The Presbyterian Church has enthusiastically welcomed Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment which addresses one of the great moral challenges of our time, climate change.
“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the papal statement says. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
The Right Rev Andrew Norton, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, says Pope Francis has highlighted issues of climate change in the context of exploitation of the poor and the abuse of our environment.
“Many of the world’s faiths recognise the significant challenge of climate change and the urgency for action; this is why church leaders are speaking out. Nationally and internationally our faiths are uniquely positioned to encourage all people to live in a sustainable way, to encourage our governments to commit to binding climate change agreements, and to be the voice for those without a voice.”
Andrew says it is the world’s poorer peoples who are expected to suffer most from global warming. “We can see the effects in Africa of rising temperatures and drought and here in the Pacific of rising sea levels and devastating storms.”
The papal encyclical, published on 18 June, warns of “serious consequences for all of us” if humanity fails to act on climate change. It calls for renewable fuel subsidies and energy efficiency, and an end to overconsumption, loss of biodiversity and pollution.
Andrew says the papal encyclical is in line with decisions and statements made by the Presbyterian Church, including its recent submission to the NZ Government on the consultation for setting New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target.
“The Presbyterian Church has called on the New Zealand Government to commit to a low carbon future by cutting emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025. It’s a target which will challenge both us and other nations to pay the price necessary for both the survival of future generations and of the most vulnerable nations already being drastically affected by climate change.”
Andrew says that in choosing the 40 per cent figure, the Presbyterian Church was guided by reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“But reducing carbon emissions is not enough. This issue is too big to be left to politicians and scientists; it is for all of us. We must ask ourselves how our culture of consumption is plundering the land and abusing the world's poor.
“Pope Francis is holding up a mirror that we may all take a good look at ourselves.”
Some of the Presbyterian Church’s decisions and actions around climate change:
November 2006, PCANZ set up an ecological task group to investigate and develop a Biblical response to the deepening ecological problems threatening our earth and our communities.
October 2008, a Declaration on Climate Change and the Environment by the PCANZ ecological task group was accepted by the Church’s General Assembly 2008. Churches were encouraged to audit their environmental footprints, and study the issues of climate change and the environment, and take practical action.
February 2009, the booklet resource Caring for Creation was produced by the PCANZ and sent to all its churches.
October 2009, New Zealand Church Leaders presented a paper, prepared by the Presbyterian Church, titled "Protecting New Zealand’s environment and economy for current and future generations" to the Prime Minster and Deputy Prime Minister at the Beehive.
October 2014, General Assembly agreed to request that the Church’s Property Trustees, who manage the major funds of the Church, divest from fossil fuel investments. The General Assembly also encouraged all congregations and members of the Church to seriously consider the same action in relation to their own investments. The Church declared investment in the fossil fuel industry to be unethical, socially irresponsible and contrary to the Church’s mission of “caring for creation”.
June 2015, the PCANZ made a submission to Government on the consultation for setting New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target.
Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment: