Lessons From Implementation of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy

Mixed record highlights steps still needed to turn the tide towards better management.

Distilling progress and management developments during seven years of its application, the report examines how the policy has performed since coming into effect in 2014, the extent to which its goals were met, and important conclusions for anyone working in this field.

REPORT from The Pew Charitable Trusts, March 22, 2021Topics: Ocean Conservation Projects: Ending Overfishing in Northwestern Europe Tags: Fisheries management & International policy


Under the European Union’s current Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), 2020 had been targeted as the year to achieve a major change in fisheries management: sustainable exploitation rates in place for all stocks. Despite progress, the EU did not meet this goal.

The story of the policy’s implementation begins in 2013, when, after decades of overfishing and ineffective fisheries management, the European Parliament and the EU’s then-28 member state governments agreed on far-reaching reforms to the previous CFP.1 These included setting sustainable catch limits with the objective to restore stocks, maintain healthy ecosystems and safeguard stable, profitable fisheries for the EU fleet. In 2014, the reformed CFP entered into force, with a focus on bringing fishing pressure in line with scientific advice. The policy required fisheries ministers to ensure sustainable exploitation rates “by 2015 where possible and on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.”

Now, after the 2020 deadline has passed, it’s clear that the reforms have brought progress. But the data also shows that policymakers are still setting too many catch limits above the levels recommended by scientists, with decision-making suffering from a short-term approach and lower ambition than the policy requires.

In 2008, The Pew Charitable Trusts began working with 192 organisations in the OCEAN2012 coalition to ensure that a reformed CFP set ambitious, science-based and achievable objectives. In the years since the reforms came into force, Pew and several other groups have pushed to hold decision-makers accountable in the efforts to end overfishing in North-Western European waters and allow stocks to recover to healthy, productive levels.

This report presents eight key lessons learned from this work to help implement the EU’s fisheries policy, each lesson augmented by a deeper look at a specific issue. The experiences in implementing the EU policy show that:

  1. Good management works.
    As the experience of fisheries managers around the world has shown, when steps are taken to safeguard the sustainability of stocks and fisheries for the long term, the results include environmental, economic and social benefits.
  2. Decreased ambition since 2013 led to under-implementation.
    Decision-makers approached implementation of most major pillars of the CFP pragmatically, too often showing less political will than needed to deliver the reforms as intended. This led to diminished expectations from stakeholders and EU institutions on what could be delivered, almost from the beginning.
  3. Decisions often favoured maintaining the status quo rather than changing behaviour.
    Despite ambitious CFP goals intended to change outcomes in the water, decision-makers often adjusted management measures to fit existing patterns of fishing – to the detriment of achieving the objectives.
  4. EU decision-making remains siloed.
    Fisheries policy processes often follow their own internal logic, so a focus on fisheries yields and economic outcomes may overlook other priorities, such as the urgent need to deliver on wider EU environmental requirements and commitments.
  5. Short-term thinking persists in EU management.
    A long-term perspective – one of the key aims of the 2014 CFP – often took a back seat to immediate political expediency. For example, fisheries ministers continued to set excessive catch limits on the basis that they were a “compromise” between short- and long-term aims or were necessary for unexplained economic reasons.
  6. Clarity on progress is too often undermined by unclear and inconsistent reporting.
    Rather than measuring progress against the aims of the CFP, official reporting often uses irrelevant or changing benchmarks, such as trend comparisons, which frequently do not correspond to the CFP’s legal objectives. This confuses the public about the policy’s progress and leads stakeholders to draw different conclusions on priorities.
  7. Opaque decision-making hampers progress.
    A lack of public communication on the scientific basis for European Commission proposals on management measures such as catch limits, and the rationale for legislators’ subsequent decisions, too often prevented scrutiny of decision-making by stakeholders and EU institutions, and undermined trust in the process.
  8. Stocks shared with non-EU countries present challenges in achieving CFP aims.
    Jointly managed stocks require more complex decision-making than stocks that are managed by one entity. That increases the need for collaborative improvements, especially in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU.

To realise the ambitions set by legislators in 2013, EU policymakers need to take the final steps to implement the CFP in full. The health of marine ecosystems, European fisheries, and the communities that depend on them require the sustainable, ecosystem-based management approaches set out in the policy, without exceptions and loopholes. The findings in this review of progress can help guide decision-makers and stakeholders on the work that remains to fully implement the CFP, and in shaping future priorities for European fisheries.

Summary of the Common Fisheries Policy

The reformed CFP approved by EU policymakers in 2013 came into force the next year and established updated rules for conserving fish stocks and managing European fishing fleets. The CFP basic regulation,2 agreed by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, articulates a range of objectives in its Article 2 and articulates principles of good governance in Article 3.

Overall, Article 2 spells out the broad goal to ensure that fishing activities are:

  • Environmentally sustainable in the long term.
  • Managed in a way that is consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits, and of contributing to the availability of food supplies.

The CFP sets objectives and principles in Articles 2 and 3 that can be grouped into five themes:

  1. Fisheries management rules, benchmarks and reference points, including:
    • Applying the precautionary approach to manage risk. (See Box 1.)
    • Using reference points tied to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) (see Box 2) to require that:
      • Stock biomass for all harvested species be restored and maintained above levels that can produce MSY.
      • Total allowable catches (TACs) be set in accordance with MSY levels by 2015 where possible, and by 2020 at the latest for remaining stocks.
      • Management measures be set in accordance with the best available scientific advice.
  2. Wider environmental aims, such as:
    • An ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.
    • The need to be consistent with other EU environmental legislation, in particular the objective of achieving what is generally referred to as Good Environmental Status by 2020.3
  3. Broader socio-economic aims, such as:
    • Providing conditions for economically viable and competitive fishing and processing.
    • Contributing to a fair standard of living for those who depend on fishing activities.
    • Promoting coastal fisheries, “taking into account socio-economic aspects”.
  4. Rules on a landing obligation to eliminate the discarding of fish back into the sea, to reduce unwanted catches and to gradually ensure that all catches are brought ashore. This approach requires fishers to bring their catches ashore in most cases and count the total against their quota allowances.
  5. General policy aims, such as:
    • The need for a long-term perspective as well as a regionalised approach to ensure less top-down decision-making.
    • Appropriate involvement of stakeholders, in particular through advisory councils established for specific regions or sectors to allow stakeholders to provide fisheries management recommendations to the Commission and member state governments.
    • An approach that takes into account the interests of consumers and fish producers.

Box 1: The Precautionary Approach

The precautionary approach is a globally recognised concept in environmental management that calls for certain actions when data may be limited. Article 6.2 of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement defines it as an approach in which “the absence of adequate scientific information shall not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take conservation and management measures”.4

Box 2: Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)

MSY refers to the largest average catch that can theoretically be taken from a stock without having an impact on the long-term size of the population.5 Managing fish stocks against MSY benchmarks is a key component of the CFP.

The lessons learned

Following a lengthy legislative process leading up to 2013, EU policymakers agreed ambitious goals and practical policy steps, most critically that all stocks would be fished at sustainable levels by 2020. Since the new policy took effect seven years ago, the EU has made significant progress in some areas, but much remains to be done, particularly in setting all catch limits no higher than the levels recommended in the best available scientific advice.

A variety of factors have influenced the policy process over the years – some procedural, some practical and some more a question of political will. These eight lessons learned portray the range of issues. In the sections that follow, each is detailed along with a case study or a deeper look at the detail.

1. Good management works

Science-based steps to safeguard the sustainability of stocks and fisheries for the long term in European waters have produced multiple benefits, just as they have for fisheries managers around the world in recent years. Where overfishing has been brought under control, stocks have recovered quickly. For example, North Sea plaice stocks were at healthy levels in 2020 after a decade of more cautious exploitation.6 Better management has led to higher yields and record-high profits for the fishing industry on an aggregate level.7 Such trends provide strong evidence to support continued improvement: The right decisions in line with scientific advice lead to positive outcomes.

Although progress has been made since 2013, it has been too slow overall to completely achieve the CFP’s aims. The 2015 and 2020 Article 2 deadlines to achieve MSY exploitation rates have not been achieved “for all stocks” as required by the reformed policy. (See Figure 1.) The inability to meet the legal deadline, despite trend improvements, stands out as a major shortfall for the current CFP’s implementation, echoing problems with earlier iterations8 and risking the credibility of future political commitments.

A deeper dive: Reductions in fishing pressure

The EU has reduced overall fishing pressure since the policy was reformed in 2013.9 Although many catch limits continue to be set in excess of scientific advice, on average the limits have been brought closer to the levels that scientists recommend. The proportion of assessed stocks fished at pressures higher than the legal benchmark dropped from 52% in 2013 to 38% in 2018, according to the 2020 official report by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).10 (See Figure 1.) The committee provides expert technical advice to the Commission on fisheries issues.

Embedding specific biomass targets and fishing pressure requirements in the CFP, with specific deadlines for the latter, has helped bring about this success. As a result, in 2020 the Commission, which is responsible for proposing legislation and overseeing implementation, expected that in that year “more than 99% of landings in the Baltic, North Sea and the Atlantic managed exclusively by the EU will come from sustainably managed fisheries”.11

Despite this success, measuring progress for a subset of EU stocks using a tonnage metric gives an incomplete picture. Such an approach does not account for data-limited stocks (i.e., those for which MSY data is not available) and excludes some important stocks (e.g., mackerel and blue whiting) that are shared with neighbouring, non-EU countries, such as Iceland and Norway.

Significantly, the CFP requires sustainable exploitation rates for all stocks, not just for those fished in large volumes. This is an important distinction because the size of a stock does not necessarily indicate its importance in terms of biodiversity. So the 99% figure, bolstered by a small number of well-managed, high-volume stocks, hides a large number of stocks that may be smaller by volume, but no less important, that are not being managed sustainably. Measuring progress at the stock level paints a less positive picture. (See Figure 1.)12

Despite these misgivings, it should be recognised that improved management has resulted in positive socio-economic impacts. In 2019, the Commission13 and STECF confirmed “continued … record-high net profits”14 on aggregate across the EU fleet. Lower operational costs and the recovery of some stocks appear to be driving these trends, but the Commission also notes that “fleets targeting over-exploited stocks tend to register poorer economic performance.”15 That’s not a surprise because these populations have not had an opportunity to recover from overfishing. 

