Climate Change, Ethics and Religion in China

28th May 2015 - by Ellen Teague

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“China has 80 million people living at sea level so of course it is interested in tackling climate change” said Columban eco-theologian Fr Sean McDonagh at a London event focusing on China last Saturday.


In addition, he added that, “a 2013 census found that 28,000 rivers have vanished in China over recent decades and melting glaciers in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau are threatening the water supplies of millions of Chinese long term”. In 2014 he visited China to raise awareness in church circles of the links between climate change, ethics and religion, noting that in Chinese society and in the government environmental issues are becoming more prominent. One quarter of demonstrations in China are about the environment, especially regarding unsafe drinking water and polluted air. “Since the Communist Party takes credit for economic growth, it will be blamed for pollution” Sean said.

Sean was speaking on ‘China and Climate Change’ at the 15th Annual General Meeting of Cultural Exchange with China in London last Saturday. A second speaker, Rob Elsworth, Climate and Energy Policy Analyst at CAFOD, agreed that the Chinese government and people are now worried about the environmental issues. “They want better quality tap water and their children to be able to play outside” he said, and “they need a total transformation of the business model as it stands”. China’s decades-long pursuit of rapid economic growth has boosted demand for energy, particularly coal, but now public opinion is pushing for reducing carbon emissions.

In March, China’s top weather scientist, Zheng Guogang, warned that climate change could have a “huge impact” on China, reducing crop yields, threatening river flows, and posing a “serious threat” to big infrastructure projects such as the Three Gorges Dam. He said temperature rises in China had already been higher than the global average for the past century, and warned of more droughts, rainstorms, and higher temperatures. He urged China to pursue a lower-carbon future and be mindful of climate security. China and the US together produce around 45% of global carbon emissions and both countries are taking part in a summit in Paris this year that aims for a global deal to cut carbon emissions by 2020. Both countries have also agreed to cooperate on clean energy and environmental protection.

Sean pointed out that one the first things you notice in China’s major cities is the “rampant pollution”, which kills one quarter of a million Chinese each year. Yet, he also highlighted that renewable energy is a fast growing industry in China and traditional heavy industry is now being closely regulated to deliver more efficiently. China is the world’s lowest cost producer of solar panels and produces 40% of the world’s photovoltaic cells.

Cultural Exchange with China, whose Director is Columban Fr Eamonn O’Brien, seeks to build bridges between the Catholic Church of Britain and that of China. An exposure visit to China is being organised for October 2015, and opportunities are offered for teachers who are interested in going to China to teach English in a university setting.