What the webinar was about
As part of the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, Christian Aid hosted a webinar titled ‘Black, white and green: why racial justice is at the heart of climate justice'.
The global issue of the climate crisis is currently at the forefront of our minds in the lead-up to the COP26 in Glasgow this November. However, whilst we’re aware of the consequences and issues we face because of climate change, one aspect of this discussion that is not spoken of/about often is the connection between race and climate injustice.
Christian Aid’s Head of Public Engagement, Chine McDonald, chaired the discussion with a panel including Pastor Joyce Fletcher of Church of God Prophecy, Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Professor Robert Beckford, and Conservative peer Baroness Verma.
Each member of the panel gave two-minute provocations on the topic of race and climate.
Framing the discussion
Pastor Joyce started the event off by stating that climate change interacts and worsens existing inequalities in society that are shaped by racism.
She continued by referencing MP David Lammy’s statement on how the world was echoing the words of George Floyd 'I can’t breathe' as a result of global air pollution.
Through this point, we were reminded of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died in February 2013 of a fatal asthma attack, which was only recently found to be a result of excessive air pollution in London.
'Climate change is racist'
Professor Robert Beckford added to the discussion with the bold statement that 'climate change is racist'.
He went on to say that the most affected are disproportionally people living in the global south and black or brown people living in urbanised communities in Britain.
Drawing on the evidence of recent studies, Professor Beckford highlighted how the highest carbon-populating countries such as the UK and Canada were on the lowest scale of vulnerability to greenhouse gases.
This is due to richer countries having the facilities to mitigate the consequences of global warming. However, on the other side of the scale, countries from the Caribbean and Africa - which contributed the least to greenhouse gases - tended to suffer most of the negative consequences of climate change.
Failure to harvest nature's gifts
Baroness Verma added that the issue of climate change was heading in the wrong direction and if not resolved, would lead to countries eventually being underwater.
On erasure and diversity within the climate justice movement
Bell Ribeiro-Addy then mentioned the rise in the campaigns which aim to bring awareness to the climate crisis. However, most of these campaigns seem to focus on climate change in the global north, and neglect the global south and diverse communities who have been suffering for decades.
Ribeiro-Addy further highlighted the lack of diversity within the global climate movement; one may even argue that the work of those championing climate justice from the global south tend to not get the same media attention as their white counterparts.
For example, in 2020, young climate activist Vanessa Nakate from Uganda was cropped out of a photo that included her and other white young climate activists such as Greta Thunberg.
This was an issue that sparked a lot of criticism and discussion on the erasure and diversity within the climate movement.
Where does Christian Aid’s work fit within this discussion?
Leading up to COP26, Chine McDonald explained how Christian Aid is calling for unprecedented action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
The aim is to help reduce the number of people exposed to climate risks by a significant amount.
This is especially important when looking at how countries in the global south have been experiencing long-lasting droughts that have led to the destruction of crops as well as loss of life.
Furthermore, in the Savanta ComRes report last year, Christian Aid admitted it needed to step up and play a role in ensuring that more awareness is brought to the issue of the climate crisis and climate injustice.
More importantly, Christian Aid must ensure that its work acts as a bridge for more Christians and Black Christians to engage with the climate movement.
How do we rectify the issue?
One question which Chine posed to the panel was 'what are the barriers that Black Christians need to overcome to be more engaged or prominent in the fight for climate justice?'.
Pastor Joyce believed that the lack of awareness of the issue, and of the work being done around the issue, is a barrier. She added that there is a lack of unity amongst Black Christians, and that a coming together is needed to tackle the problem.
Moreover, Black Christian leaders also need to be at the decision-making table so such issues can be raised, and so others can be brought into the discussion.ties, whilst also showing that the climate movement isn’t at odds with Christianity'.
How can Black churches be supported to help with this?
On the other hand, Professor Beckford disagreed that Black faith groups were not connected; rather, they have suffered from what he describes as a 'politics of benign neglect' from the Government on various issues.
Nonetheless, one way of rectifying this issue is through better access to resources and funding for the work by Black churches.
Professor Beckford highlighted how many Black churches are currently self-funded and lack the resources required to accomplish their work in this area.
This links in with the recommendations mentioned in the Savanta ComRes report, as it suggested that 'Christian Aid must work with theologians and church leaders from diverse groups, listen and find out what resources and support they need to engage their communiwhilst also showing that the climate movement isn’t at odds with Christianity'.