Noticed the notice-board?
The Eco Church display board has recently been updated, and includes the results of the Mint’s carbon footprint assessment, a view from the young church, and more information on the Eco Church award scheme. There’s also a section where upcoming events will be advertised, so let us know if there’s an event you’d like to promote. The Eco Church group is open to anyone who’s interested, and we’re delighted that Angela Martin recently joined. If you want to know more about the group and its activities, please get in touch.
Sue Cordery and Stephen Mosedale.
Not another COP!
Stephen Haddad has been finding out about the COP15 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference and what it means for us. In November 2022, COP27 took place in Egypt to discuss climate change and how to tackle it, as was very well publicised. Less well known is a similarly named COP15, which has been taking place in Montreal, Canada from 7-19 December.
A good place to start in understanding what this conference is all about is to clear up the confusing naming. Calling these conference COPs is, in my opinion, the least helpful possible way for the media to communicate about them. COP stands for Conference of Parties, and is a legalese term referring to all the parties (typically nations in this case) that have signed up to a treaty of some sort. Typically to administrate any treaty there will be periodic conferences of parties to check how things are going and flesh out the details of what was originally agreed. So, the generic term COP tells us nothing about the actual content of discussions. COP27 (more
helpfully referred to as the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference) was such a conference for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP15 (more helpfully referred to as the 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference) is an equivalent conference of parties for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
What about biological diversity then, what do we mean by that? The World Wildlife Fund
describes biodiversity as follows:
“Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one
area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter.”
Although a picture of the Amazon rainforest looks like a sea of trees, such natural habitats contain an incredible density and diversity of flora and fauna all connected and supporting each other in a complex web of life that ensures that ecosystems are resilient. This is very different from even a seemingly verdant human landscape such as farm or plantation, which usually contains relatively few species due to practices that disturb natural balances for short-term productivity, resulting in more fragile monoculture-type ecosystems and environments.
Biodiversity is clearly important, but what is the point of this UN conference? While these meetings and associated agreements are not as far along for biodiversity as for climate change (as suggested by the numberings of 27 vs 15), the crisis of biodiversity is if anything far more advanced than the impacts of climate change. Extinctions have been a feature of life on earth since its existence, but occasionally multiple factors conspire to cause mass extinctions, most famously the event at the end of the cretaceous when dinosaurs were wiped out. The
rate of extinctions over the past century (which doesn’t count the species we never discovered before they were killed off) due to human activity and resulting landscape changes is so great that biologists refer to our current time as the Holocene extinction or 6th great extinction event. Such a rate of extinctions has not seen since the dinosaurs. Removing one species can greatly degrade the whole interdependent web of life of a local area. With
the current loss and despoiling of natural spaces, ecosystems and biodiversity, the effect is globally devastating. There are many causes, but climate change is especially compounding the problems, causing further stress on damaged, fragile ecosystems.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity and associated Biodiversity conferences aim to draw up agreements to prevent further loss of habitats and ecosystems and encourage rewilding of areas and encourage coexistence with the rich variety of species on which we as humans depend. One of the challenges around biodiversity compared to climate change is that the problem and solutions are not as straightforward to capture or communicate compared to goal of the Paris accords of keeping global temperatures rise to 1.5 degrees through achieving net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible. Attempts have been made at articulating clear, achievable goals. For example the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity agreed in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010, included 20 targets to achieve from 2011-2020. But none of the goals were actually met, or even widely known in the way the 1.5-degree climate goal is.
Part of the challenge is around disparities and disconnects. Biodiversity occurs on a local scale in individual habitats, but also on a global scale. The people in an area such as the amazon rainforest are charged with preserving such biodiversity hotspots as treasures belonging to the whole earth, but they are not provided with support or contributions to the costs. Required action and impact is uneven across the globe. We need to ensure those affected are included in discussions and agreements, especially those such as indigenous peoples with long standing traditions of fighting for the protection of natural habitats. Despite the advanced state of crisis in biodiversity, we’re still struggling to understand, communicate and agree on the challenges and how to address them.
This is all rather depressing, but though progress is slow, it is being made. For example activists are now focusing on a clearer message around the “30×30” campaign, to designate 30% of the world’s land and oceans as protected by 2030. There are many subtleties contained in that simple sentence around what protected means and how best to achieve this, but it’s a starting point to get everyone thinking about and involved in protecting biodiversity. At the time of writing, the conference is entering its final days, with much still to be decided. It hopes to agree a follow on to the 2010 biodiversity framework, and discussion of funding for the Global Environment Facility to fund protection of biodiversity in a more equitable way, amongst other environmental measures.
This highlights that we can’t leave it to global conferences and leaders, as important as such measures are. What then can we as individuals and Christians do to help tackle this crisis? Given the lower profile and levels of awareness of biodiversity issues, a starting point is to get up to speed on the key facts and challenges around loss of biodiversity and the initiatives around arresting and reversing that loss. Talk to friends and family to help them start engaging too. As with climate change, we can make choices as consumers to buy products that don’t harm fragile species and ecosystems either by direct harvesting or farming and industrial methods. It is not easy to do so with limited information provided by products on their impact on biodiversity, but badges on products from FairTrade or the Soil Association are a good starting point. You may also be able to make a difference where you live. There is more land in back gardens in the UK than in nature reserves, so think about how you can promote biodiversity starting from home. We also need to advocate for collective action, both in your local area through encouraging measures that promote diversity in parks and gardens and farms in your area, especially on public land. What could we as the Mint do to promote urban biodiversity on our piece of land and in our neighbourhood?
