Bishop Philip Huggins, president of the National Council of Churches in Australia. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Bishop Philip Huggins, president of the National Council of Churches in Australia. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

At the the 57th session of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of Churches on International Affairs in Brisbane, Australia, Bishop Philip Huggins thoughtfully summed up why this year is a crucial one for the planet.

“We are well aware that this is the year the Paris Agreement comes up for substantial contribution by each nation,” said Huggins, president of the National Council of Churches in Australia. “It’s a bottom-up process. It’s a very democratic process.”

And that means people should do what they can at their own level, he explained. “It’s not a top-down process. It puts huge responsibility on each nation to come up with its best contribution so we do prevent global temperatures from rising.”

Those contributions must be shaped and presented to the UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November.

Lessons learned

Looking back on COP25 - held in Madrid, Spain, in December 2019 - Huggins is ready to put into practice this year what he found effective last year: offering retreats for the negotiators, diplomats and ministers. “These people are often highly stressed,” explained Huggins. "They carry the knowledge that the political processes are not delivering an outcome quickly enough. I think this is a highly stressful situation for everybody who’s even a little bit informed.”

When the National Council of Churches in Australia joined an informal coalition of other faith-based groups to offer the retreats, people were touched, said Huggins. “They were touched that someone was caring about their well-being. The intention of it is a pure one: to try and look after people with demanding jobs.”

Sometimes, the more informed you are, the more stressful you may find the negotiations, he added. “Somehow we’ve got to make our contribution in a way that doesn’t paralyze people with anxiety or cause them to evade reality just because they can’t cope with the knowledge.”

Huggins believes that God is always opening up new ways to contribute, and that the actions churches take must be both prayerful and attentive. “The nature of the reality now is that we do need divine wisdom and guidance to help us make the best possible decisions,” he said.

No one stands alone

Huggins is also sure that churches together can do much more than any one church alone. Not only can churches strengthen their voices by uniting, it’s also more efficient for government leaders because they don’t have to hear the same message from multiple people.

That message should be delivered with a sense of generosity and pure intention, advised Huggins: “No one likes being shouted at by rude people who are ignorant so we try to avoid that stereotype.”

As Lent approaches, Huggins is also working with churches to help people make a stronger link between their personal lifestyles and the actions they are asking from their governments.

He is asking church members - and himself - if a more plant-based diet is possible, if it’s possible to use more energy-efficient heat, and if solar and other renewable energies could factor in to everyday life.

He has also been making connections with the Muslim community, reaching for parallels between Lent and Ramadan. "I have had a positive response from Muslim leaders,” he said. “We’re looking for wherever there’s a partnership that benefits the common good.”

In addition, Huggins points out the responsibility to honor the knowledge of indigenous people of Australia. “Aboriginal people lived on this land for 60,000 years very gently so it would be foolish not to learn from that wisdom,” he said.

All in all, Huggins has hope, observing that local and state governments, and the business sector, are starting to make the transition to a renewable economy with lower carbon emissions.

“I feel quietly confident that, as a nation now aware of the issue, we can rise to the challenge,” he said. “There has been enormous generosity of spirit and sacrificial work by the whole Australian community in response to the fires, the way people responded to the plight of others. We know it’s hard for human beings to sustain that intensity of response for a long period but I think it indicates what our potential is.”


CCIA meets in Brisbane with focus on Pacific regional priorities (WCC press release 19 February 2020)

Photos from the 57th CCIA meeting in Brisbane, Australia

Learn more about the WCC’s Commission of Churches on International Affairs

WCC member churches in Australia