Waste of Olympic proportions a potential golden opportunity for the poor

RS77670_BRA_2016_EMB_0060-mdaAs the 2016 Rio Olympics close, Tearfund’s Senior Economics and Policy Associate, Richard Gower, reflects on the potential prizes to be won for athletes and the poor from valuing our waste better.

As pollution tainted Rio’s picturesque setting and the UN advised athletes to spend ‘as little time in the water as possible’, the wider issues – and surprising opportunities – arising from humanity’s waste problem came under the spotlight during the Olympics.  

Our present economic model, which could be described as ‘take, make, dispose’, has generated significant improvements in our standard of living, but is also harming us.  According to the World Health Organisation, each year twenty times more people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants than die from malaria.  In India, almost a quarter of childhood deaths result from polluted air, contaminated water or other environmental problems.

Remarkably, in many sectors, the very same waste could be used to create jobs and boost the economy, saving lives in the process.  Take the organic waste being discharged into Rio’s Guanabara Bay – this could be a profitable source of renewable energy and fertiliser if handled correctly.  In Kenya, social enterprise Sanergy do exactly this: they use the waste from their network of high-quality, low-cost toilets in the slums of Nairobi to produce high-value agricultural inputs and energy.

This is ‘the circular economy’, a shift in mind-set which sees waste and inefficiency as an opportunity.  The concept has been making waves in the business community for the last five years, but the idea has yet to properly cut across into the international development discourse.

A new report from Tearfund and the Institute of Development Studies suggests that if implemented in a development context, the circular economy offers a triple win for those in poverty. Case studies and insights from practitioners and academics around the globe suggest that circular business models can increase economic growth, improve the quantity and quality of employment and reduce environmental impacts and associated mortality.

Low-income countries already have good foundations upon which to build if we act quickly.  A traditional culture of repair and re-use is currently being eroded, but could instead be harnessed to provide an industrial base for the economy.  The Kumasi industrial cluster in Ghana for example, is a major centre for automotive re-manufacturing and repair surpassing anything found in Europe: 200,000 workers are employed (up from 40,000 in the early 1980s) in more than 12,000 businesses. In Brazil, local municipalities involve informal waste collectors in formal waste collection and sorting processes, the result is often to increase recycling rates at the same time as improving their incomes and working conditions and reducing costs for government.

In fact, the idea holds out the promise of an alternative growth model that reduces the tension between lifting people out of poverty (through economic development) and protecting the planet (which is threatened by our current growth model).  This tension casts a long shadow over the Sustainable Development Goals, and adopting circular principles would thus dramatically increase the scope for achieving them.

According to McKinsey’s Martin Stuchley, ‘businesses that work on basis of circular principles are amongst the fastest growing in the economy’, and the report identifies several ways to reduce barriers to circular businesses in developing countries.  Some of these are no-brainers – like reforming UK and EU design regulations that make products harder to repair in developing countries – whilst others are more challenging, such as reforming tax systems so that they tax things we want to discourage (like waste) and not those we want to encourage (like work). The UK Government could also do much more to support these practices on the ground in poor countries, for example through the cross-Governmental Global Prosperity Fund and their Development Finance Institution, CDC.

More generally however, there is a pressing need for the development community to get a handle on the circular economy as a concept.  It’s almost entirely absent from the discourse at present, and offers an unparalleled opportunity.  It’s good for the economy, good for society and good for the planet, and would also be good for the health of competitors at the next Olympics.

Planning Ahead

There’s a story about Margaret Thatcher in her late-80s pomp. One of her ministers realised that sea levels were going to rise and so the government needed to bump up spending on flood defences. He quickly convinced the Prime Minister, but not the rest of his cabinet colleagues, which was a problem because he needed the cabinet to agree before he could start the extra spending. Before the crucial meeting he rang Mrs Thatcher and told her he was nervous that most of them would oppose it, and that probably the two of them were the only ones who would be in favour. ‘I think,’ came the reply from the centre of power, ‘that that will be enough.’ And it was.

