The European Union’s plans for tackling climate change are inadequate, and the UK Government should take a lead in revising them, according to Church leaders in this country.


Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church leaders have written to the prime minister and added their voices to concerns already expressed by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland about the EU’s negotiating position in advance of the UN-sponsored Copenhagen conference in December.


World leaders will meet to agree on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which sought to limit emissions of greenhouse gases and comes to an end in 2012.


Kyoto is generally seen as having failed to deliver, partly because the US refused to sign up to it, but also because it was a blunt instrument which did not grapple with the complexities of the issue.


However, with increased understanding of the scientific, economic and social issues, campaigners believe that a new treaty has the potential for being much more effective.


But the three Free Church leaders—the Revd Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Revd Stephen Poxon, president of the Methodist Conference, and URC moderator John Marsh—say that the EU’s proposals are too weak, and warns that heads of government should not ‘use the immediacy of the economic crisis to shy away from taking long-term action on climate change’.


‘We believe that the recent Communication of the European Commission fails to set out clear proposals for a comprehensive, ambitious and equitable new global agreement on climate change,’ says their letter.


‘If Copenhagen 2009 is to be the moment in history in which humanity has the opportunity to rise to the challenge and decisively deal with climate change, then key aspects of the EU’s negotiating position need revision.’


The letter identifies two specific areas of weakness, and is particularly severe on proposals to allow EU countries to buy carbon credits from outside the EU.


‘The EU’s emission reductions targets must be clearly aligned with scientific evidence to limit long-term global warming to less than two degrees centigrade.


‘We are particularly disappointed that the EU has adopted a position that enables it to meet its emission reduction target by recourse to offsetting measures from outside the EU. These offset credits risk only cancelling out EU emissions with no net reduction in overall global emissions.’


Secondly, the Church leaders say, ‘We must ensure that we tackle poverty and inequality by helping developing countries grow economies that are not dependent on carbon fuels.


‘Developing countries need measurable, reportable and verifiable financial and technological support to implement mitigation and adaptation actions above what they are already doing.


‘We join with others to call for the EU to invest the financial equivalent of an additional 15 per cent emission reductions in developing countries by 2020 to assist them decarbonise their economies and adapt to climate change impacts.’


At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last month the prime minister reiterated his commitment to tackling climate change in spite of the economic downturn. Copenhagen, he said, ‘will show the world whether we have truly understood the threat we face, and whether as leaders—not just of governments, but of businesses and civil society—we have the political will and common purpose to address it’.


‘The costs of unchecked climate change are far, far higher than the costs of combating it,’ he continued. ‘If we do not reduce our emissions from their present path—by at least half, globally, by 2050, with a peak in 2020—we will bring upon ourselves a human and economic catastrophe that will make today’s crisis look small. And it will be the poorest and the most vulnerable who will suffer first and greatest.’


Aid agencies are increasingly campaigning on climate change issues as rising sea levels and desertification are threatening lives and livelihoods. And Paula Clifford, head of theology at Christian Aid and a former special advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, argues in a new book, Angels with Trumpets: the Church in a Time of Global Warming, that the Church has a particular responsibility to speak out on the issue. ‘Those people who have done the least to cause climate change suffer the most, as carbon emissions from the developed world wreak havoc with the lives of the poor in developing countries.


‘If we choose to go on protecting our current privileged lifestyles at the expense of both our fellow human beings and the world around us, then that truly is sinful.’


This story first appeared in Britain’s Baptist Times.

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