Plastic pollution crisis: has anything really changed since Blue Planet II?

It’s been well over a year since Blue Planet II was screened in the UK and since then our screens, twitter feeds and newspapers have been awash with images and stories of plastic pollution. But for all the announcements and media coverage, has the situation actually improved?  Today, WWF have released new projections that plastic pollution will double by 2030; this means an extra 300 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans – a horrifying statistic.

[Read more…]

Sustainable energy for all goal is woefully off track. Here’s how we fix it


Barefoot solar engineers

Just 1% of funding for energy access goes to decentralised energy, but it’s the only hope for delivering the UN goal to bring energy to all by 2030.

Over the next ten days, 47 countries are gathered at the UN in New York to review several of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – and the lack of progress on energy access for the world’s poorest makes for grim reading.

Governments, donors and multilateral development banks must step up the pace and increase investments in renewable energy for people in poverty, living off the grid.

The world is woefully off track on SDG7 – ensuring that everyone has affordable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030 – despite the fact that this would transform the lives of one billion people currently without electricity and three billion people without clean cooking. On the current path, almost 700 million people still won’t have electricity by 2030. The gap between the goal and the delivery is huge. [Read more…]

Re-moaning, Trumpgate and late night TV

Where were you on 31st August 1997? I was watching TV in the early hours of the morning when I heard the news of Princess Diana dying; I will never forget where I was then, or where I was when I heard about the Twin Towers attack in 2001.

On 23rd June 2016 I also found myself awake in the early hours with my 6 month old daughter. Tired of trying to get her to sleep, I somewhat defeatedly turned on the 24 hour news, only to get excited when I remembered it was the night of the EU referendum. As she fell asleep in her swing chair I was pinned to my seat, keen to wake my husband and tell him which way the result was clearly going, but knowing I wouldn’t be thanked if I did. I realised this was another ‘history in the making moment’, so instead I WhatsApp’d my NCT mum friends to see who else was up! [Read more…]

Planning Ahead

Ecology article connection June 2016 MargaretThere’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. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

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.

The Restorative Economy

Jubilee image

By Alex Evans. Originally posted on Global Dashboard.

Over the past six months, I’ve been working with my friend and colleague Rich Gower on a report for Tearfund, the Christian development NGO, entitled The Restorative Economy: Completing our Unfinished Millennium Jubilee – and today, the report is finally published. Here’s the summary, and here’s the full report.

The process of writing this report has been especially close to my heart, and has left me at the end feeling that I want to devote much more of my energy to the massive task of movement building and values shifting that lies ahead of us. I’ve been working in and around the multilateral system for nearly a decade, and like many of my friends and colleagues in that world, have frequently felt acute frustration at the postage stamp-sized amount of political space that currently exists for solutions on the scale we need, both internationally and at home in the UK.

This report is an attempt to start thinking about what a new approach to that challenge might look like – across four chapters. The first one sets out a snapshot of where we are: in many ways a golden age for development, but one in which three huge challenges – environmental unsustainability, growing inequality, and the millions and millions of people still left behind as globalisation accelerates apace – remain ours to solve.

In chapter two, Rich and I set out the need for a different theory of influence. Many of us who work in the fight for development, justice, and sustainability have I think been feeling the limits of theories of change that rely primarily on ‘insider lobbying’. We take that here as our starting point for asking what an alternative approach might look like: one that places much more emphasis on how we build new grassroots coalitions, transform values, and tell each other much deeper stories about where we are, how we got here, where we might choose to go next, and who we really are.

Chapter three then explores the potential to discover such deeper stories in theology. All of us witnessed how the biblical idea of jubilee was able to animate a transformative civil society movement fifteen years ago, and proved powerfully resonant far beyond the church groups that formed Jubilee 2000’s core. As someone who worked in the UK government at the point when the 2005 Gleneagles summit concluded its debt relief deal, I still have to pinch myself when I remember that the average low income country’s debt fell from nearly 75% of its GDP in 2000 to just over 25% today – something that happened partly because of politicians, but much more fundamentally because of a coalition of millions of ordinary people, united by a shared story.