The aggregate improvements, however, mask two underlying trends: a reduction in jobs across the sector,  where employment in “full time equivalents (FTE) has been decreasing on average by 1.2% per year since 2008, partly due to the decrease in the fleet’s capacity”;16 and variation in profitability across different fleet segments (e.g., fishing technique or fishing vessel length categories), including lower profits in the smaller-scale fleet.17

2. Decreased ambition since 2013 led to under-implementation

After concluding an ambitious CFP reform in 2013, EU institutions approached implementation with less ambition. The pace of change slowed in the face of heavy lobbying from a range of stakeholders, including fishing industry organisations, and what often appeared to be diminished political will to deliver the reforms. Decision-makers repeatedly chose interpretations of legal provisions that had the effect of weakening the impact of CFP requirements and moulding policy to the status quo rather than driving needed behaviour changes.

Commission proposals on annual catch limits and longer-term legislation such as multi-annual plans (MAPs) have tended to pre-empt the Council’s diminished ambitions by proposing measures that fail to live up to the CFP’s requirements. The Council, consisting of representatives of the 27 member state governments, agrees legislation with the European Parliament – or, in the case of fishing limits, has the power to set these alone. Too often, it seemed the Commission, which starts the legislation process, would make proposals with the expectation that the Council would water them down. This allowed for levels of fishing in excess of scientific advice as well as exemptions that slowed changes in patterns of fishing behaviour. Such reduced ambition can be seen in the Commission’s reporting on progress (see Lesson 6), which has consistently introduced lower benchmarks to judge implementation success than those in the CFP.

Delivery of CFP aims also has often been undermined by the Council’s prerogative to set catch limits. (See Lesson 5.) The stock recovery objectives are unlikely to be achieved if excessive exploitation rates continue, or even if fishing pressure is kept at the maximum level advised by scientists. Such an approach leaves little room for uncertainty or error.

Throughout the seven years of CFP implementation, the Council has generally chosen the maximum level of catches advised by scientists, or levels in excess of this, with only a few examples of more precautionary catch limits. The Council has continued to choose excessive exploitation rates, with member state fisheries ministers adjusting their decision-making on annual catch limits only incrementally as deadlines came and went.

Members of the European Parliament, which decides on legislation in tandem with the Council, often attempted to hold the other EU institutions accountable for CFP implementation, for example in votes on the Baltic MAP in 2015, but in the end would not or could not prevent overfishing from continuing.18

Parliament does not have a direct say in annual decisions on catch limits, despite the involvement of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in most other decision-making processes.19 As the co-legislator for most EU fisheries policies, including the CFP regulation, the Parliament could have played a more hands-on role, ensuring that the CFP’s requirements were met.

A deeper dive: Moving goalposts

In the course of proposing and setting annual catch limits and other fisheries legislation, EU decision-makers have routinely chosen lower technical benchmarks and higher risks than foreseen in the CFP.

Contrary to the precautionary approach required by the policy, which calls for greater caution in decision-making when information is lacking, the Commission has tended to propose – and Council has often set – limits in excess of scientific advice for stocks with limited data or for which MSY advice is not available.20 Another worrying development has been the removal of catch limits for several species since 2014 (for example, for dab, flounder, greater forkbeard and black scabbardfish).21 This has effectively reduced constraints on fishing pressure and exempted stocks from key CFP implementation requirements, such as the landing obligation. (See Lesson 3.) In some instances, it also has hindered the collection of data on catches of stocks because different reporting requirements may apply.

Policymakers also downgraded the technical benchmarks in tools intended to deliver long-term sustainability. The introduction of multi-annual plans for fisheries had been a key feature of reforms to promote regionalisation of the CFP and a longer-term view. As planned, the process would allow measures to be tailored for different sea regions for longer periods of time. But rather than shift perspective and ensure consideration of each region’s needs, the MAPs too often became tools to avoid applying the policy’s rules.

Decision-makers would legislate for exemptions, while omitting the ecosystem protections the MAPs were intended to include. After watered-down plans took effect, these laws were considered as equal to the CFP in day-to-day decision-making at working level, effectively amending it in practice. This meant legislators had reduced the ambitions that legislators announced in 2013 only a few years later, but with less public fanfare.

Instead of treating the required MSY exploitation rate as an upper limit, Council and Parliament legislators defined the requirement in MAPs to include “ranges” around it, including levels in excess of the highest rate compatible with achieving MSY. Too often, those negotiating the initial MAPs did not heed the warnings in scientific advice on range estimations22 that this approach would bring more risk and less productivity. But it soon became standardised in all regions, along with loopholes in successive MAPs, such as exemptions for some so-called “bycatch stocks” from the MSY aim altogether.23

A 2019 analysis by Pew and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs)24 of the Baltic Sea MAP, the first agreed by the Council and Parliament, shows how policy objectives were degraded in this initial plan and the impact of such reduced ambition on subsequent MAPs.25 Despite resistance from some MEPs, the Parliament ultimately voted each time to agree with the Council’s vision after securing some important – but limited – improvements in the negotiations. As a result, each MAP introduced new flexibilities that made it more difficult to achieve the CFP’s aims.

Often, the detailed measures these plans were intended to contain, tailored to the specifics of each fishery and region, were omitted or forgotten as the process unfolded. The remaining detail prioritised flexibility to increase fishing pressure over what should have been the overriding priority: setting sustainable catch limits with the objective to restore stocks, maintain healthy ecosystems and safeguard stable, profitable fisheries for the EU fleet. Such an approach led to troubling outcomes in the water, maintained status quo fishing practices and provided the flexibility to fish at higher rates that compromise sustainability. This set dangerous precedents for subsequent MAPs that compromised ambitions around fisheries management more broadly.26

3. Decisions often favoured maintaining the status quo rather than changing behaviour

Policymakers intended that the reforms agreed in 2013 would transform EU fisheries management and change behaviour on the water, which would result in more sustainable and profitable outcomes. Although reductions in fishing mortality have in many cases started to realise such outcomes, decisions have too often been moulded to preserve the status quo rather than change it.

At the European level, ministers in the Council still take the scientific advice on annual catch limits and the Commission’s proposals as a starting point for negotiations that then seek to maximise the tonnage of quota that each member state can “win” for its fleet in the short term. When the reforms have had an impact in the water – in reducing fishing pressure or requiring less wasteful practices – decision-makers have often sought loopholes to allow status quo activity to continue. This has included the introduction of new provisions to allow bycatch of depleted stocks at levels well above scientific advice, reinterpreting the legal requirements on fishing pressure to allow flexible ranges, and removing catch limits altogether. These end results have undermined implementation of the reforms and safeguards and brought new, unintended consequences.

At the national level, the allocation of quota tends to reinforce patterns of existing fishing activity rather than incentivise more sustainable practices. To a large extent, these trends reflect national policies and business decisions. Important CFP requirements that could have an impact on these socio-economic trends have so far been under-implemented. For example, Article 17 requires transparent environmental, social and economic criteria for the allocation of fishing opportunities within member states and allows incentives for lower-impact fishing, but a lack of transparency in decision-making persists, at the expense of social and environmental criteria.27 This represents a failure by member state governments to take action at the national level after agreeing these reforms at the EU level and including the requirement in the CFP.

Case study: Limited implementation of the landing obligation

The landing obligation requires “all catches of regulated commercial species on-board to be landed and counted against quota”.28 Policymakers intended this requirement to be a fundamental and ambitious change from the previous CFP that would affect every facet of the policy’s implementation.

Under the previous CFP, fishers often discarded unwanted fish, dead or alive, in the sea for various regulatory or economic reasons. Sometimes fishers discarded small, less valuable fish of a species for which they had a quota, hoping to later catch higher-value larger fish of that same species and to maximise the value of their quota. In other instances, fishers who had already exceeded their quota for a species may have discarded some they caught while fishing for other species.

The current landing obligation rules are intended to reduce, as much as possible, unwanted catch and the amount discarded from vessels. Policymakers made this motivation clear when they included in the introductory text to the CFP regulation the statement that “unwanted catches and discards constitute a substantial waste and negatively affect the sustainable exploitation of marine biological resources and marine ecosystems and the financial viability of fisheries”.29 And the policy had been a top political priority for several countries in the CFP reform process.

Still, implementation did not flow smoothly. In many regions, member states developed regional “discard plans” that called for the Commission to backload the roll-out towards the end of the implementation period, which meant that only tentative progress was made in the early years. That left implementation for most stocks and fisheries to one “big bang” phase in 2019, which ensured that many difficult issues were not addressed until relatively late in the process, an approach that led to a more pronounced impact as fleets adjusted in the final year. In some instances, the perception of potential negative effects led ministers to decide to increase catch limits as a political “sweetener” to aid implementation.30 Although the full landing obligation came into force on 1 January 2019 for all fisheries in all regions under the CFP,31 crucial supporting measures and changes in fishing activity had not fully materialised by the end of 2020.

With each phase of roll-out, the amount of unwanted or unintended catch became more visible and subject to new obligations that could not be ignored. Decision-makers began to see bycatch as a nuisance that risked getting in the way of economic returns. As a result, the number of exemptions and adjustments to catch limits grew. The extent of exemptions to discard plans, agreed regionally by member states, then made the rules more complex and hampered control by enforcement agencies such as the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA).32 Initially intended to be temporary, these discard plans effectively became permanent technical regulations. The changes made assessing total catches for stock assessments even harder. Coupled with increases in catch limits, the exemptions helped mould this reform to fit the current pattern of fishing activities, rather than incentivising behaviour changes or the management of quota to result in more sustainable and less wasteful practices.

Non-compliance with the landing obligation in effect meant continued illegal discarding and compromised the integrity of stock assessments and catch decisions. It also risks undoing much of the progress made in bringing catches closer to scientific advice. These risks remain underappreciated and are not accounted for in EU decision-making on catches, which continues to assume full compliance with the landing obligation.

Requiring the use of new technologies can help. Without remote electronic monitoring (REM), such as cameras onboard vessels to control and prevent discarding, managers cannot accurately gauge how much discarding persists. Official reports conclude that compliance has been low,33 which increases the need to mitigate the risk of excessive fishing mortality. Rather than setting precautionary catch limits, limits were often inflated, based on optimistic assumptions about the coverage of, and compliance with, the landing obligation.34

This reality compromises another major CFP objective that should have been complementary—sustainable exploitation rates.35 A significant amount of resources and political capital have been invested in securing exemptions from the landing obligation and quota flexibilities. If that effort had been invested in ensuring that the necessary tools were in place to improve monitoring and control, the EU would have better managed fisheries and would be closer to meeting the CFP’s aims.

4. EU decision-making remains siloed

The CFP set several objectives to safeguard ecosystems and achieve “Good Environmental Status” as defined by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).36 Such a status goes beyond fisheries productivity to more general ecosystem health. Still, despite these aims and explicit links, EU fisheries policy remains insufficiently geared towards delivering the objectives in practice. Scientists’ understanding of threats to biodiversity and the effects of climate change on European fisheries has advanced over the last seven years, highlighting a growing need for more precaution and ecosystem-based management, as recognised by the EU’s Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy and predecessor directives.

During the same period, however, EU fisheries managers responsible for implementing the CFP have taken bigger risks with the functioning of ecosystems than were foreseen in 2013. Fisheries decisions frequently contradict the wider aims of EU policy. At the same time, the structures within the Commission, and reporting across and between institutions, can blur the role of fisheries management in meeting the EU’s ambitious environmental objectives.

Structural change, along with more democratic oversight and accountability from all three institutions, is needed to turn this around. The absence of both implementing steps and official reporting on the achievement of these particular objectives demonstrates the lack of priority given.

Many implementation decisions explicitly prioritise commercial value over other important considerations, such as ecosystem functioning, rebuilding of depleted stocks and conservation of all fish species. For example, introducing different objectives for less valuable “bycatch stocks” or even removing catch limits for data-poor stocks is driven by economics but directly conflicts with the CFP’s aims. Poor recruitment across many stocks – shortfalls in the expected addition of younger fish to the fishery – in recent years reflects uncertain or insufficiently understood ecosystem trends, such as higher-than-expected natural mortality. Failure to adopt an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management means that the combined effects of anthropogenic pressures like overfishing and climate change on marine food webs remain poorly understood and have not been given enough consideration in fisheries management decision-making.

The EU has persistently failed to bring coherence to decision-making in this regard. In individual member state ministries and in the Commission, fisheries officials too often do not work directly with those responsible for environmental policy. It has been routine and accepted that fisheries policies can work against the achievement of environmental objectives, even as political leaders bolster their environmental commitments in public and on the world stage.

EU fisheries policy must be embedded in the delivery of the EU’s Green Deal,37 Biodiversity Strategy38 and other international commitments. The Commission’s annual fisheries management proposals should set out explicitly how they help deliver on wider commitments and explain what will be done to reconcile fisheries policies that run counter to these other policies. The EU’s Directorate-General for Environment and the European Parliament’s Environment Committee must have a greater say in fisheries policy, with more opportunity to intervene when fisheries policy conflicts with other EU aims. 

A deeper dive: Coherence with environmental policy aims often lacking

Each year, the Commission reports on indicators for economic performance, fishing pressure and stock recovery benchmarks, but it provides little information to the public on the policy’s success in delivering several key metrics. Among those are:

  • Compliance with the ecosystem approach in Article 2.3 of the CFP.
  • Coherence with the MSFD objective of achieving Good Environmental Status in Article 2.5.j, for which the fisheries requirements have not been met.
  • Establishment of fish stock recovery areas in Article 8 of the CFP.
  • Conservation measures necessary for compliance with obligations under EU environmental legislation in Article 11 of the CFP.
  • Incentivising fishing with reduced environmental impact in Article 17 of the CFP.39

Although the responsibility to implement several of these measures lies with member states, the lack of clear reporting leaves NGOs40 attempting to plug the information gap. The regionalised processes under which member states were supposed to agree conservation measures have almost entirely been focused instead on implementing measures for, and exemptions from, the landing obligation.

In specific cases, the Commission has used its powers under Article 12 to intervene where there is a severe threat to marine biological resources, or to drive improvements in technical measures for severely depleted stocks – for example, Celtic Sea cod in 2019 – usually in the face of opposition from the Council.41 Development of mixed fisheries advice by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has allowed the Commission and the Council to move beyond single species considerations. (ICES is an intergovernmental marine science organisation that provides impartial evidence on the state and sustainable use of the seas and oceans.) Still, even in these cases, the scenarios that are consistent with the ecosystem aims of the CFP are generally overlooked in favour of options that deliver short-term economic returns for commercially important species.

5. Short-term thinking persists in EU management

Short-term economic and political goals have too often taken priority over a longer-term perspective – one of the key aims of the reformed CFP. Some of the excessive catch limits provide examples of this, with some cod stocks, such as North Sea cod,42 being overfished while heading towards collapse, and others, such as Eastern Baltic cod, continuing to be fished even after their populations had crashed.43 When risky decisions led to foreseeable consequences in subsequent stock status, they were often greeted with surprise, dissatisfaction with the scientific process or requests for new guidance that maintained the same approach. Future decisions must account explicitly for their effects over a period longer than one year. If ministers in the Council are unwilling to do this, the Commission should publish impact assessments that look past single-year economic returns and consider wider EU policies and legislation.

Among the factors that appear to have hampered progress are the continued short-term focus of fisheries ministers in the Council when setting annual catch limits (see case study below); the opacity of the Council process (see Lesson 7), which is subject to heavy lobbying; and the continued use of socio-economic arguments as justification for overfishing.

In addition, policymakers too often used the flexibility in MAPs, the tools that should deliver a longer-term perspective, to make annual decisions focused primarily on short-term returns. Collectively, these factors amounted to a step backwards from previous long-term management plans that had delivered in practice and held ministers to their responsibilities to recover individual stocks.

Case study: Council process for setting catch limits

Despite proven improvements in returns from well-managed fisheries, industry leaders often warn of severe economic disruption44 if the CFP is fully implemented. Such a short-term outlook is in turn reflected in the total allowable catch (TAC) decisions made by fisheries ministers who sit in the Council. The power to set such TACs allows them to agree decisively in one meeting, but often in a manner that does not reflect stock management that will lead to longer-term stability.

Making these decisions at a single annual meeting boosts the pressure on all decision-makers involved in the competitive diplomatic process, especially for member states seeking to have their demands heard by the presidency and Commission. This reality encourages horse-trading and a race to the bottom – dynamics that routinely result in late-night meetings where complex last-minute decisions and deals are made that may conflict with the scientific advice. As a result, catch limit numbers tend to increase throughout the course of each Council meeting, rather than be brought closer to the science or the CFP legal requirement. This approach provides stakeholders, media and the public with little transparency on how decisions were reached. 

Such short-term thinking also tends to put off remedial measures, meaning that when they are finally put in place they may be drastic and economically damaging in the longer term. Take, for example, deliberations over Baltic Sea cod stocks. Severe reductions proved necessary for 2020 TACs following years of counterproductive overfishing, even as CFP deadlines were looming. The issues were foreseeable and foreseen.45

6. Clarity on progress is too often undermined by unclear and inconsistent reporting

The public does not get clear information on the CFP’s performance. Rather than reporting against the policy’s aims and objectives, the Commission continues to report against less relevant benchmarks – such as the “safe biological limits” criterion or trends over time – or it changes the benchmarks each year for reasons that remain unexplained.

For example, introduction of a “tonnage landings” criterion just before the 2020 deadline, despite such an approach contradicting the CFP’s intent, seemed driven more by political expediency than as a test of whether the aim for sustainable exploitation rates for all stocks was met. Such decision-making can leave the public confused about whether the policy’s shortcomings have been addressed. And the lack of information can prompt stakeholders to draw very different conclusions on priorities, reacting to decisions with competing perceptions of progress, and leaving them unwilling or unable to reach consensus on important management measures. The Commission must publish more precise official assessments of progress each year, based on the CFP’s objectives, particularly in its 2022 review of CFP implementation.

Case study: Limited European Commission reporting on stock recovery and exploitation rates

The EU has published only limited information on progress in achieving the CFP’s biomass stock recovery objectives in Article 2, making it difficult for stakeholders to assess the data gaps and how they might be filled. Independent scientists have attempted to plug these gaps, with analyses of progress46 towards the CFP’s objectives that paint a less positive picture than official Commission reporting. Tentative steps by the Commission towards providing some data through the STECF on the specific benchmarks in the legal objective came only recently47 under pressure from NGOs, and the data cover only a small number of stocks. Pursuing specific goals, such as the CFP’s biomass objective, is difficult if progress is not being measured routinely.

Where more sustainable management has been implemented, biomass has increased, both in the aggregate and in specific cases. However, this important lesson – and good news story – risks being lost in the patchy data published by the EU on biomass trends. Individual cases, such as cod in the Baltic48 and Celtic49 seas, also paint a troubling picture of once-productive stocks overfished until their foreseeable crash, followed by continued exemptions to overfish now severely depleted populations. Exemptions and subtle changes to objectives for bycatch stocks then make it impossible to achieve CFP objectives, even if a shift in goals has never been formally announced. 

To provide a full picture of the policy’s performance, therefore, it is critical that the Commission should ask scientists to provide assessments of progress against the biomass objective. The current lack of clarity has had a practical effect, too: Rather than aiming to keep stocks at productive levels (i.e., higher biomass levels), some decisions have been based around riskier decision-making, with managers simply aiming to avoid stock collapse or, even worse, to maintain catches of stocks that are already dangerously depleted.

