God’s vision is of a world where poverty and inequality don’t exist, where everyone has enough and creation is well cared for. But – while we have come so far in the past 50 years in tackling poverty – the extremes of inequality and climate change we now face threaten to unravel much of this progress.
The science is clear: the world is facing a climate emergency, global emissions are still rising and the window is rapidly closing to limit global heating to the safer level and agreed target of 1.5 ºC. While climate change affects us all, it hits the poorest hardest. Black, indigenous and communities of colour are disproportionately affected.
Extreme weather is getting more frequent and severe. That's having a destructive effect on the communities we work with – people who have done least to cause the crisis. More frequent floods, droughts and storms mean that the poorest people are increasingly at risk of losing their crops, livelihoods and homes.
Tearfund’s partners and local teams see first hand the devastating impact of climate change on people in poverty, and have observed this over many years. It affects people’s health, security and access to food. For people who are already vulnerable, this is a life-threatening emergency. If we don’t act now climate change could push more than 132 million more people into poverty by 2030 (according to the World Bank).
Called by God to take care of the environment
As Christians, the suffering of people living in poverty across the world should urge us into action. Jesus’ second commandment is to love our neighbours. And from the creation account in Genesis to the new creation of Revelation, the Bible speaks of how much God loves and delights in his creation. We believe that, like Adam and Eve, we have a responsibility to care for it.
Proverbs 31:9 says: ‘Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ We are called as Christians to stand up for justice, calling on those in positions of power to make decisions that protect the most vulnerable.
We’re convinced that taking these commands seriously has to include playing our part in tackling the climate emergency. Our vision is for a better future: we want to see all people released from extreme poverty, even in communities where climate change is hitting hardest. We are committed to environmental sustainability across all that we do including in our internal operations, programmes, advocacy and influencing work.
Tearfund’s longstanding commitment to environmental causes
This is not a new area for Tearfund, we have a long history of working on environmental issues and their impact on poor communities around the world. Tearfund first started campaigning on these issues in the run up to the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992. And we were the first large UK development organisation to start working on environmental issues.
Over the last 20 years, this work has become more prominent and urgent, leading us to develop water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation programmes. From 2005 to 2015, we made significant contributions to UN climate negotiations which culminated in the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. Since then we have been keeping up the pressure on governments to fulfil the commitments agreed in Paris.
How we work on climate change and encourage environmental sustainability
Helping communities adapt to the changing climate
We work with churches and communities in vulnerable places to help them increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change and disasters. Alongside Church and Community Transformation (working with local churches as they empower their local community to escape poverty) and Fragile States (places that are extremely vulnerable to natural or man made disasters but have limited capacity to cope with the consequences), Environmental & Economic Sustainability (EES) is one of Tearfund’s corporate priorities.
Our EES work aims to build towards a world where extreme inequality is reduced and where everyone can meet their basic needs – and flourish – within their environmental limits. Tearfund is committed to relief and development work that is both environmentally and economically sustainable and helps people to be less vulnerable to extreme weather caused by climate change. We believe that the way we help people to lift themselves out of poverty must enable them to increase their prosperity without damaging the environment.
We currently have EES programmes in 20 countries. Our projects cover waste management, renewable energy and climate-smart agriculture. All projects are designed to create or enable green jobs and livelihoods, restore the environment at local, national and global levels, and reduce local inequality.
Many of the projects work through existing established structures and programmes. This includes self-help groups, and church and community transformation, where churches work with their communities to find ways out of poverty. In addition, our projects in countries around the world often have elements of EES. This can include sustainable farming, or creating livelihoods which don’t damage the environment. Alongside this we are committed to continually improving the environmental performance of all our EES programmes.
Campaigning and advocating for a greener future
We also call on governments, businesses and other organisations to take bolder action to tackle the climate crisis. Tearfund’s Light up the darkness campaign in 2019 called on the World bank investment in off-grid renewables. The campaign resulted in a petition of more than 16,000 signatures, which was handed to the World Bank. Since then, the World Bank has tripled its investment in off-grid renewable energy to $600m [£460m].
In 2017, Tearfund and others launched Renew Our World, a global movement of Christians who believe that since we are truly image bearers of God, we should act like it – living out love for one another in actions and in truth. Renew Our World aims to encourage the church to lead the way towards a just and sustainable world. The campaign has united Christians from Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Ghana, India, Ireland, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Slovakia, Tanzania, Uganda, the UK and Zambia.
As Christians we are called to demonstrate and proclaim life and hope to God’s earth and the people who live on it. So we also encourage people to make changes in their own lives, as part of their worship to demonstrate love for their neighbours. We help to equip individuals and churches to play their part by producing resources such as a Climate Emergency Toolkit, talks, factsheets, action plans and prayer guides to help them do so.
In 2021, we campaigned as part of a small coalition to end UK funding of fossil fuels overseas – resulting in a world-leading commitment from the UK government to do just that. This vital policy change will shift funding out of fossil fuels and into clean energy, which could help people living in poverty to access electricity for the first time. – The campaign won the ‘David & Goliath’ prize at the prestigious Sheila McKechnie Foundation National Campaigner Awards. At the UN Climate Talks in Glasgow in November 2021, 39 countries and institutions agreed to end support for overseas fossil fuels - if fully implemented, this could shift over $24 billion a year out of fossil fuels and into clean energy - and play a significant role in limiting global temperature rise.
Tearfund believes that our own actions in choosing to live more sustainably send powerful signals to governments and businesses to make greater changes.
Reducing our own environmental impact
We are committed to reducing our own environmental impact, continually improving and regularly reviewing our environmental performance as an integral part of our business plan and the choices we make about how we work.
As an organisation, we are signed up to the Climate Charter, a set of principles to guide humanitarian organisations to respond to the climate and environmental crises. The charter sets out six specific and measurable targets for organisations to develop action plans to outline how they plan to meet those targets.
As an organisation we are also committed to:
- Reporting back on our own environmental impact, with our senior management taking responsibility that our environmental policies are implemented
- Continually monitoring and improving our environmental performance
- Reporting our carbon emissions data to to the board and staff every year
- Reducing the amount of energy we use as much as possible
- Sourcing 100 per cent of our electricity in the UK from renewable energy
- Reducing how much paper, packaging and single-use items we use
- Favouring more environmentally friendly and efficient products wherever possible in the office, events and other Tearfund organised activities
- Delivering on agreed emissions targets from transportation including reducing the need to travel, particularly air travel, where possible
- Reducing, reusing and recycling as far as much as possible to limit the amount of waste we generate
- Sourcing materials and using cleaning products that are as environmentally friendly as possible
- Not investing or dealing with companies or organisations whose activities significantly conflict with our own environmental policy
- Seeking to reduce our negative environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions as much as we possibly can towards absolute zero in the long term, and offsetting impacts using accredited carbon offsetting schemes until then