In this light, we argue, it’s important to remember that the once-a-generation jubilee festival described in the Old Testament was never about debt relief alone. When you go back to the original texts, as we did at some length in the course of researching this report, you find that they were also about environmental restoration. Ensuring that there was real attentiveness to enabling people living in poverty to meet their basic needs. And ensuring that concentrations of wealth did not build up from one generation to another. All three of these themes are of course fundamental to where we find ourselves today, in 2015. (And as friends working on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will already have spotted, they’re central to that agenda too.)

So in a very real sense, the work we began in 2000 – our millennium jubilee – remains a work in progress. If we can complete it, then our kids will enjoy the kind of future that I know I want for my children – Isabel, 5, and Kit, 2. And in chapter 4, Rich and I set out what we think that would look like in practice.

We argue that it starts with the changes that all of us need to make in our own lives. This is partly because of the direct impact that such changes can have, of course, but we think the main issue here is something to do with the quality of intention that movements exemplify. Wherever movements not only demand but live out the change they want to see in the world, there’s a raw power there that can exert the kind of non-linear effect on politics that progressives so urgently want to see.

But ultimately the decision about the future we want has to be made by all of us collectively, as well as each of us individually. So chapter 4 ends with a ten big ideas for far-reaching policy changes of the kind that we think have this transformative power. The ideas cover a very broad waterfront – from reforming the financial system to global climate policy, and from how we use aid internationally to how our tax system works at home.

We don’t by any means think the proposals we set out are the last word on the subject. But if they can play even just a small part in catalysing a serious conversation, among all of us, about the choices we have in what we bequeath to our kids, then I think I speak for all of Tearfund’s fabulous advocacy team, Rich, and I when I say that we’ll be more than happy with the result.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam – never have the relevant felt so irrelevant

By Timothy Ingram

As the devastating news about the impact of Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu unfolds, I am sat in the negotiation room of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai Japan. This United Nations (UN) conference was established to develop a new framework to address the global issue of disaster risk reduction and build on the success of the original Hyogo Framework for Action launched in 2005. This new Framework will represent a voluntary agreement by UN Member States (of which the United Kingdom is one) on global policies to combat the increasing risk of disasters across the world. Cyclone Pam has brought all this into stark focus.


What has been so encouraging since our arrival in Sendai last Thursday has been the diverse civil society attendance, with over 2000 delegates travelling to Sendai to share knowledge, experiences and a vision for the future of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in their countries. It has been a honour to be part of this and to meet so many passionate individuals working hard all around the world to improve communities resilience to disasters. The turnout from the UN has also been strong with 186 delegations registered to participate in negotiations on the new framework.

The inconvenient truth

If the civil society engagement has been the highlight of the conference, along with the wonderful hospitality of the City of Sendai, the lowlight has been the treatment in negotiations of those that matter most. It’s been shocking to witness the relevancy of ‘stakeholders’ involvement in decision making processes for national plans on DRR being called into question during the negotiations taking place in the Tachibana Hall.

The stakeholders that the conference is referring to are those affected by disasters – that means every individual, business and organisation that inhabits the natural environment of a country regardless of location, gender, ethnicity or religion. All these have an interest in the prevention of disaster and resilience of their country, community and homes.

Putting communities first

The very fact that the right of these individuals to input into the formation of disaster preparedness plans and policies to protect them from disasters such as Cyclone Pam or the Great East Japan Earthquake, is being questioned demonstrates the failing of the UN Member States to realise what this agreement should be about. This Framework should be about those stakeholders now having to rebuild their homes, lives and communities in the aftermath of disasters. This Framework should be about those stakeholders who know they are vulnerable and are hoping that they will not be next. This Framework should be about those stakeholders, both individuals and local organisations, who have the capacity and knowledge to strengthen national plans, improve community resilience and mobilise a vast number of volunteers to support the work of national and local governments. This Framework should demonstrate how a global society can come together, put politics aside and do what is needed to ensure that adequate support on disaster resilience is in place to: in short to lessen the need for humanitarian aid. This Framework should be about you.