Separately, stakeholders have had widely contrasting perceptions of policy decisions that influence exploitation rates and fishing pressure, particularly the setting of annual catch limits. Take, for example, the reaction to the Council’s 2020 catch limits. The Commission concluded they were a great success because of their focus on landings (see Lesson 1 – A deeper dive) and measures to limit damage for bycatch stocks.50 Environmental NGOs, on the other hand, were more negative, focusing on specific CFP requirements, the failure to meet the 2020 deadline and the continued overfishing of depleted stocks.51 Large fishing industry organisations readily accepted the official optimism on progress.52 

Whether 2020 catch limits were in line with the scientific reference points required in the CFP should have been a matter of objective fact and law, not opinion. But because each constituency had a different perception of the original objective, the conclusions were different, leading to frustration among many close to the policy decisions – and confusion for the public.

EU citizens may not realise that policymakers have sometimes chosen risky levels of fishing that do not meet the legal mandate – and that can damage the ecosystem – when management measures or stock statuses are inappropriately presented as unavoidable biological trends rather than political choices. Clearer reporting against the democratically agreed objectives would aid accountability and build better understanding.

7. Opaque decision-making hampers progress

Decision-making that is democratically accountable, transparent and based on scientific evidence is a requirement that goes beyond the CFP’s objectives. EU treaties require clear institutional responsibilities and accountability to EU citizens. In the context of the CFP’s environmental provisions, the EU must apply the precautionary principle. (See Box 1.) The EU also has signed onto the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention, 1998).53

Despite this, the process of decision-making under the CFP remains unnecessarily difficult to follow for both stakeholders and the public. These issues make it harder for those interested to clearly understand the rationale for specific decisions. These factors often foster mistrust among stakeholders. In some instances, the lack of accountability can lead to decisions that seem counter to CFP requirements, often with worse outcomes on the water.

The Council’s behind-closed-doors decision-making may be the most harmful example of this, but improvements by each of the institutions are needed to achieve transparency and secure good policy outcomes. For example, the Commission has generally not published the rationale for its proposals on catch limits that exceed the scientific advice, nor clarified what the scientific advice actually is in cases where the basis for the published advice does not match the justification for a catch limit. In July 2020, however, the Commission announced54 steps to improve the transparency of its proposals and associated processes around Council decisions on catch limits. It implemented these steps in late 2020, improving the process for 2021 catch limits.55 In the European Parliament, voting is inherently more transparent, but accountability can become less clear as MEPs strike final deals with the Council on joint legislation, another process carried out behind closed doors.

Stakeholder processes sometimes worsen the transparency of decision-making rather than improve it. For example, Advisory Councils (ACs) organised by region or fisheries sector are intended to bring together industry representatives and other stakeholders to advise the EU institutions and member states. Their involvement can allow difficult implementation issues to be discussed openly and practical solutions proposed. Some ACs have good track records of providing useful advice, but others have been less successful, sometimes choosing not to provide any advice because consensus could not be reached or producing “lowest common denominator” texts that avoid controversy by removing substance.

Both of these outcomes risk hampering policymaking because they can result in decision-makers bypassing the AC process and listening more to individual interests’ lobbying, or the obfuscation of key trade-offs and practicalities, which adds to the opacity of decisions made behind closed doors. By their nature, AC discussions are often contentious. Bringing advisory council procedures closer into line with the legal requirements of the CFP – for example, on the need for an impartial chair and the accurate presentation of minority positions – as well as ensuring that public funding is contingent on following these rules, would help make these processes more transparent.

Case study: Council decision-making behind closed doors

Despite the 2013 CFP reforms, Council decision-making remains nearly as opaque as it was before, with politicians taking technical decisions on the exploitation of fish stocks in late-night meetings behind closed doors. Discussions in the Council chamber are not recorded, but even if they were, most negotiations on catch limits are carried out through shuttle diplomacy among different delegation rooms in the Council building, a reality that frustrates any attempt to record positions. The competitive diplomatic process for each member state to have its demands heard by the presidency and Commission encourages deal-making behind the scenes that often contradicts stated policy aims. Catch limit numbers tend to increase throughout the course of each Council meeting rather than gradually being brought closer to the science or the CFP legal requirement.

Until 2020, proposals on catch limits were frequently not published or were made public only after the Council process had been completed. Gauging the extent to which these proposals match scientific advice requires investigative work by outside observers. Mismatches between catch limit areas or stocks and the scientific advice, and complex landing obligation adjustments, make it difficult if not impossible to compare two publicly available numbers to assess whether science is being followed, but observers are asked to take it on trust that all decisions are “in line with the latest scientific advice”.56

Box 3. Ombudsman Exposes CFP Opacity

Following years of transparency failings57 around the Council’s setting of total allowable catches for certain fish stocks, the European Ombudsman opened an investigation in 2019 that found that the Council’s opaque decision-making constituted what the office called maladministration.58 The Ombudsman concluded that “the Council has failed fully to grasp the critical link between democracy and the transparency of decision-making regarding matters that have a significant impact on the wider public. This is all the more important when the decision-making relates to the protection of the environment”. It is not surprising that this conclusion arose from a complaint by an environmental NGO (ClientEarth) rather than an institutional impetus to improve accountability.

All of this leaves the public unable to judge the merits of positions taken by member state governments because these positions are generally secret. Individual member states in turn reject attempts59 to assign responsibility for overfishing on the basis that decisions were driven by others. Furthermore, this limitation tends to receive limited scrutiny or media reporting when communicating the outcome, leaving official press releases unchallenged. An investigation by the European Ombudsman in 2019 highlighted many of these same issues.60 (See Box 3.)

8. Stocks shared with non-EU countries present challenges in achieving CFP aims

Fish caught by EU fishers move between EU and non-EU waters, such as those of Norway, the Faroe Islands and now the UK – so-called third countries that make their own fisheries management decisions. Data from the Commission, and observers such as the New Economics Foundation, shows that stocks shared with such countries are more likely to be overfished.61 That reality indicates that the process of agreeing on sustainable limits can be more difficult when third countries are involved in decision-making.

Overcoming obstacles to sustainable management when working with non-EU countries is critical, particularly post-Brexit, with the EU and UK negotiating new joint management arrangements. Governance of widely distributed stocks in the North-East Atlantic is complex and requires stable collaboration based on shared principles of sustainability and science-based decision-making to secure good management and to allow the EU to meet its CFP commitments.62 The EU must show leadership in international negotiations to bring management of shared stocks in line with shared commitments and to ensure that third countries are scrutinised on their policies.

A deeper dive: Shared stocks and CFP implementation

The ongoing overfishing of pelagic stocks in the North-East Atlantic, due in part to disagreements over shares of catch between the EU and third countries, highlights the difficulties in ensuring sustainable management without more robust international frameworks and the important role for the EU in continuing to work towards improvements in critical regional fisheries management organisations. These international bodies are made up of countries that share a practical interest in managing and conserving fish stocks in a particular region,63 in this instance the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).

Both the EU and the UK must heed the lessons of decades of history under this CFP and its predecessors to avoid short-term decision-making and the unsustainable practices that have hampered fisheries management during that period. This is particularly important in light of the UK’s positions on post-Brexit management, which have signalled a lower degree of ambition64 on sustainability safeguards. The UK’s domestic fisheries bill65 potentially undermines the requirement to fish sustainably. In addition, its approach to negotiations on the joint future EU-UK framework66 included language suggesting scientific advice could be traded off against other factors such as “socio-economic aspects”, although the framework agreement reached by the EU and UK in December 2020 included strengthened sustainability safeguards.

The Commission’s role in negotiating fisheries management measures on behalf of the EU with third countries also lacks transparency. Industry stakeholders are invited to attend talks as part of the EU delegation, but other stakeholders, such as NGOs, often are prevented from attending. The reasons for this remain unclear despite repeated requests for a justification. Commission negotiators have instead made attempts to improve the flow of information – for example, briefing non-industry stakeholders outside of the EU/Norway talks – but it remains unacceptably difficult for organisations to access these important negotiations or participate in development of the EU’s mandate for these talks. Improving the management, accessibility and transparency of these negotiations must be a critical priority, given that fish remain a public resource.


The reformed CFP has led to improvements in EU fisheries management – including reductions in overfishing and recovery of certain stocks – that have benefited biodiversity, other stocks and fishers. The long-term trends are mostly positive. But what appears to be a reduction in political will since the agreement went into effect has led to under-implementation of some of the specific policies the CFP required across the board, and this shortfall has delayed the potential benefits of the policy.

Failure to meet the key deadlines agreed in EU law in 2013 – not least the deadline to end overfishing by 2020 – represents opportunities not fully grasped to benefit the seas and the communities that depend on them. 

Short-term political expediency appears to have led decision-makers to aim lower than the CFP requires, moulding management measures to existing fishing practices instead of changing them. EU institutions too often treat fisheries policy as disconnected from environmental policies and exempted from sustainability commitments. Decisions made in this fisheries “silo” and full assessments of progress are not always openly communicated, making inconsistencies with other EU policies hard for the public to understand. And the transparency gap gets exacerbated in the context of the EU’s international joint management with other states.

Some serious problems persist that contradict the EU’s stated ambitions. These should be urgently addressed to complete implementation of the CFP before the Commission is required to assess its performance in 2022 and before policymakers consider further reforms. Full implementation of the policy and achievement of the CFP’s objectives can be delivered only if all EU institutions fulfil their roles to the extent required by treaties and the full body of EU fisheries law.


