Pope Francis’ regular admonishments to care for our environment have been echoed in WA by the leaders of the different faiths, responding to the Federal Government’s Budget by calling for stronger, co-ordinated action on climate change from both Federal and State Governments, as well as Australian industry and the community.
Speaking of our responsibility “As stewards of God’s creation”, Pope Francis has stated in the past that we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family.
“When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling,” Pope Francis said.
“A Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work; that work born of God’s love for us,” the Holy Father has said.
Leaders from more than five religious traditions came to a similar conclusion, as they met in Perth on Wednesday 3 April to analyse the Budget and have determined that, as a statement of our national priorities, it does not adequately address the climate emergency Australia is facing.
Sr Margaret Scharf, from the Dominican Sisters of Western Australia and Co-ordinator of Adult Faith Formation, represented the Archdiocese of Perth and spoke on behalf of Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB.
She said the budgetary meeting was an important opportunity for dialogue on a subject so critical to our future and to the ongoing nature of the humanitarian aid provided by the Church.
“As Pope Francis has been telling us, climate change has many grave implications and its worst impacts will be felt by people in developing countries who have the least capacity to cope,” Sr Margaret said.
“Similarly in Australia, climate change affects people experiencing disadvantage the most and will push people further into poverty if not addressed equitably.”
Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, explained that as representatives of the respective faith traditions, those in attendance view climate change as a most serious threat to humanity that must be tackled urgently.
“We live on a beautiful planet and we all share a responsibility to care for it but the reality is that we have not done that well enough,” Rev Francis said.
We now find ourselves in a climate emergency and we believe that the budgets and policies of Governments at all levels need to prioritise climate action that aligns with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” he added.
Dr Rateb Jneid, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, reflected her sentiments.
“As people of faith, we urge all the federal political parties to adopt strong emissions reduction policies that reflect the latest science,” Dr Jneid said.
“We are in a climate emergency and what our government does or does not do to address this affects us all. We are already seeing the impacts on vulnerable ecosystems and local communities. In fact, we have a responsibility to all our sisters and brothers around the world to act with urgency,” Dr Jneid implored.
The religious leaders agreed that Governments, at both State and Federal levels, need to be doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election, and as the State Government considers new measures to mitigate the disturbing increase in greenhouse gas emissions in WA, the religious leaders expressed their concern that not enough is being done.
Buddhist leader Ajahn Brahm referred to Earth as “our common home, for all people, creatures and eco-systems”.
“People are coming to us with anxiety about the losses and changes that are occurring with climate change. It is important to pause and consider what actions we can take that extend loving-kindness to people across oceans, as well as the unique species of our local waters and landscapes,” he said.
The recent review of the WA Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) guidelines on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions has recommended full offsets for proposals with direct emissions above 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per annum.
Given the significant growth in emissions coming from WA, the religious leaders urged the WA Government to consider the EPA recommendations as an effective strategy to curb emissions growth.
Rev Francis asked: “Some of the big companies affected by these proposed EPA guidelines are creating huge volumes of greenhouse gas emissions, but are they adequately addressing the environmental impact of those emissions?”,
“Unfortunately, WA has fallen behind other states in establishing appropriate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we think mechanisms like carbon offsets are a step in the right direction.”
This puts the religious leaders at odds with WA’s business elite, the state opposition and, to a lesser degree the State Labor Government, who have all called for (or agreed to) reducing the severity of the EPA’s recommendations as they believe that they have the potential to harm industry and reduce employment if implemented in their entirety.
However, the recommendations are in keeping with those that have been submitted historically, placing the responsibility for their current severity on the lack of past implementation, so that now, rather than a mild addition to a gradual process of reform, industry is tasked with substantial reductions in emissions to meet its targets.
Anglican Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy AO said: “We welcome the announcement of an Energy Transformation Strategy for the South-West, but we see that a broader, robust climate change policy is still required to undertake a just and urgent transition away from fossil fuels”.
“We hope the WA government takes seriously these new EPA recommendations, so that they can be incorporated into a thorough, holistic plan to tackle climate change in WA.”
Rabbi Daniel Lieberman, Chief Rabbi of the Perth Hebrew Congregation added: “The Bible charges us with the responsibility of working and protecting the Earth”.
“This idea should be at the forefront of our minds in these times as we see the devastating effect that our lack of care for the environment is ravaging on our wilderness, seas and atmosphere.
“I therefore call upon the government of WA to take this responsibility seriously and consider the proposed changes as part of our contribution to making a difference for our state and the world,” Rabbi Lieberman concluded.