A joined up Civil Society for lasting change

If these pressing issues are not tackled before the closure of the conference on Wednesday 18th March  then  the final agreed text may end up being just words on paper. A coalition of over 1000 global NGOs, including Tearfund, have come together to express their discontent with this process to date and concerns for the strength of the agreement to come. It is important that this is listened to and acted on before the close of the negotiations. See the press statement here: NGOs lament limited political commitment to funding disaster risk reduction plans.

However, while we will continue to push for an improved agreement at this conference, civil society, representing ordinary people around the world, has already begun to focus on how they can join together to affect real change on the front-line. It is this action that will be the true legacy of Sendai regardless of how negotiations conclude.

The Crucial Role of Faith Leaders in the Ebola Response: Unrealised Potential?

The following joint statement was released last week by Tearfund, CAFOD and Christian Aid. 

Faith leaders, as trusted and respected members of their community, have played a hugely significant, and often unsung, role in the Ebola crisis. In the midst of confusion, fear and panic, communities have often turned to them for guidance. They have assisted in preventing an Ebola outbreak spreading even further by disseminating key messages and mobilising their communities to do the same. Many pastors, priests and imams have worked tirelessly to change unsafe burial practices and other previously deep rooted cultural practices and attitudes which contributed so much to the spread of the virus.

A high proportion of the population of Sierra Leone and Liberia are believers and regular attenders at a place of worship. As experienced communicators, the regularity of religious gatherings such as weekly services at churches and mosques has provided faith leaders with a unique opportunity to speak to their congregations. The supportive teaching on love and inclusivity, found in religious texts, means they have been ideally placed to speak out against the destructive stigma associated with Ebola. Faith leaders have invited recovered Ebola patients to give testimony at religious services in order to address stigma and discrimination that recovered people have faced.

Many faith leaders have organised food assistance to families in 21 day quarantine and have set up programmes to care for orphans and help families rebuild their lives. They have often been a first point of call for those experiencing financial hardship. They have brought love and solace to people who are frightened, angry and bereaved, and to those who are sick and dying.

Beyond the community level, the President of Sierra Leone acknowledged the role of faith leaders and encouraged different religious denominations to work together in the fight against Ebola. The Inter-religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) founded the Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola in order to address the Ebola crisis from a united interreligious perspective. At the international level, faith-based organisations such as Caritas Internationalis have been advising UN WHO experts on the revision of the Safe Burial Policy.

Ebola has caused huge disruption to people’s well-being at an individual and a collective level. For many people their sense of security and well-being, built up slowly in the years since the terrible conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone ended, have been shaken to the core. As the Ebola response moves into the recovery phase it is essential that faith leaders are proactively supported with the right training and related materials, ongoing mentoring and other resources to help them fully utilise their role in the Ebola response. Given their influence in communities and the potential harm of wrong messages, well trained faith leaders, who receive ongoing mentoring and support, can be a crucial part of the countries’ recovery and healing.

Independent, in-depth research should be prioritised by research institutions and donors to analyse the unique role of faith leaders in behaviour change including preventing the spread of Ebola, and also of mitigating the devastating impacts of stigmatisation during the recovery phase.

One particular challenge is that although faith leaders are well trained to provide spiritual care, most have not been trained in counselling and therefore there is a strong need for skilled personnel in this area. This skill shortage should also be considered in Ebola Recovery Plans going forward.

As Ebola Recovery Plans are developed it is of the utmost importance that faith leaders are fully involved and represented in high-level decision making processes which occur at an international, regional and country level. Faith leaders should be involved in the drafting process and the plans should recognise faith leaders as a key target group to work with. This includes the United Nations, European Union and World Bank ‘Ebola Recovery Plan’ which has ‘Peacebuilding, Social Cohesion, Institutions and Core Government Functions’ as one of its ‘four pillars’ and the Health Recovery Plan from the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone has ‘Community Engagement’ as a key input. This should also apply to country specific Ebola prevention plans such as those facilitated by the WHO.

The role of faith leaders has often been overlooked and in many cases their potential contribution to the Ebola crisis is still not being fully realised. There was a significant missed opportunity in not involving faith leaders further at the very start of the outbreak. Evaluations of the response to the current outbreak will need to consider whether the role of faith leaders has been fully utilised. They will need to consider what steps should have been taken to include them more in planning and to mobilise them from the very outset of the outbreak.