  1. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Common Fisheries Policy Reform in the European Union,” https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/archived-projects/common-fisheries-policy-reform-in-the-european-union.
  2. European Union, “Regulation (EU) No. 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy, Amending Council Regulations (EC) No. 1954/2003 and (EC) No. 1224/2009 and Repealing Council Regulations (EC) No. 2371/2002 and (EC) No. 639/2004 and Council Decision 2004/585/EC,” Official Journal of the European Union L 354, 28.12.2013 (2013): 22-61, http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2013/1380/oj.
  3. European Commission, “Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848 of 17 May 2017 Laying Down Criteria and Methodological Standards on Good Environmental Status of Marine Waters and Specifications and Standardised Methods for Monitoring and Assessment, and Repealing Decision 2010/477/EU,” Official Journal of the European Union (2017), http://data.europa.eu/eli/dec/2017/848/oj.
  4. United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (1995), https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/fish_stocks_agreement/CONF164_37.htm.
  5. European Commission, “CFP Reform: Maximum Sustainable Yield,” accessed Aug. 28, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/sites/fisheries/files/docs/body/msy_en.pdf.
  6. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, “Plaice (Pleuronectes Platessa) in Subarea 4 (North Sea) and Subdivision 20 (Skagerrak)” (2019), http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/ple.27.420.pdf.
  7. European Commission, “Communication From the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the State of Play of the Common Fisheries Policy and Consultation on the Fishing Opportunities for 2020” (2019), https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52019DC0274&from=EN.
  8. European Commission, “Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy” (2009), http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2009:0163:FIN:EN:PDF.
  9. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “EU Fisheries Management Still Not in Line With Scientific Advice Despite 2020 Deadline” (2020), https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2020/09/02/eu-fisheries-management-still-not-in-line-with-scientific-advicedespite-2020-deadline.
  10. Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, “STECF & Common Fisheries Policy,” European Commission, https://stecf.jrc.ec.europa.eu/index.html.
  11. European Commission, “Communication From the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council Towards More Sustainable Fishing in the EU: State of Play and Orientations for 2021” (2020), https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2020:248:FIN.
  12. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “EU Fisheries Management Still Not in Line With Scientific Advice.”
  13. European Commission, “Communication From the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council Towards More Sustainable Fishing in the EU.”
  14.  Ibid.
  15.  Ibid.
  16.  Ibid.
  17. European Commission, “EU Fleet Maintains High Profits Mainly Thanks to Sustainable Fishing Methods” (2019), https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/press/eu-fleet-maintains-high-profits-mainly-thanks-sustainable-fishing-methods_en.
  18. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Fit for Purpose? An Assessment of the Effectiveness of the Baltic Sea Multi-Annual Plan (BSMAP)” (2019), https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2019/09/baltic-map-review-final.pdf.
  19. European Union, “Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,” Official Journal of the European Union C 326 26.10.2012 (2012), https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:12012E/TXT&from=EN.
  20. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “EU Fisheries Management Still Not in Line With Scientific Advice.”
  21. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Analysis of Fisheries Council Agreement on Deep-Sea Fishing Opportunities for 2019 and 2020” (2019), http://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2019/analysis_of_fisheries_council_agreement_on_fishing_opportunities_for_deep_sea_ stocks_2019-2020.pdf.
  22. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, “ EU Request to ICES to Provide Fmsy Ranges for Selected North Sea and Baltic Sea Stocks” (2016), https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2015/Special_Requests/EU_FMSY_ranges_for_selected_NS_and_BS_stocks.pdf.
  23. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Fit for Purpose?”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26.  Ibid.
  27. G. Carpenter and R. Kleinjans, “Who Gets to Fish? The Allocation of Fishing Opportunities in EU Member States” (New Economics Foundation, 2017), https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/Carpenter-Kleinjans-Who-gets-to-fish-16.03.pdf.
  28. European Commission, “Discarding and the Landing Obligation,” https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/fishing_rules/discards_en.
  29. See Recital 26 of European Union, “Regulation (EU) No. 1380/2013 of the European Parliament,” Official Journal of the European Union L 354, 28.12.2013.
  30. L. Borges, “The Unintended Impact of the European Discard Ban,” ICES Journal of Marine Science fsaa200 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsaa200.
  31. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Fit for Purpose?”
  32. European Fisheries Control Agency, “Compliance Evaluation,” https://www.efca.europa.eu/en/content/compliance-evaluation.
  33. Ibid.
  34. L. Borges, “The Unintended Impact of the European Discard Ban.”
  35. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Recovering Fish Stocks and Fully Implementing the Landing Obligation: Managing Fishing Mortality to Meet CFP Objectives” (2018), https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2021/03/ngopositionrecoveringfishstocksandfullyimplementingthelandingobligation.pdf.
  36. European Union, “Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008: Establishing a Framework for Community Action in the Field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive),” Official Journal of the European Union L 164 25.6.2008 (2008), http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2008/56/oj.
  37. European Commission, “A European Green Deal,” https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en.
  38. European Commission, “EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030,” https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/biodiversity/strategy/index_en.htm.
  39. European Union, “Regulation (EU) No. 1380/2013 of the European Parliament,” Official Journal of the European Union L 354, 28.12.2013.
  40. WWF, “Evaluating Europe’s Course to Sustainable Fisheries by 2020,” Dec. 11, 2018, https://www.wwf.eu/?uNewsID=339493.
  41. European Council, Council of the European Union, “2020 Fishing Opportunities in the Atlantic, North and the Mediterranean Seas: Council Secures Agreement,” news release, Dec. 18, 2019, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/12/18/2020-fishing-opportunities-in-the-atlantic-north-and-the-mediterranean-seas-council-secures-agreement/#.
  42. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, “Cod (Gadus Morhua) in Subdivision 21 (Kattegat)” (2020), http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/cod.27.21.pdf.
  43. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Fit for Purpose?”
  44. Europêche, “EU Fishing Sector Demands Realism and Flexibility in Face of the Imminent Arrival of the ‘Perfect Storm,’” news release, Feb. 21, 2018, http://europeche.chil.me/post/eu-fishing-sector-demands-realism-and-flexibility-in-face-of-the-imminent-arriva-196034.
  45. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “After All-Night Meeting, EU Council Sets Catch Limits Too High,” Nov. 15, 2017, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2017/11/15/after-all-night-meeting-eu-council-sets-catch-limits-too-high.
  46. R. Froese et al., “Progress Towards Ending Overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic,” Marine Policy (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2020.104282.
  47. Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, “Monitoring the Performance of the Common Fisheries Policy, (STECFAdhoc-19-01) Version 1.2” (2019), https://stecf.jrc.ec.europa.eu/reports/cfp-monitoring/-/asset_publisher/oz5O/document/id/2484866.
  48. BirdWatch Ireland, “The Sad Story of European Cod,” Dec. 12, 2019, https://birdwatchireland.ie/the-sad-story-of-european-cod/.
  49. Ibid.
  50. European Commission, “AGRIFISH Council 16-17 December 2019 Brussels,” https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/sinkevicius/announcements/press-statement-agrifish-council-16-17-december-2019-brussels_en.
  51. F. Harvey, “EU Ministers Opt to Continue Overfishing, Despite 2020 Deadline,” The Guardian, Dec. 18, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/18/eu-ministers-opt-to-continue-overfishing-despite-2020-deadline.
  52. Europêche, “Fisheries Council Secures Sustainable Catch Limits for 2020,” news release, Dec. 18, 2019, http://europeche.chil.me/post/fisheries-council-secures-sustainable-catch-limits-for-2020-278327.
  53. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, “Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, done at Aarhus, Denmark on 25 June 1998” (1998), https://www.unece.org/env/pp/treatytext.html.
  54. European Commission, “Commissioner Sinkevičius Announces More Transparency on Its Proposals for Fishing Opportunities” (2020), https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/press/commissioner-sinkevi%C4%8Dius-announces-more-transparency-its-proposals-fishingopportunities_en.
  55. European Commission, “Deep-Sea Fisheries: Commission Proposes Measures to Conserve Stocks in the North-East Atlantic,” news release, Oct. 22, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/press/deep-sea-fisheries-commission-proposes-measures-conserve-stocks-north-east-atlantic_en.
  56. European Council, Council of the European Union, “Baltic Sea: Council Agreement on 2020 Catch Limits,” news release, Oct. 15, 2019, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/10/15/baltic-sea-council-agreement-on-2020-catch-limits/.
  57. Y. Bendel, “Overfishing in the Darkness” (Transparency International, 2016), https://transparency.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/21-09-2016-Fishing-report-web.pdf.
  58. European Ombudsman, “Decision in Case 640/2019/TE on the Transparency of the Council of the EU’s Decision-Making Process Leading to the Adoption of Annual Regulations Setting Fishing Quotas,” April 29, 2020, https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/decision/en/127388.
  59. G. Carpenter, “Landing the Blame: Overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic 2020” (New Economics Foundation, 2020), https://neweconomics.org/2020/03/landing-the-blame-overfishing-in-the-northeast-atlantic-2020.
  60. European Ombudsman, “Decision in Case 640/2019/TE.”
  61. G. Carpenter and R. Kleinjans, “Landing the Blame: Overfishing in EU Waters 2001-2015” (New Economics Foundation, 2015), https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/Landing-the-Blame-full-report.pdf.
  62. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “A Path to a New Fisheries Management Agreement Between the EU and the UK,” June 18, 2020, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2020/06/a-path-to-a-new-fisheries-management-agreement-between-theeu-and-the-uk.
  63. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “FAQ: What Is a Regional Fishery Management Organization?” Feb. 23, 2012, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2012/02/23/faq-what-is-a-regional-fishery-management-organization.
  64. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Will the UK Deliver on Its Post-Brexit Fishing Promises?” Feb. 24, 2020, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2020/02/24/will-the-uk-deliver-on-its-post-brexit-fishing-promises.
  65. UK Parliament, “Beyond the Common Fisheries Policy: Scrutiny of the Fisheries Bill” (2019), https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvfru/1722/172208.htm.
  66. UK Parliament, “Draft Working Text for a Fisheries Framework Agreement Between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Union” (2020), https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_ data/file/886009/DRAFT_Fisheries_Framework_Agreement.pdf.


Below is an announcement from the Cyprus Voice for Animals Union of Animal Welfare Associations, by Louise Guillot Mar 17, 2021. Those of who know and love Cyprus, also know that this illegal practise continues in many places, especially near the occupied territories – hence the need to keep the issue in the public domain.

EU top court bans hunting birds using glue traps

Gluing birds to branches to trap other birds is a breach of EU law, the Court of Justice
of the EU ruled today.

Answering a question from the French Council of State — the country’s highest
administrative court — on whether a national derogation allowing gluing birds as
decoys to attract and trap wild birds is compatible with the EU Birds Directive, the
court said it’s not.