Ecology article connection June 2016 Margaret

That minister’s name was John Selwyn Gummer, now known as Lord Deben. He’s still in the business of helping the government respond to climate change and plan ahead. He’s the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, set up by the government to help it set its carbon budgets, which plan how much greenhouse gas the nation will emit and how much climate change we’ll cause. Back in 2008 the Climate Change Act put into law that the UK would cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 – in other words, in 2050 we’ll burn only a fifth as much fossil fuel as we did in 1990.

That’s a visionary, long term commitment that will change how we do things in a huge number of ways, mostly requiring planning well ahead (like how we generate our electricity or fuel our cars).  The way it gets put into action is a Carbon Budget to cover each five year period up to 2050. I can’t promise they’re very exciting to read, if I’m completely honest, but I can promise that getting them right and following through on them is very important.

In June the government are due to publish the Fifth Carbon Budget, which takes us from 2028 to 2032. It gives me a sudden rather surprising realisation that my children will be well into their 20s at this point, plus a nagging sense that I ought to be doing some personal planning further ahead than my normal couple of days. To help the government avoid experiencing similar feelings to me as they contemplate these years, Lord Deben and the  Committee on Climate Change have recommended they set a target of reaching 61% cuts in our carbon emissions by 2032. For Scotland, they recommend the same 61% target, but two years earlier at 2030.

Hit those and we’re in with a chance of keeping climate change within levels we can cope with, and keeping the promises we and 200 countries made at the Paris Agreement last year. Miss it, and you know what’ll follow – more floods, more droughts, more disasters like Taiphoon Haiyan in the Philippines (pictured below), more people in poor communities round the world going hungry, more endangered species, and higher bills. This is a time when wise planning matters.

Taiphoon Haiyan damage Leyte

So I’m very much hoping to hear the government announce that they’re following in Margaret Thatcher’s footsteps and taking Lord Deben’s advice.

Comparative advantages of local, national and international actors in emergencies

When you’re facing a crisis who do you turn to? Or what happens when your usual support networks like family, friends and neighbours are not around? Most of us can only imagine what we would do if our crisis became a war in the country we live in.

But that’s the reality for people who have been affected by the conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in December 2013. It began in the capital, Juba and then spread rapidly across the country’s different states. Local survival mechanisms have been depleted since then and populations have few remaining resources .

At the start of this year more than 2.2 million people have been displaced and the prospects are bleak while conflict continues despite the signing of a Peace Agreement in August 2015. The far-reaching effects of conflict mean that humanitarian organisations need to respond to the needs of both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities.

However, all humanitarian actors struggle to respond to these acute needs against a context of chronic poverty, on-going conflict and insecurity, limited infrastructure and a significant funding shortfall. Local, national and international actors all bring important contributions to this response.

The most effective humanitarian partnerships have emerged in South Sudan when the comparative advantages of local, national and international organisations complement each other, and where investment in long-term partnerships before a crisis emerges are set up so that the partnerships can be scaled-up effectively.


Missed Out

This was one of the key findings in the latest series of research papers commissioned by Tearfund along with ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam on the subject of humanitarian partnerships in disasters. This most recent study ‘Missed Out: The role of local actors in the humanitarian response in the South Sudan conflict’ , which is being launched in Juba today. It seeks to understand the strengths and challenges of working with national and local NGOs in South Sudan’s emergency following the escalation of conflict on 15 December 2013, and reviews how the broader humanitarian system facilitates or prevents their involvement.

At the height of the violence churches in Juba became ‘safe havens’ as people were forced to flee their homes and found refuge in places of worship where volunteers distributed essential food and medicine. Across South Sudan, churches hosted tens of thousands of displaced people in their compounds, receiving limited funding for food and other emergency provisions via international faith-based partners, members, and individual donations. The permanent presence and country-wide networks particularly of churches, brings significant benefits to the overall humanitarian response.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit South Sudan, and see for myself how the different actors work together in meeting the needs of the displaced population. What striked me most was the commitment from the INGOs and the examples cited of local and national organisations engaging communities, understanding culture, and building trust.

As the Missed Out research demonstrated when an INGO in Aweil East encountered difficulties in distribution of food vouchers, a group of church leaders from three denominations was able to talk to the community about the purpose of the distribution, and persuade those not included to let the distribution continue peacefully. The group was also well placed to understand and identify gaps in assistance: when vulnerable people were excluded it was the church representatives they sought out for help and information.

There were also notable examples of faith-based groups providing voluntary assistance and taking personal risks to provide protection for their communities. Church leaders described sheltering thousands of people in their compounds in the days after the crisis, sleeping in doorways, preventing the entry of armed soldiers, and negotiating for food from local business owners and NGOs. One recounted:

“I slept at the gate in my collar and full clerical dress, with only my bare hands… I said this is a place of life: I won’t have violence here. If I had been scared, I could not have prevented it, I could not have prevented the atrocities. But the people were vulnerable. They were children and the elderly who could not even run. For those days I had real courage and I was very bold and talked without fear. Nobody died in the compound.”

In protracted crises like South Sudan, addressing the root causes by building peace and resilience are just as vital as responding to the emergency needs. Again, this is a space where national actors have huge potential. Funding is primarily limited by a lack of capacity in the church institutions and a lack of understanding as to how they operate, on the part of many international humanitarian actors. Recognising the value of the existing and potential role of the churches through stronger relationships and networks could benefit humanitarian efforts, peace-building and recovery.


Addressing power imbalances

While international organisations bring essential professional expertise and mechanisms, complementarity is not favoured in a system which prioritises immediacy and short-term value for money. That’s why at Tearfund we’re advocating that concepts of partnership should consist of flexible ways of enhancing capabilities and capacities, and explore more innovative approaches to enhance comparative advantages. Maximising the role of national actors will require changes to the humanitarian system and include the nature of donor, the UN and INGO support to the capacity of national actors as professional humanitarians, going beyond a tick box approach to representation.

I wait, hopeful that these discussions will lead to firm commitments and action from the World Humanitarian Summit, which is taking place in May. Power imbalances need to be addressed and spaces created, particularly at a local level, where the full range of national organisations can take part in decision making. I long to see a transformed humanitarian system that invests in long-term partnerships that builds local capacity and resilience before, during and after an emergency.


Paris Agreement on Climate Change: What did we get and where do we go next?

Paris COP Image

Tearfund’s Advocacy Director Paul Cook reflects on the outcomes of the Paris Agreement reached today

On Saturday 12 December 2015 for the first time in history all the nations of the world signed up to play their part in the Paris Agreement . A global deal to tackle climate change.  But is it a good deal or a bad deal?  In particular is it a good deal for the millions of people living in poor communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America who are the most vulnerable to climate change and have done the least to cause it?

What did we get?

Nations signed up to hold “the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees”.  This doesn’t sound like much, but it is the critical level that the science indicates we need to stay below to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.  Indeed there has been growing recognition that the science points towards limiting warming not to 2 but to 1.5 degrees.  The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of over 40 of the poorest countries who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, led the momentum in the Paris talks to see the limit strengthened from 2 to 1.5 degrees, a major victory.

In order to stay below 1.5 degrees, the Paris Agreement says we need to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.  Basically humans must stop emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than the planet can absorb naturally through rainforests, oceans, soils etc.  This is not the clear commitment to shift to 100% clean energy by (not after) 2050 as Tearfund would have liked.  Nevertheless, it means that for the first time ever the governments of the world have accepted that the safe level of emissions is effectively zero, and that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end to be replaced with 100% clean energy.

The Paris Agreement locks in and confirms the planned cuts to their emissions over the next few years that each country put on the table before they even arrived: their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). Together these will reduce global average temperature rise from a catastrophic 4 degrees to 2.7 degrees.  This obviously isn’t enough given the level we need to stay below is 1.5 degrees, but it is finally a good start.