These lessons will need to be applied to help prevent future outbreaks occurring in the affected countries and should also be applied to countries that are currently unaffected. Future programmes centred on Ebola prevention must ensure faith leaders are involved as a pivotal part of the focus.

CAFOD, Christian Aid and Tearfund recommend the following:

  1. There will be numerous reviews and evaluations of the Ebola outbreak and response. Policymakers should use these as opportunities to consider whether the role of faith leaders was fully utilised from the start of the outbreak and what lessons must be learned.
  1. In order to build a robust evidence base, independent in-depth research should be commissioned to investigate the role of faith leaders in catalysing behaviour change within the Ebola outbreak and response.
  1. Ebola prevention plans and programmes, such as those facilitated by the WHO, must ensure faith leaders are involved as a pivotal part of the focus.
  1. Ebola recovery plans currently being produced, such as the UN, EU and World Bank Ebola Recovery Plan, as well as national level plans must include clear strategies for working with faith leaders. Faith leaders must be fully involved and represented in these high-level decision making processes.
  1. Faith leaders and faith based organisations must be allocated dedicated funding for training and related material, and on-going mentoring, particularly in counselling.

The change we need in 10 words: A larger us. A longer future. A different good life.

By Alex Evans. Originally posted on Eden 2.0

Yesterday saw the launch of action/2015, the new global campaign on poverty, inequality, and climate change that will rally more than a thousand campaigning organisations around four crucial summit moments on these issues that will take place over the year ahead.

It’s the right campaign at the right time, because now more than ever, power is so distributed that only mass mobilisation and values change will be able to bring about the transformation needed – something I realised vividly during the profoundly disillusioning experience that was acting as the author of the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability in 2011 (more on that sorry tale in the first couple of pages of this talk of mine from 2013).

But just what kind of values change is it that we need? I’ve written before here about the importance of stories for mobilising change – so what is it that those stories need to be about?

In our forthcoming report for Tearfund – working title The Unfinished Jubilee: Towards a Restorative Economy – Richard Gower and I argue that three themes are especially important. You can sum them up in just ten words: A larger us. A longer future. A different good life.

1. A larger us

First up, we need to think less of “people like us” and more of “people – like us”. The whole sweep of human history is a story of expanding the size of the ‘we’ with which we empathise – from itinerant bands of hunter-gatherers to chiefdoms, from city states to kingdoms, and on to modern nation states and the staggeringly diverse communities of affinity and ethnicity in today’s globalised world. This expansion of empathy was perfectly captured by Martin Luther King in his 1963 ‘letter from Birmingham City jail’:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Above all, we need to get back to thinking in terms of the common good – and to do so at planetary scale, because in a world of global interdependence and planetary boundaries, only a 7 billion ‘us’ will do.

2. A longer future

Second, we need to face up to the fact that we’ve fallen out of the habit of thinking about the long term. Instead, our political leaders rarely have the luxury of thinking beyond the next election; our business leaders, the next financial quarter; our journalists, the next 24 hour news cycle. Scientist and author Danny Hillis observed in 1994 that:

When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. Now, thirty years later, they still talk about what will happen by 2000. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life.

In particular, there has been a catastrophic implosion of the implicit covenant between past, current, and future generations. Today’s young generation in developed countries face a far more uncertain future than their parents, with unaffordable housing, costly higher education and student debt, and the end of ‘jobs for life’. And globally, the next generation faces a future of steadily increasing climate change and resource scarcity – unless decisive action is taken now to prevent that from happening.

3. A different good life

Third, recent years have seen a wealth of research challenging the idea that material consumption levels have much to do with happiness, at least beyond a certain point. Surveys that measure people’s subjective wellbeing routinely find that the correlation between life satisfaction and income starts to break beyond a certain level of GDP per capita.  Robert Kennedy recognised this nearly 50 years ago, when he observed that,

Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

So our stories need to focus on a broader idea of human flourishing, encompassing not only material security but also goals further up the ‘hierarchy of needs’ – such as friendship, family, a sense of connection, confidence, achievement, and the respect of others.

For more on the Tearfund project mentioned above, this presentation and this blog post, both from a couple of months ago, give an overview of some of the ideas we’re looking at.