As the director of an international development agency, I am sometimes asked why CAFOD campaigns on climate change. 

The reality is that the people CAFOD works with around the world feel the impact of the climate crisis now. In Kenya, protracted droughts make it harder to grow food; in the Philippines extreme weather events are undoing years of development work. In Bangladesh, sea level increases mean floods which are literally washing away people’s homes.

For the people already experiencing the brunt of the climate crisis, this is the new normal. Things will not revert to how they were previously, and we must help vulnerable communities adapt to a hotter planet. In fact, we already are – in Zambia CAFOD supports farmers in new crop production, in Kenya we’ve installed solar panels to help people irrigate their crops, and in Myanmar we’re helping prepare communities better for emergencies like tropical storms.

These efforts help people adapt but we must also stop the climate crisis getting worse. All industrialised nations played their part contributing to the problem – and now we must help fix it. The Paris climate agreement in 2015 was a crucial step on that journey and saw all the world’s countries commit to limiting global temperature increases, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support poorer countries adapt to the climate crisis. 

CAFOD took part in The Time is Now lobby on 26 June

When it comes to delivering the Paris agreement, however, we are not on track. For years I have been a well-behaved campaigner, meeting my MP and talking about the issue. Yet it has taken direct action by people like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion to move the climate crisis up the news agenda over the past year. The climate emergency is now regularly front-page news which feels fitting for the scale of the challenge ahead. 

It's positive the UK has agreed a ‘net zero’ emissions target – to limit the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity to a level that soil, trees and oceans can absorb naturally. 

But a promise to act isn’t enough. We need the policies to make net zero a reality. How can we overhaul our travel system to make lower-carbon options like electric-powered public transport accessible for more people? Or insulate our homes better, so we use less energy heating them? What green industries will the government invest in so we can create decent, green jobs that keep people in work? These are the questions we need our politicians to answer. 

And of course, we must use our influence to encourage other countries to act. Crucially, the UK government must sort out the confused policy which sees it pledge to tackle the climate crisis while simultaneously supporting billions of pounds worth of fossil fuels overseas. CAFOD’s research found that between 2010 and 2017 over £600m of aid money was spent backing fossil fuels in developing countries – even though we know we can’t tackle global warming by continuing to burn fossil fuels. What‘s worse, a whopping 97% of the financial backing to energy overseas given by UK Export Finance, which helps British businesses operate overseas, went towards fossil fuels – mostly oil and gas exploration and production. 

Obviously, an approach whereby one part of government says one thing while another spends money on exactly the opposite makes no sense, and it’s an area that could cause real embarrassment for the government next year. In December 2020 the UK will host the UN climate talks in Glasgow, known as ‘COP26’ (the Paris agreement was reached at COP21). How can the UK hold itself up as an international leader on climate action when we still give such huge financial backing to fossil fuels? 

Christine presents Lord Deben with the Longstanding Commitment to the Environment award at the Green Heart Hero Awards

The climate challenges are part of a broader commitment to building a better world, enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals. World leaders committed to implement these by 2030 and deliver a more sustainable and peaceful future for everybody.  In 2020 we will see international conferences on the goals, biodiversity and on protecting the world’s oceans. It’s going to be a big year.

It will be a year that gives us the opportunity to think differently about our future, to consider how we eradicate global poverty, tackle the climate crisis and protect and restore the natural world; recognising we can’t solve any of those challenges without considering all three together. It’s a chance to think about how we overhaul our food systems, so we can better feed the world’s population, and in a more sustainable way.

And you can help. Why not ask your parliamentary candidates what their party would do to put us on the right path towards net zero emissions? 

There are big questions facing the world in 2020, and if we’re to truly tackle the climate emergency then we must see the ‘drastic measures’ Pope Francis has called for. Our politicians need to know we are calling for them too.

About Christine & CAFOD

Christine Allen became the director of CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), in March 2019.  Allen had been the director of policy and public affairs for Christian Aid since 2012.

CAFOD is an international development charity and the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. It reaches out to people living in poverty with practical help, whatever their religion or culture. Through its global Church network, one of the largest in the world, it has the potential to reach everyone. And it campaigns for global justice, so that every woman, man and child can live a full and dignified life.

Triodos Bank UK will be relaunching its partnership with CAFOD in 2020.