on fossil fuels and to address the global injustices of climate change. In advance of the day, CCA had contacted all the bishops, highlighting these concerns and inviting them to share in a prayerful response.
One of the bishops from South Sudan in turn asked for support for his campaign to protect Africa’s largest wetland, The Sudd. Fed by the White Nile this area floods each year providing a wetland habitat for a diversity of wildlife as well as provide irrigation and subsequent rainfall for the grasslands surrounding the wetland that supports pastoral farming. The future of this wetland is threatened by a project to build a 300km canal that bypasses the Sudd, transferring the flood waters to the northerly reaches of the Nile.
It was encouraging when some of the bishops as they passed on their way into – and at the end of the day, out off – the Palace diverted to talk with us or wave a hand to show their support. Some revelled in having their photos taken with the CCA banners as a back drop! From those who talked and prayed with us we learnt more of the issues that they face. In seeing such numbers of people – many dressed in brilliant colours reflecting their national identity – we were made aware of the scope and scale of this global crisis.
And the outcome of the day? Bishops spoke of heating at first hand from their colleagues about the effects of the climate. Hopefully it was a means to greater understanding and empathy, and a spur to more incisive action. At a corporate level, the day saw the launch of The Communion Forest – “a global initiative comprising local activities of forest protection, tree growing and eco-system restoration undertaken by provinces, dioceses and individual churches across the Anglican Communion to safeguard creation.”
In the run up to the Lambeth Conference, the Vatican signed up to the call for a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation treaty – https://fossilfueltreaty.org/vatican There was perhaps a hope that the Anglican Communion might have taken the opportunity of echoing this. At their conference earlier this year, the call for this treaty was endorsed by various faith groups including the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Other signatories include Green Christian UK, Anglican Church of Southern Africa Environment Network, Interfaith Scotland, North Carolina Council of Churches, Operation Noah, Quaker Earthcare Witness.
In his final key note speech Justin Welby said of the Lambeth Calls, “They are not an end in themselves. They are an appeal to each Church and Province, and Bishop and Diocese, to every Anglican, to be more visibly the people of God…” This then is where we can take action.As individuals we can sign this call for a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation treaty; we can ask our churches to sign; we can ask our diocese to sign – and do so with reference to the Lambeth Call for the Environment and Sustainable Development. Step by step, piece by piece we can work together for the care of creation.
Later in the same speech he said, “The Church, salt and light, courageous in prophetic utterance, gracious yet clear, is not another NGO: it is God’s chosen means of shining light in the darkness…This is not the church getting involved in politics. It’s the church getting involved in God. “