The Anglican Communion has a distinct and powerful role to play in tackling climate change. As a global, connected body with a shared identity that transcends national borders, its members are involved in every part of the story of climate change, from being part of the disaster-stricken communities and the aid response to being polluters and powerful political influencers. It is local and global. The members of the Anglican Communion’s churches both contribute to the problem and the solution of climate change. The church is working for change by campaigning and taking action for climate justice with a number of initiatives.
In central Africa the Anglican church has played a key role in tree planting to both tackle desertification and to offset damaging emissions.
Rachel Mash is the Environmental Coordinator for Green Anglicans, which is the environmental network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, including South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique. She said she is encouraged by what the churches are doing in central Africa.
“People are seeing very practical ways of making a difference, of restoring ecosystems,” Rachel said. “The main challenge is people like to plant trees for occasions, like a bishop’s visit or a new building, but they end forgetting about them and the trees die, so the goal is to get people to take ownership of the trees, so they end up growing. We need to move away from planting trees to growing trees.”
Linking tree growing to occasions in life such as weddings and funerals has been the focus of the Anglican church in Malawi, where the Anglican Bishops have agreed to integrate environmental protection into the Church Liturgy.
“What they do in Malawi,” explained Rachel, “is say one funeral one tree, one baptism one tree. Many bishops are saying, each child that is confirmed must plant a tree. When you have a funeral, you have a memorial tree and a memory of somebody that’s passed away. That’s been quite a healing thing for people during COVID because often we couldn’t attend funerals.
“People plant memorial trees in memory of somebody who’s passed away, where they couldn’t go to the funeral. The linking of our rites of passage with tree planting means that those trees won’t just be planted, the tree will be cared for watered, nurtured and grow because it means something to them, whether it is my baby’s baptism or a memorial for someone in the family.”
Rachel believes that ‘trees are for the healing of the nations’, shown very directly, as they help reduce carbon emissions by absorbing poisonous gases through their leaves and help reduce extreme heat in urban areas. She said they also hold the soil in areas that are prone to flooding, solving some of the climate change issues by mitigation and adaptation.
In Mozambique, where deforestation is a huge problem, increasing the risk of devastating floods sweeping across the land, the church is also planting trees to prevent flooding. Rachel said the problem is that people end up cutting them down for fuel, so the church is now planting cashew trees, so that the trees have another value, discouraging them from being cut down for charcoal.
In the city of Nairobi, the protected area of the Karura urban forest, which has become quite degraded in the past few years has become a focus for action by the Church. The Anglican Church of Kenya has adopted 3,000 hectares and aims to plant 30,000 trees in the coming years.
Rachel explained, “They are concerned about how the trees are looked after and watered after being planted, so they came up with a great idea. Their policy is to have prayer walks in the forest and everyone that goes on a prayer walk, must bring water with them. Then, as part of your prayer walk you water the trees.”
Speaking at a tree planting event and prayer walk in the forest, the Assistant Bishop of All Saints Diocese, Nairobi, the Rt Revd Prof Joseph Galgalo, who is also the vice-chancellor of St Paul’s Theological College in Limeru, said: “We cannot enjoy the fulness of life if we destroy the environment that God has blessed us with. Each one of us has a responsibility to contribute to its preservation.”
The forestry division are encouraging the church partnership and have invited the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Jackson Ole Sapit, to be chief chaplain to chaplains of the forestry team.