The court explained that this hunting method isn’t selective enough and poses a risk of
inadvertently catching other species. This is “a method of capture leading to by-catch
where that by-catch, even in small quantities and for a limited period, is likely to cause
harm other than negligible harm to the non-target species captured,” it said.
The court added that “despite being cleaned, the birds captured sustain irreparable
harm, since limes are capable, by their very nature, of damaging the feathers of any
bird captured,” and pointed out that better solutions “appear to exist.”

The case was brought in 2019 by One Voice and the League for the Protection of Birds
against the French state, arguing glue hunting was “cruel” and harmful to biodiversity.
The practice has been banned in the rest of the EU since 1979, and the court said
France couldn’t justify its derogation on the fact it’s a centuries-old tradition. “The
preservation of traditional activities cannot … constitute an autonomous derogation
from the system of protection established by [the Birds] directive.”
The European Commission opened an infringement procedure against France last
summer over the practice.

March 17, 2021

Climate Crisis & Creation Care: Eco-Economic Sustainability, Ecological Integrity and Justice.

Our Editor, Dr Christina Nellist, has instigated and is editing this multi-discipline work, where academics, people of faith and no faith and those working in the public sector or NGOs and Charities, come together to offer perspectives on the most important issues of our time – Climate Change and Care for the Natural World. Expected publication mid-2021.

New studies further the case for cultivated meat over conventional meat in the race to net-zero emissions

By 2030, cultivated meat can be cost-competitive and massively reduce the climate impact of meat production.

WASHINGTON — New studies released today by independent research firm CE Delft show that — compared with conventional beef — meat cultivated directly from cells may cause up to 92% less global warming and 93% less air pollution and use up to 95% less land and 78% less water.

The studies model a future large-scale cultivated meat production facility and show that by 2030, the cost of meat grown from cells, or “cultivated meat,” when manufactured at scale could drop to $5.66 per kg ($2.57 per pound). This production cost will enable cultivated meat to compete with multiple forms of conventional meat or serve as a high-quality ingredient in plant-based meat products.

The life cycle assessment (LCA) and techno-economic assessment (TEA) conducted by CE Delft, with support from The Good Food Institute and GAIA, are the first to utilize data from companies active in the cultivated meat supply chain. Informed by real-world inputs, the studies paint the most complete picture to date of the anticipated environmental impacts and costs of large-scale cultivated meat production.

The LCA analyzes various scenarios, including the adoption of renewable energy by both the conventional and cultivated meat industry should they go all-in on their climate mitigation efforts. In the most optimistic scenario, which factors in ambitious projections of conventional animal agriculture’s achievements in environmental impact improvements, cultivated meat outperforms all forms of conventional meat.

The LCA shows that cultivated meat, when produced using renewable energy, reduces the cumulative environmental impacts of conventional beef by approximately 93%, pork by 53%, and chicken by 29%. In these scenarios, the conventional products are also produced using renewable energy.

Importantly, when production is powered by an average conventional energy mix versus a renewable energy mix, cultivated meat’s carbon footprint rises but still remains significantly lower than conventional beef’s. This key finding shows that renewable energy is the key to unlocking cultivated meat’s huge climate mitigation potential and demonstrates the dramatic gains that mutually reinforcing climate solution strategies can deliver.

Beyond emissions, the LCA also accounts for the impacts of pollutants on human health and shows that cultivated meat causes significantly less harm than conventional meat. Not included in the report are the global human health benefits associated with decoupling meat production from conditions that give rise to zoonotic disease transmission and antibiotic resistance.

Furthermore, with conventional meat using up to 19 times more land than cultivated beef — which doesn’t require crops and pastures to raise and feed livestock — a transition from conventional animal agriculture to cultivated meat production can free up land to restore ecosystems and sequester carbon. While these land-use-change benefits are not accounted for in the LCA, these parallel climate strategies can act as force multipliers in global efforts to reduce and offset carbon emissions.

These analyses provide governments interested in a safer, more secure, and climate-resilient food system with data that can inform the allocation of R&D funding, considered vital to accelerating the development and global scaling of cultivated meat. Read GFI’s blog post to dive deeper into the report results and their significance.

Read GFI’s blog post to dive deeper into the report results and their significance.

CE Delft Senior Researcher Ingrid Odegard: “With this analysis, we show that cultivated meat presents as an achievable low-carbon, cost-competitive agricultural technology that can play a major role in achieving a carbon-neutral food system. This research provides a solid base on which companies can build, improve, and advance in their goal of producing cultivated meat sustainably at scale and at a competitive price point.”

GFI Senior Scientist Elliot Swartz: “As soon as 2030, we expect to see real progress on costs for cultivated meat and massive reductions in emissions and land use brought about by the transition to this method of meat production. This research signals a vote of confidence and serves as a practical roadmap for the industry to address technical and economic bottlenecks, which will further reduce climate impacts and costs. Government investment in R&D and infrastructure will be critical to accelerating the development of cultivated meat and help us achieve global climate goals. Favorable policies and carbon markets can incentivize the restoration of agricultural land for its carbon sequestration and ecosystem services potential, maximizing the climate benefits of cultivated meat.”

GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich: “The world will not get to net-zero emissions without addressing food and land, and alternative proteins are a key aspect of how we do that. Decarbonizing the global economy is impossible with the diffuse production process and range of gases involved in conventional animal agriculture. As these new models illustrate, if we can concentrate the environmental impact of meat production in a single, manageable space — and if we power that space with electricity generated from clean energy sources — that’s how the world gets to net-zero emissions.”

GAIA Consultant Hermes Sanctorum: “For GAIA, cultivated meat is primarily a solution for shifting away from animal agriculture and its many harms. Industrial farming has a major impact on the environment and animals. That is why we and GFI commissioned a study to make the comparison between cultivated meat and conventional meat. This study is a worldwide first: it is the first time that a study on cultivated meat has been made in collaboration with cultivated meat companies and with detailed data from these companies.”

Press contacts: 

CE Delft, Han Schouten schouten@ce.nl +31 (0)6- 5189 3057
GFI, Sheila Voss sheilav@gfi.org +1 618-409-3104
GAIA, Hermes Sanctorum transitions@gaia.be 0032 478 55 86 64


This life cycle assessment and techno-economic assessment are the first reports to be informed by data contributed by companies involved in the cultivated meat supply chain. Over 15 companies participated, including five cultivated meat manufacturers. The studies used industry data to model how cultivated meat might be produced by the year 2030 and assessed the costs and environmental impacts of a commercial-scale facility that produces 10,000 metric tons of ground cultivated meat product per year. For the purposes of this release, “water” refers to blue water, which includes groundwater from aquifers or reservoirs, not from rainfall, and is what the LCA analyzed. Global warming refers to greenhouse gas emissions, measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalents.

About the study’s partners and their roles 

The LCA study was commissioned by GFI and GAIA, who connected CE Delft with data partners. CE Delft was independent in carrying out the report, research, and writing. Raw data from the participating companies was not shared with GFI or GAIA. The TEA study was commissioned by GFI.

About The Good Food Institute

The Good Food Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working internationally to make alternative proteins delicious, affordable, and accessible. GFI advances open-access research; mobilizes resources and talent; and empowers partners across the food system to create a sustainable, secure, and just protein supply. GFI is funded entirely by private philanthropic support.


Greening the Orthodox Parish

This is an excellent initiative by the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

They have also begun to produce materials for Parishes.

We are honoured to have been asked to contribute to these 2-3 minute ‘How To’ videos, which as you can imagine is also a great challenge!

Arctic ice loss forces polar bears to use four times as much energy to survive – study

Other predators such as narwhals are suffering similarly as unique adaptations become less suited

Polar bears
The sea ice on which polar bears hunt has shrunk by 13% each decade since 1979. Photograph: Paulette Sinclair/Alamy

This article is from the Guardian

Wed 24 Feb 2021 13.50 GMT

Polar bears and narwhals are using up to four times as much energy to survive because of major ice loss in the Arctic, according to scientists.

Once perfectly evolved for polar life, apex predators are struggling as their habitats shrink and unique adaptations become less suited to an increasingly ice-free Arctic, researchers say.Greenhouse gas emissions transforming the Arctic into ‘an entirely different climate’Read more

The mammals are physiologically designed to use as little energy as possible. Polar bears are primarily “sit and wait” hunters, adapted to catching seals by breathing holes, and narwhals have evolved to dive very deep for prey without making fast movements. Now, however, they are having to work much harder to stay alive, according to a review article published in Journal of Experimental Biology.

Polar bears feed mainly on the energy-rich blubber of ringed and bearded seals, but this food source is harder to come by. The sea ice on which they hunt has shrunk by 13% every decade since 1979. Studies show that polar bears now swim for an average of three days to find seals, or search for less energy-dense terrestrial food sources, forcing them to travel greater distances.

A bearded seal off the coast of Alaska
A bearded seal off the coast of Alaska. Photograph: Reuters

Land-based resources are unlikely to compensate for the decline in seal feeding opportunities, meaning the bears are significantly more vulnerable to starvation. “A polar bear would need to consume approximately 1.5 caribou, 37 Arctic char, 74 snow geese, 216 snow goose eggs (ie 54 nests with four eggs per clutch) or 3m crowberries to equal the digestible energy available in the blubber of one adult ringed seal,” researchers write in the paper.Advertisementhttps://48dbf96dbfc3a90b21d97f64958b0fc9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Narwhals are endurance swimmers that can reach depths of 1,500 metres (5,000ft) in search of Greenland halibut, their favourite prey. They need reliable breathing holes, but the ice is changing rapidly and moving in new ways, meaning holes have shifted and in some cases disappeared.

“The Arctic world is so much more unpredictable for these animals now,” said Dr Terrie Williams, a co-author of the report from the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “With a finite amount of oxygen in their muscles and blood, we find that the narwhals budget their speed, depth, and duration of dives to match the capacity of their internal scuba tanks. One miscalculation could result in drowning.”

Narwhals can dive to depths of up to 1,500 metres
Narwhals can dive to depths of up to 1,500 metres. Photograph: David Fleetham/Alamy

The climate crisis is also causing their migration to change, and opening up Arctic regions to industrial activity, which is infringing on narwhal territories. Killer whales, another apex predator, have joined the marine Arctic ecosystem and are known to attack and kill slow-moving narwhals.

