There is a plethora of responses to the climate crisis. What is your church doing, what policies are best, and how can you support these efforts?
Protest in Quebec City
In April, 75 church leaders and lay people took part in the Église Verte/Green Church conference, after 25,000 protested carbon pollution in Quebec’s streets. The conference declaration, signed by Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), stated, “We question our energy overconsumption and our dependence on oil, which drives industry to meet this demand. . . . We are concerned about the growth of transportation of fossil fuels over vast territories . . . In our view, any economic project must support life before profit. We pray for the courage to ensure a sustainable environment for future generations. . . . Confronted with this ecological crisis, we will strive to create a climate of hope.”
Corporate social responsibility
In April, 53 faith-based institutional investors, with substantially more than $2 billion in assets under management, wrote to Finance Minister Joe Oliver to request that the federal government set a price on carbon emissions in his April 21 budget. Joined by CPJ and several national Protestant churches, the letter was notable for the inclusion of 37 Catholic religious congregations, including the Oblates, Redemptorists, Jesuits, and the Notre-Dame, St. Joe’s and Grey sisters. In requesting a price on carbon, the signatories wrote: “. . . one of the primary measures needed to address the long-term sustainability of the companies and economy in which our funds invest is the same as one that our country needs to address the challenge of climate change: a clear price on carbon emissions.” It was also notable that not a single Catholic diocese signed — although some, like Saskatoon, are engaged in responsible investment discussions.
Very soon, a majority of the Canadian population will live in jurisdictions that put a price on our use of fossil fuel pollution. Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner for the Environment, decries that Ottawa has not developed GHG reduction plans with the provinces and territories, in spite of the fact that provincial actions account for 63 per cent of all projected emission reductions in Canada by 2020. Given this policy vacuum, some provinces have taken the lead.
Alberta prices carbon by requiring large industrial emitters to pay a $15 per tonne levy on whatever portion of their operations that exceed “intensity targets.” (Intensity refers to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted per unit of output.) Ontario has announced that it will join Quebec in applying a more effective cap-and-trade policy to price emissions. Under this policy, governments set caps on permissible amounts of GHG emissions. Companies that emit less than their allotted cap can sell credits on the carbon market to companies who have exceeded their limits. This complicated system involves not-always transparent politicking concerning the limits that are established, as successful lobbyists work behind the scenes to obtain low caps or even exemptions for their industries. British Columbia has had the best and most effective policy since 2008: a “carbon tax” with rebates to protect low-income residents. B.C.’s economy has grown while per capita emissions have fallen, laying to rest the fears of naysayers who cry that “taxes are bad” or that governments cannot care for both the Earth and the economy.
If Saskatchewan were a country, its per capita carbon emissions would be second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Neither this province, nor Manitoba, has yet to place a price on carbon.
More impressive yet is the fact that citizens in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have forced their provincial governments to impose moratoria on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). These actions have been undertaken as Canadians respond to studies suggesting that in order to meet our climate commitments, 75 per cent of Canada’s oil, 24 per cent of gas and almost all coal reserves are unburnable.
Trinity St. Paul’s United Church in Toronto was the first religious institution in Canada to remove fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolio — but the movement is growing. KAIROS recently reported that more than 180 organizations with tens of billions in assets, including universities and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, have chosen to divest. The Catherine Donnelly Foundation of the Sisters of Service, as well as Scarboro Missions, have both decided to sell their investments in fossil fuel related industries. CPJ’s board has also passed a policy prohibiting us from making such investments.
Churches are thus acting, in various faithful ways, to address the climate crisis our governments choose to ignore.
Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.