Lead by example on tackling the effects of climate change

An expert and adviser on environment and climate change for churches in Africa believes bishops and churches must take the lead on tackling climate change by positive action.

Nicholas Pande is the Project Officer for the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. His remit includes food security, disaster resilience and response, health, environmental conservation and climate change adaptation.

He talked to the Lambeth Conference team about how climate change is affecting Africa and how churches can help the world tackle the crisis.

Based in Kenya, Nicholas Pande has many years of experience in working to protect the environment and help those who have been affected by natural disasters.

“For the last 10 years, I’ve been working with the church, mostly focusing on building community resilience to disasters, especially natural disasters and working with young people on this.”

How is climate crisis and natural disasters impacting you in Kenya?

Nicholas said in Kenya, like many other African countries, they are dependent on their agricultural economy. He said, “Seventy per cent of Africans live in the rural area, and up to 80 per cent of them work in agriculture. Most of them are smallholder farmers, who depend on rain, because irrigated agriculture is a very small percentage of African agriculture. So, climate crisis, which has led to unpredictable rainfall patterns, affects agricultural production. That has been the greatest hit to us in Kenya and the rest of Africa. People depend on rain to produce crops and we have experienced a lot of crop failure and loss of livestock which has worsened the issue of food insecurity.”

In addition to crop failure and lack of food, Nicholas said changes in the climate had led to health issues as many more species of marine life, had increased cases of malaria. “Even in areas that are colder, which were not natural habitats for these parasites, people are catching malaria, because the places are becoming warmer.”

What is the church doing to help people as they face the climate crisis?

“What the church has been trying to do is to enhance the capacity of communities to cope. For example, it has been promoting dry land farming to help farmers adapt more to the longer dry seasons. Churches are encouraging farmers to grow short or early maturing crops.” He said the church is also encouraging tree planting to tackle the desertification, as well as promoting more energy efficient cooking stoves, instead of traditional charcoal burners.

According to Nicholas, tree planting is one of the most important initiatives that all churches can be involved in. “In Uganda, the diocese is distributing tree seedlings and then driving tree planting across communities. So, it’s not just telling people to plant trees, but it’s also providing seedlings. The church in Kenya is also running that programme and has gone ahead to adopt some forests. So, there is a consistent monitoring of trees planted and we are conserving those forests, as we continue growing trees.”

“In Ghana the church is having a campaign of growing a million trees, in line with what the government is doing. The church in Malawi grows trees and Malawi has a concept of linking tree growing to two occasions in our lives. So, if there is a wedding, the couple that are marrying grow a tree, and if there is a funeral, on the burial ground they plant a tree… There’s a lot of tree growing by the church in Africa, actually in Burundi they have grown three million trees over the last eight years.”

Can you tell us how young people feel about climate crisis and what the church is doing?

“Young people see this as a very important subject because they are the most affected. There’s also the feeling that this a very critical juncture to make decisions about the environment.”

He said young people have the energy, creativity, and innovation to be able to make changes. “I’m thinking that putting young people at the centre of this gives them the opportunity and the space not only to engage the decision makers, but also to support the mitigation and adaptation that is our core concern.”

In Africa, Nicholas said the churches provincial youth representatives were focused on issues of environment and are mobilising the rest of the young people in the church.

“They need action from the primates and the bishops because they are really at the forefront of championing this. The church leadership, I would say currently, is a bit ambivalent.”

What would you say to the Lambeth bishops about how the church needs to respond to the global climate crisis?

“I believe that the church should be very much involved with this because it is a biblical mandate of stewarding creation. I also think that the bishops are best placed to influence policy, and that they should provide leadership to the Church and to their communities in this area. In practice, that’s what is happening with tree planting. So, that is leadership in the practice.”

“In my experience, when there is ownership at the leadership level, there is more practice at the grassroot level. The challenge has been when there is a bit of initiative at the grassroots and the leadership is not really engaged.”

He said the churches could do more in providing resources and putting the care of creation into their liturgies and discipleship programmes. “So, it is not just about community mobilisation,” he said, “but also capacity enhancement of the Church in understanding care for the environment.”

“My hope in the coming months is that governments will be more ambitious, and that the Church will find a way of working with governments and their agencies to realise those commitments. So, I’m really hoping the bishops will begin to understand, in their particular contexts, what our governments are meeting to do at COP 26. And when they bring it home to the churches, they will help the congregants to understand their role in implementing those goals.”

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