Looking back, looking forward

Dr Martin J Hodson

On the global scene, 2019 was another fairly depressing year. It seems likely that when all the numbers are in it will be the second warmest in the instrumental record. There have been numerous records broken, and extreme weather events seem to be becoming more regular in occurrence. The horrendous fires in Australia at the end of 2019 and going into 2020 are a portent of things to come. And yet many of the world’s politicians continue to espouse climate sceptic views: Trump, Bolsonaro and Morrison to name but three. This political malaise was all too evident at the COP25 climate change talks in Madrid. When the world needs a strong lead and more ambition, we got very little of either. Even those politicians that say positive things about the environment often seem to do very little in practice. In my end of 2018 report, I mentioned both Extinction Rebellion and the School Climate Strikes. These movements have grown very considerably during 2019, not without some controversy. But love them or hate them, they have managed to get more attention on the environment than ever before.

Much of the energy in the UK political scene was consumed by the Brexit debate. The UK general election at least had the environmental crisis as one of the topics being debated, even if Brexit was again the dominant theme. With the Conservative victory, it now appears that we will be leaving the European Union at the end of January 2020.

If the environmental and political news has seemed pretty bleak for much of the time the considerable growth in the UK Christian environmental movement that I detected in 2018 continued in 2019. The Eco Church programme grew at a phenomenal rate, and that has driven much other activity. So speaker requests have mushroomed, and it has become difficult to keep up. The distance learning course, Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES), that we run jointly with A Rocha UK, recruited more students (eleven) than ever before in 2019. Four more students graduated in September. Interest from abroad has also grown. We successfully advertised for more help in running the course in the autumn. We ran two day conferences and a Friday/Saturday residential at Ripon College Cuddesdon. Perhaps the highlight of the JRI year was being invited to be the charity of the quarter for Tewkesbury Abbey, including running their Touching Stones tearooms for a day in the summer. Thanks very much to the Abbey for that opportunity.

And so 2020 now lies ahead of us. Unfortunately, we can only really expect more extreme weather events, and it is highly likely that 2020 will again be one of the hottest years on record. Politically, the year will be dominated by the presidential election in the United States. Any of the Democratic candidates will have environmental concerns higher up their agenda than Trump, but there is absolutely no certainty that any of them will beat him. The focus of environmental politics will almost certainly be the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow in November. That is an extremely important meeting as it will be five years since the Paris Agreement, and governments will be asked to submit their revised plans for carbon emissions cuts. Claire O’Neill is the COP26 President. She is the former UK Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, and describes herself as a “proud geographer who follows the science”. On 3rd January 2020, she tweeted: “2020 has been benchmarked as the year that the Paris Agreement is breathed into life. This is the year we must stop talking and start taking meaningful action on Climate Change. COP26 will be the year of everybody’s in… Let’s get moving and completely focus on net zero.” The keyword will be “ambition” once again. Will we get it?

In the UK we will need to keep an eye on how Brexit plays out in the framing of environmental legislation by our new government. Andy Atkins, the CEO of A Rocha UK, warns us to “Mind the gap (between aspiration and action)” and he is right. It may be that hosting COP26 will have some positive impacts on UK policy, but we will only know later in the year.

For JRI, we will continue to do what we have always done: conferences, courses and publications. Our first few months will focus a bit on our work for St Mary, Redcliffe in Bristol as their Lent Charity. With the publication of Ruth Valerio’s “Saying Yes to Life”, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book, the emphasis on environmental issues in the UK is likely to be even further increased in the spring. Then in the summer, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops will have a major focus on environmental issues, and particularly climate change. And on to COP26 in November. It is a crucial year. We will endeavour to keep you updated. One final thing as we look at 2020. JRI has a very small dedicated staff team, but most JRI work is carried out by volunteers. But even JRI needs a little finance to keep our operations going. If you would like to make us a small New Year gift then go here. We will be very grateful.

Happy New Year!

Dr Martin J Hodson

JRI Operations Director

Image by enriquelopezgarre free to download on Pixabay:
https://pixabay.com/photos/landscape-change-climate-nature-4684217/