In order to close this remaining gap the Paris Agreement institutes a system whereby every five years the emissions cuts nations have planned can be reviewed and ratcheted up until we finally do get down to a level which will keep the world below 1.5 degrees.  The first window of opportunity for this is in 2018.  None of this will be easy, and each time will no doubt be a tough fight with millions of Christians and others around the world mobilising to put pressure on their governments to be more ambitious in their planned cuts.  However, there is also strong grounds to hope that the clear signal the Paris Agreement has given and the implementation of the INDCs once begun will finally be a tipping point driving huge investment out of fossil fuels and into clean energy, accelerating the progress and enabling nations to move much faster than they currently think.

Developed countries reaffirmed their commitment to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance from 2020 to help poor countries transition their economies to clean energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change.  This has now been extended up to 2025, from which point the international community will set a new goal for finance with $100 billion as a minimum ‘floor’.  However, developed nations are currently still a very long way from doing this in reality and pressure will have to be kept up to ensure they truly deliver up to 2025 and continue to do their share beyond.

Where do we go next?

So the Paris Agreement is not perfect.  It doesn’t give us everything we need to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees and provide all the financial support the poorest communities around the world need.  However, it does give us a strong start we can build on and scale up in the years ahead until we do get there.

The challenge now for all the people of the world is to bring the Paris Agreement home and transform commitments on paper into actions in reality in every nation, and to scale up that ambition in the years ahead.

The Paris Agreement was only possible in large part because so many groups were mobilised to create political pressure for a good result.  Businesses, world leaders, scientists, mayors and local authorities, ordinary people and not least faith groups all took action and spoke out.  


Ordinary Christians and churches around the world have been central to this.  They have prayed and spoken up for action on climate change.  They formed a large contingent in over 2000 marches that took place around the world involving millions of people at the start of the Paris talks.  This included over 50,000 people in London in the UK’s largest ever climate march.  Tearfund will be honoured to continue to work with ordinary Christians, churches and in coalition with organisations and individuals of all faiths and none to continue to bring pressure on governments to implement, rapidly build on and improve the Paris Agreement in the years ahead.

Getting a Paris climate deal that works for the poorest

Ramesh at COP 21
Ramesh Babu works in partnership with Tearfund in India and is currently at the UN climate change talks in Paris. He has one question on his mind: How do we get an agreement that works for the very poorest people in the world?

There are over 30,000 people charging around the organised chaos that is the negotiating rooms of Le Bourget in Paris all trying to close a global climate deal in the next few hours. I have come with one question in mind: how do we get an agreement here in Paris that works for the very poorest people in the world? Earlier this week I heard from Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who has the unenviable task of pulling all of this together into a deal by the weekend. She said we need an agreement which “meets national and local needs, keeps scientific integrity, and promotes prosperity for all”.  It is her words “for all” that resonate most strongly with me.

My country India is both a contributor and a victim of climate change. We are the world’s fourth largest carbon emitter. But we are also the world’s second most populous country and over 30 per cent of our population do not yet have access to electricity, essential for development. My work with Tearfund partner, EFICOR means day in day out I am working alongside the very poorest people in my country who are hit first and hardest by climate change.

We have 7,500 kilometres of coast line (including island territories) with 73 coastal districts and are therefore highly susceptible to rising sea levels. Some 16 per cent of our country, ten states, are in the Himalayas where climate change is causing landslides and glacial melt. In the last three years we have seen terrible floods in Uttarakhand, Cyclone Phailin devastate Orissa, flooding in Uttar Pradesh as a result of glacial melt, flooding in Kashmir and now the worst flooding in Chennai for 114 years where 280 people have died and nearly 70 per cent of the city is affected. At the same time there are 302 out of 676 districts declared officially in drought and we had unprecedented heat waves this year. Climate change is affecting us seriously, there is food insecurity, water stress, sinking livelihood opportunities, forcing people to leave their places and migrate. I have witnessed distress migration, human trafficking and farmer suicides from our communities where we are working. It is always the poorest who bear the brunt of such climate catastrophe.

