SOUTH AFRICA: 'Green bishop' wants rich to repay 'ecological debt'

May 10, 2010

South Africa's "green bishop" says those who have exploited the African continent should repay an "ecological debt."

"We now know that we can have clean energy, and companies that have contributed to the climate change must pay," Anglican Bishop Geoffrey Davies told Ecumenical News International during a May 5-6 meeting in Johannesburg to discuss how churches might influence future United Nations discussions on climate change.

Davies, known as the "green bishop" for his work on the environment, is the founder and executive director of the South African Faith Communities' Environment Institute, which brings together people from many faith groups who are committed to environmental issues.

His comments were made against the background of opposition by South African environmental groups to a US$3.75 billion World Bank loan to the country to complete the world's fourth largest coal power station, which is scheduled to start operations in 2012.

The World Bank has said part of the loan will also finance wind and solar power projects but activists say the Medupi power station in Limpopo province will pollute rivers and the air and make it difficult for South Africa to meet its climate change obligations by increasing carbon emissions.

Davies said that funding for alternative energy sources should come from rich countries.

"We are not asking for a loan or grant. The rich North has exploited Africa, first through the slave trade and through mining minerals. They have become very wealthy, but in the process they have polluted the skies and environment that we are worried about today," said Davies.

A recent statement by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches described ecological debt as being, "primarily the debt owed by industrialized countries in the North to countries of the South on account of historical and current resource plundering."

The WCC statement said that "it is the global South who is the principal ecological creditor while the global North is the principal ecological debtor."

The Johannesburg meeting was organized by the Economic Justice Network, a body that gathers 11 national church councils in southern Africa. It was examining church strategy following the 2009 U.N. conference in Copenhagen on climate change.

"Churches can add to the pressure that we require to have a legally binding document to emerge on climatic change," said Samantha Bailey of, an international movement that seeks to promote action on the issue.

Bailey was supported by Anne Marie Helland of Norwegian Church Aid, who is based in Pretoria. "No religion will say it is OK to destroy the earth," she said.

In 2009, Davies was named Environmentalist of the Year in an award sponsored by South African Breweries United for his work in bridging the gap between the environment and the spiritual life of people.

Before his institute's formation in 2005, Davies was based in Kokstad for 17 years, where he was the first bishop of the newly formed Anglican Diocese of Umzimvubu, in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.