This week's prayers:
- "Welcoming the Stranger"
- Short Notes: Equitorial Guinea, Ethiopia
- Fashion Revolution
- The Paris Agreement and EWDC
Christ's commanding the disciples to love as He has loved ... the disciples' growing awareness that God's gift of repentance and new life is being offered even to the Gentiles ... Revelation's portrayal of the New Jerusalem in which God dwells with mortals - and mourning and crying and pain are no more. This week's Revised Common Lectionary readings continue to show the impact of Christ's redemptive love throughout and beyond time. Can we take time this week to praise God for this love ... and to meditate on it, allowing it more and more to shape our thoughts and actions?
Welcoming the Stranger: How can Christians respond to refugees and migrants?
As Christians we are called to offer hospitality to migrants and refugees. But what does this mean in practice,? Are there ways we can embody hospitality which both serve those close at hand and reach out to those at a distance? And how much are we called to give - as ourselves ... as a community ... as a nation?
As we seek to welcome those from beyond our borders how should Christians understand borders? Do they serve a temporary or ultimate good or should they be abolished to allow people to move freely across the earth?
Knowing that our Christian faith calls us to care for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, how can we effectively get involved? How might our involvement and care be distinctively Christian?
On Monday 16th May at 7.30pm in Oxford CCOW will host an evening for churches and Christians to go beyond the headlines and consider what a Christian response to migrants and refugees might look like. With the help of our speakers Dr Cathy Ross, Dr Rob Heimburger and The Very Revd Bob Wilkes we hope to explore many of the questions above as well as giving extended to time to hear from attendees and address your own questions. Please pray for this event ... and we would love to have you join us! Register via Eventbrite or by emailing email@example.com
Short Notes: Equitorial Guinea, Ethiopia
- Equitorial Guinea
Equitorial Guinea is holding an election this Sunday. Incumbent President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979 and whose government has a poor record on human rights and the equitable distribution of national resources, is seeking another term in office. The period leading up to the election has been characterised by a crackdown on independent groups. Please pray for the country at a time of tension, for all candidates, for all who are seeking to speak truthfully about the current situation, and for the country to receive the kind of good and just government that would enable all its residents to flourish.
Please continue to pray for Ethiopia as it deals with its worst drought in three decades (resources available from Christian Aid). Please also pray at this time specifically for the people of the Gambella region, which has recently experienced cross-border raids by armed groups from South Sudan. According to the Ethiopian government, during a recent raid more than 200 people were killed in a raid, more than 100 children were abducted, and many cattle were stolen. (Coverage: Guardian, LA Times; prayer request: Diocese of Egypt). Pray for safety and wisdom for all in the region and especially for the safe return of the abducted children, for comfort for those who are grieving, and for wisdom for church and government leaders as they respond.
For me (Maranda) the items of clothing in my wardrobe each tell a story. They're full of memories: memories of where I was when I bought or was given them ... of the people they belonged to before me ... of special places or special occasions where I've worn them. Yours will doubtless do the same.
But, of course, the story of our clothing isn't just the story we give by wearing it - it's also the story of the people who are involved in making it. And as we all know, some of those stories are positive ... but many are not.
Three years ago this Sunday, on 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing 1134 people and injuring around 2500 more, many of them seriously. The disaster focused attention on the appalling conditions faced by many garment workers worldwide: unsafe buildings, long hours and low wages, harassment and blacklisting of workers who attempt to organise their peers to negotiate better conditions. There was hope that good would come from ill - that people would be so horrified to realise the human cost of their clothes that consumer pressure would force companies to change the way they worked.
Three years on, some progress has been made. In Bangladesh itself, for example, the inspections run by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh have been characterised by the Clean Clothes Campaign as "impressive." But while many of the signatory companies and the manufacturers they work with may be trying to improve conditions, for a variety of reasons (as this article by a manufacturer suggests) things aren't moving quickly, and there's a long way to go. In the area of building safety, the Accord reports that as of April 2016, 75% of all electrical safety issues identified by initial factory inspections have been reported or verified as corrected - which is good news. But the same is true of only about 50% of fire safety issues and 37% of all structural issues, and overall only 64 of 1660 of the Accord's Corrective Action Plans for individual factories are completed or on track. These aren't just abstract issues: the things left uncorrected include situations of faulty wiring, locks on escape doors, and "lack of lateral stability in the structure." Failure to remediate such situations poses a danger to the lives of workers. Nor are the issues limited to Bangladesh: just last week there was a serious factory fire just outside Mumbai.