So what I want to see is a ray of hope for the poor communities of India that I work with coming from the talks in Paris. We need an ambitious, legally binding, durable and just deal. That means an agreement to limit global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels or less than that, which will save us from the worst impacts of climate change. I am hopeful that we can get a good deal here because of the emissions cuts each nation has offered to make before coming to Paris. Together these would reduce warming from four degrees to 2.7 degrees. That would not be all we need, but would be a great start we can build on in the next few years to finally get us to 1.5.

Can this conference be of real use for the future? To get to a good result nations need to stop blaming each other and all work together. If we don’t act now future generations will hold us all responsible. The destiny of the communities I work with will be decided in the next few hours. The conference has entered a critical phase, the climax of the talks. Please join me in praying for all who are making these huge decisions.

We are all here together


Sarah Wiggins offers some reflections from Paris through the eyes of people she has spent the past week with.

‘If there is a silver lining, beautiful in this situation, it is that we are all being required to acknowledge that we are all here, we exist together.’ John Mark McMillan, Paris, December 2015

The climate talks at COP21 in Paris is a vibrant place to be. World leaders are here – people like President Hollande can be glimpsed being corralled towards their next appointments by throngs of suits, camera people and mobile-phone-shutter-happy-observers.

There are drones, helicopters and police on horseback. Transport is running well – no mean feat because 35,000+ people are being ferried about each day. It’s a slick business (apart from the long queues for baguettes and crêpes at lunch time!).

John Mark McMillan (quoted above) and three other well-known US worship leaders – Sarah McMillan, William Matthews (Bethel) and Stephen Roach (Songs of Water) (see his blog about what happened here) all came to Paris to expand their personal understanding of the issues, fully conscious of the responsibility that comes both with understanding, and with having influence through their music.

As we wandered around together, we met a plethora of people who cared passionately and are also playing their part – from child campaigners, to Amazonian Indians, to scientists, to vegetarians, to Bishops, to Presidents.

The diversity and energy of people at COP21 relays a conviction of hope and encouragement: a vast array of differences, and yet unity amongst so many people who are sincerely working to take care of our precious world and our global family.

‘Once you are made aware of something there is an individual response. …We need to say “God, now is the time to act”. Otherwise it will have repercussions.’ Stephen Roach, Paris, December 2015


One group of people who are ardently calling on the world to act in this, the second week of the climate talks, is the leaders of the climate vulnerable countries. They are persevering in presenting a vision for a strong agreement that will make a way for us to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees. Over 100 of the 196 countries taking part in these talks have voiced support for this. Although we know that countries’ current commitments in Paris will only get us from 4 degrees to 2.7 degrees global warming, we can still get an agreement that makes a way for us to ratchet up cuts in the coming years, so that 1.5 degrees really can be achieved. Some countries continue to oppose this goal. However, the moral imperative to care for the gift of Creation and to love our neighbour is gaining momentum.

‘As [Ireland’s former President] Mary Robinson said to us “In the Titanic, the workers went down, and the first class went down. It will affect us all some day.”’ Sarah McMillan, Paris, December 2015

With the sense of common good that permeates many civil society actions and events at COP21 it’s possible to believe we will have an outcome that can pave the way for a 1.5 degree future. From presidents, to worship leaders, to people in the pews, we all need to act out of justice and of love, to take courage and to continue to pray.

‘We have met a ton of people who have a hopeful nature. People who are fully engaged in this still say it is hopeful.’ William Matthews, Paris, December 2015

Faith for the Climate: Hope into Action in Paris and beyond

As the COP21 Conference enters it’s second week, Bishop Efraim M. Tendero The Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance reflects on his time at the conference and the role the global church can play in this issue going forward.

