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Reflection from the President

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A story and three reflections from UN COP 25 Madrid 2019, by Bishop Philip Huggins

Inspiring our courage to act and adapt in a climate emergency

Just prior to coming here we released our video of Australian school girls from Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School singing “What the World needs now is Love”, juxtaposed with imagery of the world they are inheriting. 

This came from intentional listening to the schoolgirls, along with the co-operation of their wonderful Principal Elisabeth Rhodes, then giving them a voice into this UNFCCC COP25 with assistance from the brilliant film- maker and friend Richard Keddie.

The schoolgirls sang their hearts out and the video went rapidly around the world on Monday November 25, encouraging everyone who saw it. 

The video can be viewed here 

Amidst the media interest, a woman rang who has been a Science Reporter for many years, making programs for the ABC, our national broadcaster. Her name is Jonica Newby. She asked to come and interview me for a book she is writing on this question: “How do we all live a good and happy life under the weight of this fearsome knowledge?”   

Her story is familiar. Knowing what is happening became such a weight that she became very burnt out and depressed. Prescribed antidepressants, she instead took to the Australian bush for several months in the high country. It took a while but gradually rest, exercise, closer attention to what she let influence her thinking and the beauty of the natural world gave her a measure of healing.

Returning, in the archetypal way of the Heroes Journey, she resolved to write a book out of her own story and enhanced by, she hoped, various interviews. All so she would then have a gift to offer our times. 

Such an ennobling intention, don’t you think? 

I offered her these 3 reflections from my own pondering of her question as to how we now live a good and happy life under the weight of this fearsome knowledge about the climate emergency.

  The poet Wendell Berry reflects - “We must live the life we are given, which may be very different to the life we had planned.”
  Times past, I found this very helpful when faced with unexpected changes and a need for a kind of flexibility few understood.
  Obviously, our circumstances now require a quite unprecedented and sustained level of co-operation by the one human family living on this planet, battered as it is by abuse and exploitation...
  This is the life we are now given. Hence we are here now.
  For each of us, no doubt, our lives are now different to what we may have planned.
  These stories are good to share together, don’t you think? They give encouragement to persist.
  An Australian scientist, anguished by his inability to cut through with the knowledge that should have led to better political policies and programs, put in front of his work desk , a version of wisdom I have seen from Gandhi and Bishop Desmond Tutu: “ The problems are huge. What we can do about them seems insignificant. However, it is ESSENTIAL, that we do it”.
  That has kept him going. 
  For each of us it is different but, we learn, do we not, that we are now part of a dynamic movement towards us being a human family which is a more benign and loving presence on this planet.
  Last week, I was involved in two partnerships with Government and NGOs which aim to prevent domestic violence and which work to ensure Australian institutions are safe for children.
  Both of these partnerships recognise the suffering caused to women and children, especially, by cultures and regulatory regimes which have allowed exploitation and abuse.
  These micro- social initiatives are part of the same dynamic that brings us to the UNCOP25.
  Our conversations here help us join the dots and give each other fresh courage for more initiatives so that we are a loving and benign presence on the planet.
  Personally speaking, I have learned to enter each occasion, expected and unexpected, with three questions focusing my attention.
  What can I learn from this person, this group?
  How can I love them in a pure and selfless way?
  What might we do together now for the common good?

Relatedly, I have learned how very important it is that I listen well to those I meet.

Very few people feel well listened to by anyone.

Listening which asks open questions, does not interrupt, keeps confidences and takes as long as is necessary is now so important.

Such listening, I call it “prayerful listening”, helps with the healing of the ‘soul wounds’ which people pick up from their experiences of abuse and exploitation... Those things about which, as Jonica and many have found, “the body keeps score”.

Listening like this also helps people find coherence for the narrative of their life, especially if, like the many refugees I have listened to in Australia, their narrative has been fragmented and fractured by fleeing violence at home, adapting, settling and trying to help loved ones settle.

I learned the necessity of this from refugees themselves. Said one to us recently: “I knew I had to find someone who would listen to me so I could put things together and be clearer on what I might now do. I finally found someone. I spoke for three months! Then I stopped. I had it all out. I could see the way ahead...”



We are trying to live with courage in the face of so much suffering and so much violation of one another and of our planetary life.

We work for a time, as the artists say, when there will be many ancient trees; living creatures of every kind; only the good. A time when there is no reason to look away.

I know now, as a matter of fact that, as we persist, we discover what the mystics tell us - that we are all one.

I know now, as a matter of fact that “the love in which God made us was in God from without beginning”. (Julian of Norwich, 1373).

I have learned and pray not to forget, that there are in each of us oceans of love which are well able to meet the deep needs we see in our planet and in our fractured human family.

“What the world needs now is love”...That is our song.

With prayers of gratitude for you all, I offer these reflections.

We persist, giving each other fresh courage to act.


Bishop Philip Huggins.

President, National Council of Churches in Australia and member of the WCC Delegation to UNCOP25.


Schoolgirls send special message of hope to next week's UN Conference on Climate Change in Spain.

Read the COP25 Media Release What the World Needs Now here 

Watch the Melbourne schoolgirls sing "What the World Needs Now" - download on vimeo or share on Facebook

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