More generally there is a big change of mindset that needs to happen. While entirely setting aside land as protected is important as shown by the 30×30 campaign, we ultimately depend on thriving ecosystems for our needs. We need a different approach, so that protecting biodiversity is part of how we live. Our current way of living often leaves little room for other species and that needs to change. As Christians we can pray for greater awareness amongst world leaders and citizens alike, of the challenges around biodiversity and our dependence on it. Let’s also pray for courage on the part of individuals, communities such as the church, and nations, to act, especially those with the means to do so, individually and collectively to protect and restore and celebrate the biodiversity of God’s creation.
Links and further reading
UN Convention on Biological Diversity homepage
2022 UN Biodiversity Conference page
David Attenborough introducing Biodiversity (video by Royal Society)
What is Biodiversity – Article by the World Wildlife Fund
BBC News intro to 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference
Update on 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference from the Economist
What is the 6th Mass Extinction Event – World Wildlife Fund
30 by 30 explained – NatureScot
How to be a biodiversity conscious consumer – BBC Earth
Trusted Ethical Eco-friendly Labels
Biodiversity in your garden:
Plant Biodiversity (Royal Horticultural Society)
Animal Biodiversity (Royal Horticultural Society)
Knowing Creation, Knowing God : Mushrooms are but the Tip of the Iceberg
Mushrooms are but the Tip of the Iceberg We probably overlook the fact, but fungi are everywhere, and have been shaping life on earth for a billion years. In the words of Merlin Sheldrake (Entangled Life, Penguin 2020, p3), they are eating rock, making soil, digesting pollutants, nourishing and killing plants, surviving in space, inducing visions, producing food, making medicines, manipulating animal behaviour and influencing the composition
of the earth’s atmosphere.
If I say “fungi” we think of mushrooms, but the mushrooms we love or not for their culinary value are just the fruiting bodies of some kinds of fungi, all of which are fundamentally networks of threads beneath the ground. Most live in forests and fields and vary in size from microscopic to thousands of acres.
This mycelium, as the network is called, secretes enzymes to turn food sources in the soil into usable nutrients. Often they live in a symbiotic relationship with plants and tree roots; indeed round 90% of land plants depend on them and ecosystems would quickly fail without them.
A few fungi are detrimental, such as mildews, cankers, ringworm and thrush, and a small proportion of mushrooms is poisonous to animals. But the overwhelming influence of fungi to life on earth is positive and beneficial in many ways. First, they contribute to nutrient cycling, breaking down plant and animal debris, fixing nitrogen and mobilising phosphorus, two of the three elements essential to plant growth and productivity. No–dig methods of agriculture and gardening prove more productive because the mycelium is not repeatedly destroyed by ploughing or digging. The symbiosis with plant roots locks in the carbon from recycled remains and from photosynthesis in a highly stable form. Good biodiverse soil can capture 10 tons of atmospheric carbon per hectare each year.
Edible mushrooms are rich in many vitamins and minerals and provide an excellent vegan source of protein; they can be cultivated using agricultural waste with no need of fertile soil. Several mushrooms have human health benefits from lowering cholesterol to sourcing antiviral and antidiabetic drugs. Fungi also have a significant role in degrading plastic and other petroleum–based products including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and neutralising persistent toxins. Some are good at restoring damaged forests or degraded soils, and others disarm crop pests. Fungi can replace plastic and other synthetic and animal–based products used in clothing and shoes, packaging, skin care and much more.
Whilst at present so much of the valuable service offered by fungi to the whole phenomenon of life on earth is humble and unseen, I predict an ever–increasing visible presence for them in our sustainable future. Whether or not you like mushrooms it is time to love fungi.
A WORLD WHERE OUR ENVIRONMENT IS RENEWED
November saw COP27 come to a close. So what happened? There was some historic success around establishing a fund to pay for climate related loss and damage. However, the conference didn’t deliver the commitment needed around fossil fuel reductions. Church Leaders have responded together with some suggestions for next steps.
Monday 21 November
The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church.
While we are extremely conscious of the cost-of-living crisis and the economic bearing it is having here in the UK, we cannot ignore the tremendous impact of climate change in other parts of the world and overlook our responsibility towards it. We continue to look to leaders in the UK and across the world to address the climate emergency with a sense of urgency, fairness and justice. We are grateful for the vital commitment in Sharm el-Sheikh to establish a Loss and Damage facility. All are impacted by climate change. We have recently seen unprecedented floods in Pakistan and Bangladesh and continued drought in East Africa. Industrialised countries such as Germany and high emitting states such as China have seen rivers drying up. But it is low income countries that are frequently the worst affected by climate related disasters. They simply do not have adequate resources to rebuild shattered infrastructure and livelihoods. COP27 has seen recognition of the need for compensation for loss and damage rise much higher on the global agenda. We commend States and regions, including Scotland, that have committed early funding to support those who have seen their livelihoods or houses destroyed. As the recent UN Environment Programme report has pointed out, limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees requires global emissions to be cut by 45% by 2030. Policies implemented so far suggest that we could be heading for a catastrophic 2.7 degrees of warming. God’s creation is precious and is vital for the flourishing of all life. We lament the lack of urgency and will to co-operate to address this crisis. COP27 shows that governments have yet to loosen the chains of past practice and vested interests.
World leaders cannot leave this conference believing that they have done enough and must appreciate that there is still much more to do. We pray for a renewed collaboration between people and governments, and that a deeper recognition of our shared humanity might soon lead to the compassionate and just climate action that our world so urgently needs.
Signed by: Revd Fiona Bennett, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church
Anthony Boateng, Vice-President of the Conference of the Methodist Church
Revd Lynn Green, General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Revd Dave Gregory, Convenor, Baptist Union Environment Network and Former President, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Revd Graham Thompson, President of the Conference of the Methodist Church