The review collates a number of research papers to better understand how the Arctic’s traditional apex predators are likely to decline. “We wanted to kind of summarise what we know about the physiology of those animals … we really saw a lot of similarities between them,” said Dr Anthony Pagano, a co-author from the institute for conservation research at San Diego Zoo Global.

The decline of polar bears and narwhals is likely to have a knock-on effect on other ice-dependent mammals and their prey, leading to “rapid changes in the entire Arctic marine ecosystem”, researchers say. Mammals such as beluga whales, Arctic foxes and musk oxen are likely to be vulnerable to similar changes.

An Arctic blends into its environment in Nunavut, Canada
An Arctic fox blends into its environment in Nunavut, Canada. Photograph: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic/Getty Images

The paper corroborates existing models that predict a global decline in polar bear abundance of between one and two-thirds by the end of the century. “We have to reduce our carbon footprint using every bit of human ingenuity we can muster. If for no other reason than a world without polar bears and narwhals would be a sadder place,” said Williams.Advertisementhttps://48dbf96dbfc3a90b21d97f64958b0fc9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Prof Klaus Dodds, from the department of geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, who was not involved in the study, said it was an important paper. “As the Arctic continues to burn, melt and thaw, there will continue to be a cascade of shocks and reverberations.

“Iconic species such as the polar bear, seal and whale are vulnerable to changes in sea ice distribution and thickness. As marine ecologies shape-shift, perfectly adapted mammals to a reliably frozen environment will struggle to adapt. The cost of current and future adaption will be high.”

Prof Steve Albon, an honorary research associate at the James Hutton Institute, who was not involved in the research, said: “By calculating the energetic costs of the loss of sea ice to these predators we can foretell the likely consequences for their reproduction and survival long before we have the evidence of their declining numbers.”


The University of Massachusetts, Lowell, is offering a webinar titled, “Climate Change as Moral Priority: The Greek Patriarch” featuring Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Theological Advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The webinar will be held on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 6pm (ET). The program will explore the question, “What have we learned about the relationship between religion and climate change, especially in this period of the pandemic?” The lecture will also discuss how the Orthodox Church and its spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, also known as “the Green Patriarch,” offer a unique contribution to addressing one of the most pressing challenges of our time. To register for the webinar visit https://uml.zoom.us/…/register/WN_N-Jo9elURZWS_vOYSpa8RwThe program is presented by the Maria Nousias Zamanakos, Alexandria Zamanakos and Alice Fleury Zamanakos Endowed Lectureship in Hellenic Studies and is sponsored by the Hellenic Studies Program at UMASS Lowell and the History Department.

In the chapel of the Celtic saints with the strange names

This article came to us via a friend in the USA from a friend in Greece!

Orignal article by Mary Adamopoulou

An old warehouse of a few square meters in the chapel of Osia Xeni, next to the station of ISAP Kato Patissia, filled the period of the first quarantine with saints bearing strange names and surrounded by animals and birds!

The chapel of Osia Xeni, next to the station of ISAP Kato Patissia

Afew months ago, while I was facing a serious health problem in my close family environment, a friend, in an attempt to reassure me, told me: “It’s going to be okay. I’ll stop by St. Kevin’s and light a candle.” At first I didn’t pay attention. I thought I was disobeying my agitation. But when the problem was overcome, I calmly recalled our discussion and came back asking for clarification. “Who’s St. Kevin?”

The appointment was given a few days later, on Acharnes Street, next to the kato patissia power station. Just a few metres away, among dozens of barber shops run by migrants, small and larger grocery stores with delicacies from the Arab world and countries in the former eastern bloc and restaurants with dishes from Iran to Russia, a chapel is displayed. Ceramic red, with a triple bell tower and a small courtyard full of flowers that would be more suited to the environment of an island than to the grey and concrete urban fabric.

An improvised sign at the entrance welcomes us to the chapel of Osia Xeni, which is a metochi of Agios Nikolaos Syros. And since he urges us to take all necessary means of protection for the pandemic, he invites us to meet the chapel with the Celtic saints. A chapel that counts only a few months of life as its canonization was completed during the first period of confinement, last spring.


At first glance nothing seems strange in the chapel. Believers worship and light a candle. The well-known saints adorn the walls. By the time the gaze falls on an opening in the middle of the temple, on the right. “Guardians” of the entrance on either side the Saints Panteleimon and Charalambos. Among them, the inscription “Holy chapel of Celtic saints”.

Just three square meters, chock full of 21 saints, whose names in most of us are more reminiscent of actors of cinema and in no (rather) case saints, and indeed of Orthodox doctrine.

St. Kevin’s, St. Alban’s, St. Bridgend, St. Hilda’s, St. Brendan’s… All of them small, strict in appearance, most with a sympathetic look and several of them surrounded by animals: dolphins, hares, blackbirds.


“It is the first place in Athens dedicated to the Celtic Orthodox saints (p.p.: another chapel dedicated to these saints exists in the retreat of St. Porphyri in Melesi Attica) and could not be found a better hostess than Osia Xeni to embrace “foreign” saints” says in “NEA” the vicar, Father Georgios Ganotis, who does not only work in a church with “foreign” saints , but also in a neighborhood full of immigrants from every corner of the planet.

The chapel of the Celtic saints until about a year ago was nothing but a warehouse, in a miserable state, as he describes us, with candles that smelled and no one wanted or dared to pull the curtain covering its entrance. “Today it is a gem that combines beauty with knowledge,” he says proudly.

But who are these Celtic saints? They are saints who lived in the early centuries when Christianity arrived in Britain, Wales, Ireland. They were then lost after the roman Catholic Church and Protestantism prevailed in these areas, when many monasteries were destroyed, while the remains of the saints were even used to make mandre.

St. Kevin’s

St. Kevin, one of Ireland’s most important saints, for example, lived in the 6th century. and came from a family of the royal generation, as we read in the edition “The Celtic saints in the chapel of Osia Xeni” available only from the temple. He lived like a hermit in the Valley of the Two Lakes, near Dublin, was associated with nettles and was particularly well-groomed. In fact, an otter was once said to have brought him the manuscript of the psalms that fell on him in the lake, became friends and fished on his behalf. He is pictured holding a nest of blackbird chicks in his right hand, as he is said to have held their nest in his hand for days, motionless, until the blackbird threads its eggs and feeds the cubs so they can fly.


Saint Bridgeid asked Christ to make her ugly so that no one would want to marry her so that she could be insulated. Her wish came true, but in time she regained her natural beauty and reportedly performed a multitude of miracles forming only the spot of the cross. It is also due to the crosses of reeds – popular in Greece – for protection from evil. St. Brendan, although to some he is known as the fictional character of the play “Brendan’s Journey”, was born in the late 5th century BC. in Ireland and in addition to the fact that he founded many monasteries in his homeland, Wales, Scotland and France, he may have done a great sea exploration that led him to the shores of North America, hence he is depicted on a ship in the company of dolphins and other living beings of the sea. Saint Hilda who lived in the 7th century. they consulted kings, princes and bishops of England as they considered her the spiritual mother of the country.

Among them is a well-known saint to all, even today: St. Patrick, the Scottish missionary who taught Christianity in Ireland. In his youth and a prisoner of pirates, he managed to escape and then became a missionary teaching the mystery of the Holy Trinity using as an example the clover which, although composed of three parts, is a plant.

One of the questions that arises is that, since these saints are largely unknown, how did the defendant of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Vryoulon of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens, Gerontissa Philothei, manage to create the 21 hagiographies that adorn the chapel? “It wasn’t easy. I relied on information from the co-rooms and used my imagination. Hagiography is not a copy paste. Many times out of ignorance and fear we proceed to sterile copies so as not to attribute elements that do not match the Orthodox spirit. But if we observe the Byzantine hagiographers, we will find that they have been bold”, explains the abbot, who has been involved in hagiography for the last 22 years and while she had no contact with either painting or hagiography until her acquaintance with her teacher, priest Stamatis Skliris.


From the creation of the drawings to the completion of the project, gerontissa Philothei took about a year and a half and worked with hagiography powders and glue. The difficulties were not lacking, as he tells us, when moisture problems on the roof caused the angels he had painted to fall and had to be repositioned.

The idea for the canonization of the chapel belongs to the philologist Konstantinos Ganotis (father of the vicar), who knew about the Celtic saints through his spiritual father St. Porphyrios. The latter even said that “when the Greeks discover the Celtic saints, the Anglicans will become Orthodox”.

But why did the unknowns even in the ecclesiastical circles of Celtic saints occupy a place in a temple in the heart of Athens? “We are not only interested in making these saints known in the world, but in showing the universal character of Orthodoxy. Many times we have a localistic approach, we believe that our religion concerns the Mediterranean basin and we do not realize that we are part of a larger puzzle. When you discover foreign saints, you discover that the Church is a global affair. Universal. And you understand that the saints are not our handlers and that the Church is not in our pocket,” explains Father Georgios Ganotis, who admits that the reception of these saints was initially restrained by the faithful. “But as time goes by, they worship and are interested in learning about the saints who lived so far from our land. Children come who want to see the animals as almost all these saints had a special relationship with the animals, they were nature lovers. They’re buying the book we’ve published to get more information. They approach the chapel as a part of the temple they already love,” he concludes.


Fr. Alex Chetsas

I’ll never forget the look on her face: “Father, what’s this about blessing pets this weekend? Will. ..will they be in the church?” “No, not this time,” I replied with my best deadpan. “I don’t think we have enough pews.” My parishioner and I both smiled, she a bit nervously, and on we moved toward our first “St. Modestos Blessing of the Animals Event” at my little Florida parish.
It turned out to be the start of something wonderful In our community, and I’ve kept the concept close to my heart-and in my ministry “playbook”-ever since. The idea for the event came simply enough. A few years ago a clergy friend of mine gave me an animal blessing prayer from St. Modestas, Archbishop of Jerusalem (feast day Dee. 16). He mentioned that he’d been blessing pets during Epiphany house blessings. This sounded smart: people love their pets, and this would be a low-key, personal way to connect with parishioners while visiting homes. At the same time, 1 was on the lookout for a Christmas outreach event, something a little outside the norm that would invite people to take another look at our parish. I’d been hearing for years about Catholic churches blessing animals. After doing a little research, I learned that this was also a long-standing Orthodox practice, connected to more than a few saints of our Orthodox faith.