Looking at pay, people recently expressed shock when they learned that the Indian women making a dress that happened to be bought by the Duchess of Cambridge earned only about £3 a day. But in reality, Tamsin Blanchard notes, that's above the average for a garment worker in India ... and, according to the latest Fashion Revolution briefing, it's 70% more than the average garment worker in Bangladesh receives. It's not that costs of living are correspondingly low in these countries: Labour behind the Label estimates that the £44 a month earned by the average Bangladeshi garment worker is about 1/4 of a living wage. Nor can garment workers expect a living wage soon: a survey of 91 fashion brands showed that only 12% could show any effort to pay their garment workers above the legal minimum.
The right to organise also remains problematic. A recent Human Rights Watch report about the situation in Bangladesh indicates that while "in July 2013 the Bangladesh government committed to a Sustainability Compact with the European Union, pledging to reform labor laws ... its laws and rules governing labor rights and export processing zones still have rigid union restrictions, in violation of international law." In addition to legal restrictions that make it hard to organise, the Bangladeshi authorities have not held factory owners accountable for attacks against union leaders and members. Nor, again, are the issues limited to Bangladesh: the Clean Clothes Campaign has, for example, recently expressed concern about attacks on union leaders in Cambodia.
So some things have changed for the good where consumer concern has met with clear and easily attainable targets. But changes that require countries to address vested interests or require businesses to rethink their business models are moving more slowly.
Enter "Fashion Revolution" - a campaign led by fashion insiders like Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro and designed to change the way fashion works. It seeks to bring together people throughout the fashion supply chain and has suggestions for consumers, retailers, producers and others.
For consumers, it asks people to do three things: be curious - ask the question "Who made my clothes?"; try to learn more about how the garment industry works; and do something to change the current models of fast, unsustainable, unfair fashion. The suggestions for change include an emphasis on buying less and better (so that what we pay for new clothes reflects their true cost and enables production to be sustainable); wearing things for longer and treasuring the stories behind them; reusing and recycling via charity shops, overhauls or swaps; and advocating for better standards for garment workers worldwide. It's a positive campaign - both raising awareness of the issues and celebrating the ways in which actions that help workers and the planet can be and are being taken.
This is a campaign led by people within the fashion industry that resonates with our calling as Christians ... to love our neighbours as ourselves, to shape a society that treats all workers fairly, to be good stewards but not to seek to accumulate possessions. One might argue that in challenging our tendency towards overconsumption it doesn't go far enough: Christ and John the Baptist are far more radical in their calls for us not to be concerned about what we wear and to share with those in need rather than accumulating ... could at least some of the clothes in my wardrobe be shared and become part of other people's stories?
But every step we take matters - and if every person took the Fashion Revolution actions, we could see a shift towards more just and sustainable models that promote care of people and the earth. Could we pray for this and similar campaigns to change hearts and minds ... and could we promote their actions, not just at the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, but year round?
- for all who continue to live with grief, pain and need because of the Rana Plaza and other factory disasters. Pray that God will give them peace of mind and that they will have access to the things they need for life in all its fullness
- that God will turn the hearts of all people everywhere to care about the people behind the products we use
- that the Fashion Revolution campaign and others like it will help to transform hearts and minds
- that we will move towards a world in which workers have safe working conditions, are able to organise to protect their rights, and receive fair compensation for their work
- that we as a society will move away from overconsumption and, caring for the earth and for each other, will seek to live more simply and better
- Take a picture of an item of clothing with the label and tweet the manufacturer, asking #WhoMadeMyClothes?
- Download the main Fashion Revolution booklet - what ideas does it give you? Could you discuss them with a home group? youth group? Could you make one of their pledges?
- Dig deeper: there are lots of great resources on fast fashion and how to change it here.
- Use the "Haulternative" booklet to share ideas for overhauling a wardrobe without buying new clothing.
- If you need new clothes, take a look at Fair Trade and ethical providers such as Arthur & Henry (men's shirts), Epona (tops and sweatshirts), People Tree, Piccalilly (babies), Traidcraft, Trading for Development ... and the many others listed here.
- Read the Human Rights Watch report and write to your MEP, asking them to press the Bangladeshi government to implement the terms of the Sustainability Compact.
The Paris Agreement and EWDC
On Friday 22 April, Earth Day, 175 countries formally signed the Paris Climate Agreement that was reached in December. This is the first step towards making the Paris Agreement operational. To come into force the agreement now needs at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions formally to adopt it at national level. Some countries are able to do this simply by means of the assent of their political leader, as is the case for the USA. Other countries require ratification by their parliament, as is the case for EU member states. In actuality, some countries – including some least developed countries – have already forged ahead with joining the agreement, reflecting both the importance they attach to it and their desire to be able to influence its outworking. It is hoped that the necessary threshold for entry into force will be reached in 2017, or even earlier – the unusually high number of signatories on Friday (the first day the agreement was open for signing) giving grounds for some optimism. Significantly, given the variability of the political situation in some countries, once the agreement comes into force any country wanting to withdraw from it has to wait for a period of four years.
