Rowan Williams urges wealthy to stump up cash for climate fund

<span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Rich countries and wealthy individuals must urgently consider how to come up with the cash needed to help poor countries afflicted by climate disaster, the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said.

At the Cop27 UN climate summit in Egypt, which finished a week ago after a marathon final session ran more than 50 hours over deadline, the first steps were taken to establish a “loss and damage” fund for vulnerable countries stricken by extreme weather.

But while he welcomed the achievement, Williams said the “much harder” work of filling the fund had yet to begin. “I’m not dancing in the streets yet,” he said.

“The fact that the fund is now there is certainly an outcome to be grateful for, as it’s a key building block,” he said in an interview. “But it remains aspirational. We don’t know what the US Congress will do with it, for example. We need some strong statements from the major international players.”

Williams said the world’s wealthiest people, who are sometimes referred to as the global “polluting elite” because of the very high greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their lavish lifestyles, must bear more of the responsibility for providing finance for vulnerable people affected by the climate crisis, and making changes to their own lives.

“It’s quite difficult to get the wealthiest countries and the more conspicuous consumers to recognise the sheer physical urgency we face,” he said. “I think it would really help to bring [those consumers] into focus.”

Poorer people in developed countries should not be asked to shoulder more of the burden at a time of high energy prices, he added. “It’s important to bear in mind exactly where the weight will fall on people, at a time of energy crisis,” he said.

“Where the burden falls heavily on the poorest, we must make sure we are not simply transferring this urgent burden from one [set of poor people] to another.”

Williams said a windfall tax on oil and gas producers could be one way to raise the cash needed for a loss and damage fund. “In principle, it’s a good thought and to be welcomed,” he said.

He noted that Cop27 had failed to produce an agreement to phase out fossil fuels, and said he was concerned by the influence of fossil fuel companies at the summit. He called on governments to consider excluding them from future meetings. “It seems to me perfectly clear this is not a place for that kind of lobbying,” he said. “I would certainly be relieved if they were not there. I worry about next year at Cop28 a lot.”

Cop28, the next UN climate summit, will be held in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which brought a delegation of more than 1,000 people, including many high-ranking representatives of fossil fuel companies, to Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

According to research seen by the Guardian, there were more than 630 fossil fuel lobbyists present at Cop27.

Williams will be one of several prominent religious leaders leading a meeting focusing on faith and the environment this Sunday in Wales, on a mountain outside Abergavenny. Along with representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu faiths, as well as clergy and worshippers from the Anglican and other Christian traditions, he will read the “10 principles of climate repentance”.

These principles include acknowledging that “we are stewards of this world”, that “creation manifests divinity” and that “everything in life is interconnected”. People are urged to “do no harm”, to “look after tomorrow” and to “rise above ego for our world”.

Williams said it was important for people to “keep positive” and to remember that “small actions can have big effects” on the planet. “This is not about making people feel bad,” he said.

“There are better and worse, healthier and unhealthier ways to relate to the environment,” said Williams. “Think of that and of how to get yourself and those close to you into a better relation to the external environment.”