We came from 195 countries to Paris, some 40,000 individuals from government, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, Non Government Organizations and civil society for the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.

I salute all the participants for working hard to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

This international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, that adopted the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This convention set out a framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

As part of the Philippine delegation and assisted by our long time relief and partner Tearfund I came to Paris with two purposes: to seek climate justice and to advocate for the engagement of the religious sector in the Conference of Parties.

One of the causes of the major weather disturbances in the world that brings super typhoons like Haiyan (aka, Yolanda) in the Philippines, and the drying of lands in Australia, and flooding in Pakistan is the warming of the earth’s surface due to the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As one of the vulnerable countries to climate disturbance, the Philippines contributes only 0.28% of the carbon emissions of the world, while the top ten big countries in the world emits 67% of the world’s total, with the United States of America and China alone contributing 42% of it. Climate justice calls for the big economies to drastically reduce their carbon footprint to lessen the rate of increase of the warming of the earth’s oceans and further to contribute to the global fund that will help the vulnerable countries finance their adaptation and mitigation programmes to the negative effects of global warming. Justice demands that the ones largely responsible for the cause of climate chaos must help those that are adversely affected by such turbulences.

There were also occasions where I was able to pitch on the agenda of advocating for the involvement of the religious sector in this global response. It is glaring that the overwhelming majority of the 40,000 participants come from the academic, business, political, media, and scientific sectors while the religious participants can can counted with my fingers. It is a pity that the multi faith sector are not recognized nor given the opportunity to engage in negotiations for agreements that will be binding to all nations. While we recognize the scientific and political bases of our actions, we must not forget the moral and spiritual dimension of climate change.

The importance of engaging the faith sector in addressing this global survival is seen in three areas. First, we bring the moral dimension on the issue. The decision to reduce carbon footprint is rooted on the ethical foundation that human life needs to protected and nurtured. Shifting to renewable sources of energy over against the harmful fossil based energy is not only a scientific endeavor, but an ethical action that seeks the survival and well being of humanity.

Second the religious can enforce action on a universal scale. The universal distribution and grass roots contact of faith leaders makes the mobilization for whatever strategies and actions needs to be taken in the mitigation and adaptation programs in lessening the negative effects of climate change. People will listen more to their religious leaders than their political, science, and civic leaders.

Finally, the faith sector can bring the element of hope. There is distrust and suspicion that crept within the hearts of people brought by the pain for the loss of lives and properties due to weather disturbances. There is cynicism in others who cannot see progress in all the 20 years of unfulfilled commitments in the past negotiations. But the faith leaders can illicit hope that beyond human limitations is the Divine that desires the fullness of life for all of humanity. That humanity can enjoy the abundance of this planet that God has created and sustains by His power despite our wanton abuse and misuse of the earth’s resources. And ultimately our hopes hinges on the affirmation that in Jesus all things were created by Him, through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

Bishop Ef

Bishop Efraim M. Tendero is the Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance He is also quoted in this recent  Guardian article that features the work of Tearfund and the role of the church and faith communities in bringing hope and solutions to the challenge of climate change

Expectations Raised: Now it’s time to deliver

Tearfund’s Advocacy Director Paul Cook, continues our series of blogs on the COP21 Paris Climate Summit. 

Expectations were raised and there was an air of hope in the first days of the UN climate change talks in Paris.  Have we finally reached a tipping point for real progress on climate change?  Millions of ordinary people took part in more than 2000 people’s climate marches all around the world over the weekend of 28-29 November . In London more than 50,000 people took to the streets in the biggest climate march the UK has ever seen.  


The baton was then passed to the politicians as more than 140 world leaders including David Cameron, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping lined up on Monday at the launch of UN climate change talks in Paris to call for an ambitious deal to ensure global average temperatures do not rise by more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial norms, in what is believed to be the largest gathering of world leaders ever assembled.  Rich nations also pledged $248 million to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to the impact of climate change.  The bar was set high for their negotiating teams to deliver a good deal over the coming two weeks.