An Interfaith Statement on Climate Change was presented to the President of the UN General Assembly ahead of Friday’s landmark signing, urging governments to rapidly sign, ratify and implement the Paris Agreement and also to scale up the level of ambition for action. In the statement the more than 250 leaders and 4000 signatories wrote, “Humanity is at a crucial turning point… The unprecedented consensus resulting in the adoption of the Paris Agreement, welcomed by faith communities the world over, has opened up a new path towards a low-carbon, climate resilient transformation of the global economy. The global collaboration… demonstrates that the sense of collective responsibility shared by all nations and society is far more powerful than the recklessness and greed of the few”.
The role of faith communities, among others in civil society, in helping forge the Paris Agreement was recognized by Christiana Figueres, the outgoing Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in her open letter of gratitude following the December summit. (For a fascinating insight into her leadership role in the six years leading to the Paris talks, do take a look at this delightful TED talk. In it she talks about the importance of optimism, reflecting, “Impossible is not a fact, it’s an attitude” – which might prove a helpful thought as the Paris Agreement is implemented).
Climate change and faith was also the theme of this year’s Ecumenical World Development Conference (EWDC), of which CCOW was one of the sponsoring organisations, and which took place last weekend in Coventry. Theologians, church leaders, climate scientists, negotiators and communicators contributed to the conversation under the heading Hope in a Changing Climate, looking back at the Paris Agreement and forwards to how the Church needs to respond. Below are some of the key points made during the two days.
Leading climate scientist Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science at Oxford University, started the conference by clarifying the seriousness of the current situation. The first four months of 2016 have been extraordinarily warm; this is in part due to El Niño, but it is more a result of underlying rises in temperature. Overall global temperature rises seen to date are very much in line with the original forecasts made in the 1980s, he said, and in line with IPCC predictions. Professor Allen particularly highlighted the correlation between cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions since 1870 and temperature change (page 9 of the Fifth IPCC report – lower graph), saying this was the most important image in the report. The graph indicates the urgent necessity of reaching net zero emissions of CO2 and Professor Allen stated clearly that stopping the output of CO2 is “the only way to stabilize the climate”.
Reaching net zero emissions will require a change away from our dependency on fossil fuels (currently 85% of all fuels used). Whilst this will be very expensive, it is likely to be in the range of “one or two financial crises worth of money”, and spread over a period of 35 years, which offers some sense of perspective on its real affordability. Professor Allen stressed the importance of taking action early and not “pushing the hard yards too far down the road”. The action has to be taken at some point – the longer it is delayed the more drastic it will need to be to achieve net zero emissions. Short-term policy is very costly in the long term, he said.
In terms of the influence we can have, Professor Allen encouraged us to ask the Government and companies what their strategies for achieving net zero emissions are, and when they expect to achieve net zero emissions. As food for thought, Professor Allen reflected that when a company pollutes the sea with fossil fuel they have to pay for the clean up – but when they pump fossil fuel-derived CO2 into the atmosphere they don’t – a scenario that doesn’t really make sense.
Mohamed Adow, Senior Climate Adviser at Christian Aid, has seen the effects of climate change in northeast Kenya, from which he originally comes: he noted in particular the increased frequency of droughts in recent years. He has also been part of the UN climate negotiations for a number of years, and he talked about what he regards as the many remarkable achievements of the Paris agreement, his perspective having added weight because he has first hand experience of how fraught and unproductive such negotiations can be.
His view was that the Paris Agreement was seminal in several ways. It provides a framework that commits the world to a low carbon future; it is a transformational change as it is no longer possible, at least in theory, to have an energy policy or development that is not compatible with it; and, for the first time in the history of the UN's climate process, it is a global agreement which applies to rich and poor alike, although the lead on emissions reductions and climate finance must come from richer countries.
Adow also noted several victories on particular issues within the agreement, including the fact that five yearly cycles of action to scale up ambition are built into it, and that the issue of "loss and damage" due to climate change has been recognized as separate from adaptation. This is a vital distinction which recognises that there are climate impacts to which vulnerable countries cannot adapt - for example the damage caused by disasters like Supertyphoon Haiyan - and that mechanisms are needed to help people cope with them. In addition, the Paris Agreement went beyond Copenhagen in calling for countries to keep global warming well below two-degrees, while pursuing efforts to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. This change had been championed by small island states and, as he noted, "in Paris, the voices of those most impacted by climate change won out”.
He saw further cause for hope in the way the world came together in 2015 to agree the Sustainable Development Goals, in increased investment in renewable energy (and falling prices) and a turning against dirty fuel sources.
