Ed Miliband: Climate change can unite religions

Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, speaking at a London conference in advance of the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen

Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, speaking at a London conference in advance of the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen

The issue of global warming has the capacity to unite faith communities in a common cause and challenge sectarianism, according to Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband.

Speaking to the JC on the eve of the UN talks on climate change in Copenhagen, Mr Miliband said it was reassuring to him that leaders from religious groups, including the Jewish community, had embraced the cause.

“What has been very inspiring is to see the Muslim community, the Christian community, the Jewish community, a vast array of religious communities coming together on these issues,” he said. “We are in the business of persuasion and we have a huge job to do, frankly. The road to Copenhagen has been important, and so is the road from Copenhagen.”

Mr Miliband said he had been particularly inspired by a gathering of faith leaders at Lambeth Palace under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury last month. But he has also made a point of addressing individual faith groups to canvas their support. This included a high-profile event last month organised by the Jewish Social Action Forum at the Tricyle Cinema in north London to launch Anglo-Jewry’s climate change campaign.

It has been inspiring to see the Muslim community, the Christian community and the Jewish community coming together

Ed Miliband

Mr Miliband said he believed the issue of global warming had a particular power. “This unites people of faith in a way that only some issues can. I think to have the world’s religions united in advancing this cause sends a very clear signal about its universal appeal and application.”

In answer to those sceptics who are angered by being described as climate-change “deniers” (they are particularly annoyed by the clear association with “Holocaust-denial”), Mr Miliband said that global warming demanded political responsibility.

“Politicians are not scientists. Politicians have a duty to respect the science and the science is very clear on this. It is quite overwhelming. If the science is overwhelming, we need to reflect that not just in what we say but in what we do. I think it is irresponsible for politicians to come along and somehow cast doubt on the facts.”

Asked about his own Jewish heritage (his father, the celebrated Marxist thinker Ralph Miliband, came to England as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Belgium), he agreed that his background had helped forge his politics.

“I’m not going to say that I draw a direct link between my Jewishness and what I’m doing on climate change. However, I think it is part of my political background. I’ve inherited values from my father and mother. They were products of the Jewish community and products of being Jewish refugees and that has an impact. The impact gives you a faith in the crucial importance of politics to change things.”

The recent discovery of a long-lost relative in Russia brought him closer to his Jewish roots. Sofia Davidovna Miliband called in to a phone-in programme when Mr Miliband was travelling in Russia to say that she was his father’s great-aunt. Both Ed and his brother David have subsequently met her to discuss their family.

She was apparently unimpressed by the careers of her descendants. “One of the nicest things is that she is less interested in what we do. She is more interested in the fact that we are Milibands, and so is she,” said Mr Miliband.

Ed Miliband is one of the few remaining stars of the Labour cabinet, and has taken the newly-created energy and climate change brief and made it very much his own.

Sometimes a calm air of competence can mask his genuine political passion, but one issue where he demonstrates a real fire in his belly is when the JC asks him his views on the Conservative Party’s new Polish and Latvian allies in the European Parliament.

His brother has led the attacks on David Cameron’s alliance within the European Conservatives and Reformist group in Europe, which is led by the controversial Polish politician Michal Kaminski.

But Ed Miliband feels just as strongly, especially as some members of the ECR are sceptical about climate change. “It’s quite simple isn’t it? [The Tories] are neither antisemites nor are they climate change deniers — but they are so Eurosceptical that they end up hanging around with extremely strange people, because their Euroscepticism has pushed them into this position.”

Asked whether the issue of Mr Kaminski’s alleged antisemitism was felt all the more keenly because many of his own family were Polish Jews, he said: “I don’t want to make it about us. I think it’s about the issue, and David was absolutely right to raise it.

“I don’t think we’d claim any special privileged case to raise it. He raised it because he believed it was a significant issue of public concern — and I think he was right about that.”

    Last updated: 3:57pm, December 10 2009