Monday also saw a range of other welcome announcements and initiatives all of which raise expectations still further.  The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of nations of the world’s most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, called for a complete end to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels for the first time. They made the case that the world should switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050.  This was a moving and powerful moral call by some of the world’s poorest nations who have done the least to cause climate change and are being hit hardest by it.  

Bill Gates and a number of investors and rich nations launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition fund, an initiative to pump significant amounts of private and public money into fast forwarding research and development into progressing and scaling up renewable energy technology.  India’s Prime Minister Modi, launched the Solar Alliance of over 100 nations driving the provision of solar power energy for poor communities around the world.

The talks in Paris started well with all of this momentum, but will the governments of the world deliver or fumble this good start as they negotiate over the next two weeks?  We know we won’t get everything we need.  There will still be a lot of work to do after Paris.  However, some 183 countries, including all the major developed nations, representing more than 90% of the world’s population have now submitted their own national plans setting out what they will do to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, which together would limit warming to 2.7 degrees.  Ultimately this needs to come down to 1.5 degrees, but if the nations of the world can lock those commitments into a legally binding deal and agree a mechanism whereby they can regularly review and ratchet up those commitments, even before they come into force in 2020 they will have made a big step to finally get the world on that journey.  If nations can also agree with the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s proposed long-term goal of zero emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2050, and stump up more money (getting to $100 bill a year from 2020) to help the poorest nations adapt and make this transition, then the world (and most of all the poorest, most vulnerable communities with whom Tearfund works) can finally have an outcome from climate talks it can truly celebrate.

A good start then from the negotiating rooms in Paris.  But we still have a long two weeks ahead of us.  Do keep praying and campaigning for a good outcome from the talks.  

You can follow Paul Cook as he engages in the process over the next two weeks.

A Really Big Deal

25 years ago as a teenager, I wore ‘Save the PlanScan 4 (2)et’ t-shirts that I’d bought in H&Ms – influenced by my much-more-environmentally-aware sister. But I did also stop using aerosols to spray my fringe! I can’t remember the ‘moment’ when the Montreal Protocol was signed – though I’m still glad I was part of citizens calling for a global agreement on how to stop the growing hole in the ozone layer. 

20 years ago in my first job – at a social change charity – I dismissed my colleagues who criticised the number of flights I took. ‘You can’t seriously think people will change their behaviour like that’, I said.

10 years ago, with a husband and two children in tow by then, I was living in Sri Lanka – we were working as part of the response to the Tsunami. Watching a film that explained the problem of climate change was the thing that propelled me from having a passing interest in the environment to seeing it as central to my faith and my vocation. Mike and I asked each other how would we answer our kids if they said ‘why didn’t you do anything about this?’. We returned to the UK for both of us to work on environmental issues.

5 years ago I started working in Tearfund’s advocacy team, and I shared my colleagues’ heartbreak as they’d devoted deep reservoirs of energy, personal sacrifice and professional expertise, towards calling for a global agreement on climate change at the Copenhagen Climate Talks. We came far short of where we needed to get to that time.

This year. Now. Today. Even before I get on the Eurostar to go to Paris on Friday I feel overwhelmed by the significance and the potential for hope offered by the UN climate talks which are taking place there in the first two weeks of December. I’ll be working with some of Tearfund’s partners and other international Christian organisations – to both influence governments there, and raise attention to the issues in our congregations back at home.

But this is part of a much deeper journey. I have learned and I have changed. Along with millions of others’, my lifestyle is different. We eat more veggie meals. We cycle to work and we drive to Slovakia when we visit my sister’s family (who ended up building the first Passive House (zero carbon) in that country!). We have to fly for work trips, but we haven’t flown for a holiday in 7 years.


