Martin Charlesworth
Where science and justice meet

It was about 15 years ago that I really became convinced that environmental issues are vital to modern Christian discipleship. It was a bit of an epiphany moment. A combination of Bible study, thinking about recent scientific advances, looking at the news and a dose of common sense did the trick for me. This led to a fundamental audit of my family lifestyle and a direct engagement with key environmental issues.

Back then, I thought mainly about our care of God’s creation as his ‘stewards’. Then I began to think in terms of looking after the environment for the benefit of my children. Then I became concerned for bio-diversity and water shortages and pollution of the seas… and so on.

Over the intervening years the biggest environmental story has been that of man-made climate change. This has fascinated me. I have long been convinced that global warming is a reality and that it will bring about many changes to life on earth. So, over the years, I have been following the work of an organisation called the IPCC. No, it is not a new government department or an obscure think-tank! The full name is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is a scientific project set up by the UN 30 years ago in 1988. It co-ordinates worldwide research into climate change and is probably the biggest international scientific project ever undertaken.

The IPCC has been warning for a long time that global warming is a reality, is accelerating, and will have serious consequences. It has just produced a new report on the implications of different levels of global warming over the next few decades. 

I write this on my way home from the European launch of this report, which took place in London on Monday. I was invited because Jubilee+ is one of the ‘faith networks’ linked to the IPCC in the UK. Those present were mostly scientists, representatives of environmental pressure groups and those involved in public policy. I was one of very few representing a church group. Several top scientists gave talks, including the South Korean chair of the IPCC, Dr Hoesung Lee. Also, Claire Perry MP, Minister of State for Energy & Clean Growth, spoke on behalf of the UK Government.

Why is all this so important? And why is it a vital issue for the Jubilee+ team? The answer is that global warming is going to affect the poorest in the world much more severely than the rich. Why is this? Mainly because as the earth gets gradually warmer, the rainfall cycle will get more intense in two different ways. Firstly, more floods, more heavy rainfall and more storms. Secondly, on the other hand, more periods of low rainfall and, therefore, drought. Crucially, these events will tend to be more severe in hotter climates – and this is where most of the world’s poorer countries are situated.

We have already begun to see the devastating impacts of more frequent extreme weather events in different parts of the world. Most people recognise that these events are becoming more common. What we need to keep in mind is the human cost in poorer countries of severe events such as hurricanes and drought. The livelihood of millions is at stake if the climate becomes more adverse – and this is already beginning to happen.

The IPCC has called on governments to work together to reduce carbon emissions – because this is the single largest factor in creating global warming. In fact, they want us to aim for a ‘carbon zero’ economy by 2050! That means drastic reductions in carbon emissions, as well as extracting and capturing carbon from the atmosphere. It is a very ambitious goal, but it is driven by real concerns. Without major changes, the earth could increase in average temperature by 3°C by the end of the century. This is an enormous increase and would fundamentally destabilise the climate.

Dr Hoesung Lee gave a strongly worded speech at Monday’s conference in London. He warned that climate change and global warming will produce “disproportionate impacts on the poor”. This is reason enough to be engaged with this issue – climate change is linked to justice for the poor.