Paul Cook, Advocacy Director of Tearfund, echoed Mohamed Adow’s positive assessment, describing the Paris Agreement as “a major psychological turning point”, with everyone now on the same side and recognizing the need for net zero emissions as the long-term policy.
The theme of hope was explored further from a theological standpoint. Rosalind Selby, Principal of the URC's Northern College, examined the Biblical basis for “hope for creation,” reflecting on the complexity of both creation and the Biblical picture. Martin Poulsom, SDB, Head of Theology at Heythrop College, spoke of being “called to joy” and reflected on the ways in which hope and optimism, while distinct, are linked and can reinforce each other. "Our action and God's action can go hand in hand," he further commented, "and that's the basis of my hope.”
Ruth Valerio, Churches and Theology Director for A Rocha UK, spoke of the practical actions we need to take to maintain our hope: practising the spiritual disciplines, spending time with God in prayer and being rooted in God, and spending time in nature and with other people. The emphasis on prayer was echoed by Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at Edinburgh University, who urged Christians to pray prayers of blessing on the soil, on the land and on those who provide renewable forms of energy. He also spoke of the immense capacity of individuals to bring about change, citing the work of Tony Rinaudo re-greening parts of Africa through Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).
Rachel Lampard, Vice-President Designate of Methodist Conference and Team Leader of the Joint Public Issues Team (which speaks for the Baptists, Methodists, URC and Church of Scotland) reflected that people in churches being overloaded is “the biggest obstacle” getting in the way of churches responding to climate change. However, she described the need to take action as a “holy challenge” facing the church and reflected on what the church had to offer. As a worshipping community, she noted, we bring a sense of awe and thanksgiving about the natural world; as a global community, we bring challenges from brothers and sisters experiencing climate impacts in other regions, as well as inspiration from their efforts to tackle climate issues. And as a community of transformation, we are able to see lives transformed and to challenge structural sin.
Jo Herbert, Youth and Emerging Generation Coordinator at Tearfund, spoke encouragingly about “the army of young people coming up behind” the older generation to take on the mantle of campaigning on climate change and thanked those present for their pioneering work. She reflected on the importance of shifting the Church's narrative on climate: “The story we live as a church matters,"she said, noting that a shift in the Church's attitude could only be done by engaging with theology. Jesus came to restore all things, but "we don't see [climate] yet as a deeply theological issue," she argued. "When we do, we'll take it seriously."
Herbert also reflected on how “we become what we celebrate" and called on us as churches to celebrate people's small acts and achievements. Touching on the power of personal testimony, she noted: "Talking about your journey and how we live our lives to God makes a difference. It's about a personal invitation to live life unto God." This is part of people’s discipleship, relationship and journey with God. Our little acts might not be vastly significant in the grand scheme of things, but they are acts of resistance against a consumerist culture … and acts of worship.
Examples of practical action and reason for hope "on the ground" were provided by Godfrey Armitage, who described the genesis and impact of the Reconciling a Wounded Planet conference in Coventry last Autumn, and by Jo Lakeland of Sustainable Blewbury, who described the numerous imaginative activities it has undertaken – such as thermal imaging of homes, holding a garden market and hosting a living churchyard event - to engage the community with climate change and environmental issues.
Finally, a session led by George Marshall, the coordinator and founder of Climate Outreach and author of Don't Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore
climate change, explored how best to communicate with others about climate change. For many delegates, this session was a real eye-opener, and we would strongly encourage everyone to look at the materials on the Climate Outreach website. George Marshall spoke about the imperative of engaging people with climate change, not talking to them about it. Research shows that people are generally not motivated by facts and figures, and communication based on disasters, negativity and distant impacts have little effect on attitudes. In contrast, people are motivated by shared values and identity, and the joy of belonging. Thus communication based on speaking to what others care about, finding shared values, and helping people to feel that action on climate will make them more part of their own group is likely to be far more effective in engaging people with climate change.
One other intriguing point in George Marshall’s talk was his finding (from an exploration of the literature) that “there is no narrative of forgiveness around climate change at all.... no narrative of forgiveness for ourselves, of future generations towards us, for those destroying the world around us now”. Given the guilt I (Elizabeth – and I suspect many others) carry concerning climate change, I find this a fascinating insight, especially coming from a self-declared agnostic.
- In thanksgiving for the Paris Climate Agreement, for its signing in New York this past week and for the moves already being made to ratify and implement it.
- In thanksgiving for the many individuals and groups who have persisted in working for a global agreement, often in very discouraging circumstances.
- For the speedy ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement; that it would come into force as soon as possible.
- For the scaling up of ambition on climate targets; for eyes to be opened to new possibilities and solutions.
- For courage as we move forward into this new paradigm; that those of us who need to make changes to our lifestyles, as nations and as individuals, will have the courage to do so.
- For forgiveness and mercy for our climate trespasses against God and neighbour.