In the wake of the Pope’s encyclical, environmental and climate change issues have assumed a high profile; this post summarizes developments over the past couple of days that are of relevance to the Church of England and others
Climate change and health
On 23 June, The Lancet Medical Journal and University College London published a landmark report which highlighted “the inalienable and undeniable link between climate change and human health”. Entitled “Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health” the report is the second produced by the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change; this was formed “to map out the impacts of climate change, and the necessary policy responses in order to ensure the highest attainable standards of health for populations worldwide”. The Commission is multidisciplinary and international in nature, with strong collaboration between academic centres in Europe and China.
In a letter to the New York Times on the moral responsibility to act now on climate change, Archbishop Justin Welby and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew welcomed
“the report’s message of hope, which confirms the fact that climate change is more than just a technical or financial challenge and confirms the voice of health in the discussion on climate change. Indeed, the central premise of the Commission’s work is that tackling climate change could be the single greatest “health opportunity of the 21st century”.
The Lancet/UCL report is strongly supportive of the messages in Laudato si’, although as with any health-related predictions, care must be taken in the interpretation of its findings. EurActiv ran the story under the headline “Climate change can destroy 50 years of health and development”, explaining “[c]limate change poses a threat so serious that it could reverse the last 50 years of progress in global health and development … [b]ut the potential health benefits of fighting climate change mean that tackling the problem presents one of the greatest opportunities to improve health this century.”
However, the report was not welcomed by all; Euracoal, the European Association for Coal and Lignite, was highly critical, stating: “this report … is part of a well-coordinated effort by rich foundations to secure political influence. The positive health impacts of fossil fuel use have helped propel average life expectancy to 80 years across OECD countries”; and fingering another polluter instead “[t]oday, the hidden killer in our cities is pollution from diesel-engined vehicles, so we are surprised that the Lancet Commission highlights pollution from coal use.”
Whilst an analysis of these issues is more the concern of David’s column in Environmental Law and Management, they do highlight the political and technical considerations with which faith groups must become au fait when they engage in dialogue concerning climate change.
On shore wind turbines and solar power
The National Investing Bodies (NIBs) and Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has prepared the Background Paper “Climate change and investment, GS 2004” for the next month’s meeting of General Synod in York on 10-13 July. This indicated inter alia
“16 … Within the Commissioners’ UK commercial forestry holdings there are two existing wind power schemes and a number of other viable schemes are being actively explored, subject to planning [permission]. In addition, the Commissioners have recently entered into a framework agreement with a solar energy company, Lightsource, to develop solar power generation facilities on rural land owned by the Commissioners; wind farm possibilities on the rural estate are also being explored.”
On 18 June, however, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Amber Rudd), issued a written statement on government’s proposals to end new subsidies for onshore wind, specifically in relation to the renewables obligation, which will be closed to new onshore wind from 1 April 2016—a year earlier than planned, [HC Hansard, 18 Jun 2015 Vol 597(19) Col 10WS]. In view of the uncertainties raised by the statement, Amber Rudd made a further statement to the House, [HC Hansard 22 Jun 2015 Vol 59(20) Col 617], during which the implications were discussed further. When the statement was discussed in the Upper House, [HL Hansard, 22 Jun 2015 : Vol 762(18) Col 1383], the Lord Bishop of Chester said:
“My Lords, if and when the new subsidies are ended, we will have 6,000 or 7,000 subsidised windmills. Can the Minister remind the House for how long the subsidies for these thousands of wind turbines are going to be guaranteed, and what the total cost will be over their lifetime?”
The Church is no doubt keeping a keen interest on the details of these developments in relation to ventures in this area, particularly those due for completion before 1 April 2016. There are also lessons to be learned from the Church’s experience in Devon, where its handling of the installation to two small agricultural-sized turbines played into the hands of the anti-turbine lobby, support for which was evident in Monday’s debate.
On a more positive note, responding on behalf of the Church Commissioners to two written questions from Bill Wiggin, (Con. (North Herefordshire), relating to solar power on church buildings and community energy generation, Mrs Caroline Spelman said
“One strategy which is proving popular in local communities is for the Church to use solar installations on its roof to generate energy for the benefit of the surrounding community. Examples where community generation is working well can be found in St John’s Church, Old Trafford and St George’s Church, Kemp Town, Brighton where both churches are part of an energy cooperative.”
“While this may not be appropriate for all sites there are a growing number of listed church buildings, currently over 200, who have successfully managed to install solar panels. One of the best examples of the use of solar panels is the 10th century All Saints Church in Wing, Buckinghamshire which has installed solar panels on the nave and south aisle roofs.”
Late on Monday evening, the Commons gave 20 minutes’ consideration to an adjournment debate on the theft of stone – not the Miliband “Edstone”, but roof tiles, topping stones on dry stone walls, York stone path slabs and many other types of stone are being systematically stolen from homes, schools, farms and places of worship for use as building materials, [22 Jun 2015 : Vol 597(2) Col 729]. Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con) was granted a debate on this issue which is a particular problem in his constituency and more broadly in West Yorkshire, photographic examples of which have been published in the Huddersfield Examiner.
Responding to the debate, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning) said that the government was already working on two of the three issues Mr McCartney raised but “it is much more difficult than introducing the sanctions and licensing that we brought in for metal”. However, he had raised the issue with Andy Bliss, Chief Constable of the Hertfordshire Constabulary, who heads up the efforts against heritage theft in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers. He also undertook to meet the Solicitor General in relation to its 14 specialised prosecutors in this area.