This December, an art display in Jardin des Plantes, Paris

All the countries of the world are coming together in Paris – and leaders of the world will be there to start it off. It could be a ‘moment’ when we as a human race choose to make a strong agreement between countries that clearly provides a way for us to transform our over-reliance on carbon towards renewables. Crucially, we could decide to do this in a way that is just and fair for people living in poverty. It’s a really big deal.

And I realise, now, that the strength of our collective lifestyle changes and our connected voice, is incredibly precious. While I am in Paris, my family will be marching in London on Sunday as part of our journey. If you’re not planning on doing so already, you are warmly invited to join them in this march, or on any of the other ones around the UK, and also to join us in prayer.


From tragedy to hope

Crucial climate talks in Paris next week could see the city become a centre of hope for the world. In the first of a series of blogs that we will be featuring on this site, Paul Cook, Tearfund’s Advocacy Director highlights his hopes for the COP21 meeting and raises reasons for this hope and for why he will be present at COP21 and keen to raise not only his voice, but also the voices of our global neighbours.

Like most people I was shocked to wake up last Saturday to news of the horrific attacks in Paris. I have been praying for all those who have been affected and lost loved ones ever since. Paris became a city of tragedy in November, but in December it has the potential to become a centre of hope for the whole world. The French are pressing ahead with critical UN climate change talks involving all the world’s major leaders, and this year they have the potential to deliver a real breakthrough. In a few days I will be going with a small group of colleagues from Tearfund along with a group who are on a Pilgrimage to Paris to add our voices to help get a really good deal.

So how likely is that? Well in the run up to the conference over 160 countries, including all the major developed nations, representing more than 90 per cent of the world’s population have submitted their own national plans setting out what they will do to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. The UN have added these up and if they are all implemented they would together reduce the total global average temperature rise by the end of the century from the currently projected three to four degrees to around 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial norms. This doesn’t sound like much, but the science tells us that in order to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change the world needs to keep global average temperature rise to below two degrees, and ideally below 1.5 degrees. These agreements then aren’t anywhere near enough, but they would be a big step in the right direction.

We need to see these national commitments incorporated into a legally binding global deal in Paris. This deal also needs to contain within it the capacity to urgently review and ratchet up these commitments, even before they come into force in 2020, so they can be strengthened until they really are sufficient to keep us below two and even 1.5 degrees. Critically the agreement also needs a long-term goal of effectively getting all of our energy from renewable sources by 2050, so it is clear what all these short-term targets are ultimately heading towards. Finally we need progress from the world’s rich nations in providing at least $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations make this shift, and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate that they are already experiencing.

Image by Marcus Perkins for Tearfund

Image by Marcus Perkins for Tearfund

This is why these talks are so important to me and to Tearfund. In recent years I have sat with communities in Bangladesh whose homes were going underwater as a result of rising sea levels; villagers in the Philippines whose homes had been torn apart by tropical storms far more intense than anything they had previously experienced; farmers in parts of Zimbabwe whose crops now only get three months of rain a year when they used to get five; as well as many others.  For the world’s poorest people who have done the least to cause it, climate change is not an abstract thing that might be happening in the future. It is very real, it is happening now and it can be the difference between life and death. For them getting a good deal in Paris is critical!


Momena (yellow and orange dress) has moved six times due to rising tides and because of cyclone Aila, she is one of many landless families living in the village of Kamarkhola. A climate refugee, Momena fears for her 19 year old daughter Shahana, rising tides and frequent cyclones means more than just moving and loss of livelihoods. Now, because so many communities are living in such close proximity to each other, sexual harassment is becoming more common. Image by Peter Caton for Tearfund.

We can all play our part in helping make that happen. You can pray with your friends and churches using these resources. You can also join tens of thousands of people around the world in taking to the streets. We will be at demonstrations in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London on 28 and 29 November and would love for you to join us there. If the nations of the world can step up in the next few weeks and agree a deal which makes a good start in tackling global climate change, then the news from Paris will begin to truly turn from tragedy to hope for the world’s poorest and for all of us.

Main image by Asian Development Bank via Flickr/Creative Commons.


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