The idea developed into a parish-wide concept, and it seemed a great opportunity to
engage in this ancient Christian tradition in a broad, modern setting. The event is held outside the church, so there is no confusion about liturgical boundaries or respect for the church building itself. I started testing the waters with parishioners whom I knew had pets; the response was overall very positive. We picked a December date that was close to St. Modestos’s feast but not too close to Christmas-near enough to ride the positive, cheerful coattails of the season, but not so close as to overwhelm our busy parishioners. Into the bulletin, Web site and local papers the announcement went. We enlisted our JOY group to sponsor the event. The children would enjoy a lunch beforehand, learn about St. Modestos and the respect he had for all that God made, and make sure all of the pets and people were well-satisfied with plenty of tasty treats.

My wife, Brandy, animal-lover and PR machine that she is, got on the phone with everyone from the governor’s office to the city animal shelter, to neighboring churches and synagogues, to every free online and traditional newspaper in fifty miles, spreading the word with a sense of hospitality, friendship and community outreach. I talked to our parishioners not only about St. Modestos but also about the real meaning of Christmas, the coming of the Lord, the Light that shines in the darkness, the Healer of all creation. And I challenged them to recall the simplicity of that unforgettable night so long ago-the brilliant-star beaming, over the cave, which nature itself offered up to our Lord for shelter. I described how the ox and the donkey (Isaiah 1:3) looked upon their new-born Master in the chilly darkness, warming Him with their breath. We talked about our unique relationship with God and what it means to be made in His image and likeness. But I also reminded them that everything God made is good-.and how all of Creation rejoices at His coming. That He comes to make everything new. This truly good news is cause for celebration, worthy of thanksgiving and a blessing.

On the big day, two major outreach aspects of the event fell nicely into place. First, our new friends from the county animal shelter joined us as promised. They brought not only irresistible puppies and kittens to adopt, but also handmade Christmas ornaments for sale. So they offered
great information and education while raising some needed funds for their outstanding, ongoing work. Second, as we Hoped, members of the general public joined us as well. This gave our parish an opportunity to be a witness of our faith in a latent, nonthreatening manner. The visitors observed glimpses of our theological and liturgical life, and we got a chance to welcome them, engage them and hopefully show them the hospitality of Abraham.

And then there were the blessings themselves. A parish council member counted, and told me later that 55 “clients” had been blessed. Among them were 41 dogs, 6 cats, 2 birds, 2 rabbits, a turtle, a goat-yes, a goat-and 2 stuffed animals (why not?). The dogs ranged from the tiniest Chihuahua to the greatest Dane I’d ever seen. I had the drool on my hands, shoes and service book to prove it. This was hands-on ministry. It made me feel like building an ark. Each encounter represented a fantastic moment of bonding with parishioners and people I’d never met before. Getting down at eye level with their pets and blessing them somehow connected us. This bond was inexplicable but real. Some pets had ailments, and I heard about these, too, from our parishioners and new friends. They knew that what was important to them was important to me-and most importantly, to our Church.

A young lady who was with us from the county shelter even pulled me aside for twenty minutes about halfway through the blessing. She told me she had a friend who was depressed and thinking about hurting herself. This young lady was worried and deeply nervous about what might happen to her friend. We talked, exchanged numbers and followed up on her concerns. God put us together on this day-somehow-and some good came of this unlikely encounter. It’s amazing what happens when we put ourselves out there.

As for my little JOY helpers, it was really inspiring and satisfying to see our children hard at work. Fresh from their fun session about St. Modestos; they were ready for action. They served the adults hot cocoa and cookies. They constantly ran to and from the parish hall refilling water bowls, gathering more doggy treats and looking for makeshift toys for anxious critters to play with. They were in charge of a unique ministry: they were caring for something; they were having fun at Church; they were taking good care of what God made. Their excitement was contagious.

At the end of the afternoon, as we were cleaning up, there was an unexpected and final blessing of the day. In the eleventh hour, an SUV roared up and screeched to a halt in front of the church. A couple I’d never met emerged, explaining that their beloved Golden Retriever was dying of cancer. He’d had several surgeries, but things weren’t looking good. They told me that they weren’t members of our community, but they had read about the event in the paper and really wanted me to bless their dog. Maybe it would help. Maybe it would put them at ease. They felt they had to do something. We tried to let them know that even though they weren’t “members” of our community, they now belonged to our parish family. After they’d left, more than a few of us were moved. We had all made new friends, and hopefully we had offered something to one another through this unique circumstance.

I share these experiences because they’ve been instructional and revealing to me. I saw my parishioners in a new light, and I was gifted with a host of opportunities to develop new relationships. I saw our children get excited about a hands-on ministry and watched some of my shyest parishioners evangelize without even knowing it. And then there was the greatest and most awesome blessing of the whole day-the holy water of the Agiasmos service enveloping us, refreshing us, renewing us and reminding us that what God made is good. This was my planned “big message of the day,” but I never really had to say the words. No sermon-to the relief of all-was necessary. For lack of a better expression, it was “acted out” by God’s people.

Since that inaugural event in Florida five years ago, I’ve seen this ministry grow and mature. At my current parish in Weston, MA, we now invite a host of animal “helping” agencies, offer microchip clinics and even feature a “doggie buffet,” compliments of a local pet supplier. OCF college students, who are part of a mentoring program within our parish, run the event. They engage our HOPE and JOY families for support. To grow the community outreach aspect, we’ve also begun to invite law enforcement: Cappy and Mighty Mouse, two equine members of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Mounted Unit, are now regular participants and major attractions. Mouse, a miniature horse, is a big draw. And this is not only a thrill for our parish children, but it also tightens the vital, indispensable bonds between our parish and the general community. We’ve even brought on a parishioner who is a professional photographer to capture that perfect Christmas shot of each pet. He accepts a small offering for each print and gives all proceeds to his local animal shelter.

What could you expect if you started a similar ministry in your parish? At the end of a pet blessing day, your priest may end up with fur on his robes. Your parish council members may shake their fist as they “patrol” the church lawn for early Christmas gifts. Some of your fellow parishioners may decide that “Fr. John has finally gone off the deep end,” and your parking lot will need a serious hose down. But that’s okay. It’s worth it. What God made is good, and it’s our duty to proclaim this truth-and act on it with creativity, conviction and great love.


Going Deeper St. Modestos of Jerusalem (Dec. 16) St. Modestos was born in 292 in Palestine. When he was less than a year old, his parents were put to death for practicing Christianity, and he was brought into the imperial household and raised as a pagan. As a teenager, though, an awakening occurred. He learned of his parents’ martyrdom, and that he had actually been baptized before their execution. A Christian goldsmith began to teach and mentor him, but the man’s jealous sons eventually sold St. Modestos into slavery in Egypt. He remained there seven years before gaining his freedom (he converted his master’s family to Christianity) after returning to Jerusalem. After a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai, he made his way to a monastery, where he was ordained a priest. He quickly became known for his devotion to the faith, holiness and loving nature. After years of dedicated service, he was selected as Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was during these latter years of his life that his long-time devotion to God’s creation intensified and blossomed. He had a particular affection for animals-he saw animals as sublime and mysterious gifts from God. Often he would bless livestock, praying for their health and productivity and giving thanks for all Creation.

OTHER SAINTS WITH A SPECIAL CONNECTION TO NATURE & ANIMALS: St. Seraphim of Sarov (Jan. 2), shared his bread with birds and wild animals; was often visited by a bear that obeyed his words. St. Blaise/Vlassios of Sebaste (Feb. 11), blessed and healed sick animals by laying his hands on them. St. Mark the Ascetic (Mar. 5) healed a hyena cub and taught it to leave the sheep of the poor in peace. St. Mary of Egypt (April 1 and 5th Sunday of Lent) after her death, a lion guarded her body in the desert and helped St. Zosimas bury her. St. Elijah (July 20) nourished by ravens, which brought him bread and meat in the morning and


O Lord Jesus Christ our God, compassionate and all-good, Who fashioned in wisdom both the invisible and the visible creation; Who pour your mercies upon everything that has been made by You; Who, in Your loving providence, provide for all Your creatures, from the first to the last; hear my prayer and drive away and banish every injury and illness from all these cattle (or pets, sheep, horses or other animals), which are being used for the livelihood of your servants [name(s)]. Yes, Lord, look down from Your holy dwelling place and bless all these animals, as you blessed the flocks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of all Your faithful servants. Multiply them, grant them health, strength and productivity; render them robust and successful in the various services which they render so that their owners, having derived abundant benefits from them, may engage in all good works which are pleasing to You, and may glorify on earth Your Holy Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


I attended the webinar launch of this report earlier this week. It confirms what many of us have been saying for decades.

One vital point that is frequently overlooked is that God did not remove His choice of the original violence-free plant-based diet. It remains as a viable choice for Christians until today.

The dispensation to kill and eat animals was not a command to abandon God’s original choice, but rather, in the words of St Irenaeus and St Athanasius, was a dispensation for those with hardened hearts and part of His plan to bring His errant human creature back to salvation.

This article succinctly informs us of just how harmful the animal-based diet is. As a result, our Church leaders and local parishes ought to encourage informed debate on this important issue.

This article is by Damian Carrington Environment editor@dpcarringtonWed 3 Feb 2021 14.30 GMT, gives a concise summary:

Plant-based diets crucial to saving global wildlife, says report

Vicious circle of cheap but damaging food is biggest destroyer of nature, says UN-backed report

A cow looks out from a tightly packed herd of milking cattle

More than 80% of global farmland is used to raise animals, which provide only 18% of calories eaten. Photograph: Alamy

  • The global food system is the biggest driver of destruction of the natural world, and a shift to predominantly plant-based diets is crucial in halting the damage, according to a report.

Agriculture is the main threat to 86% of the 28,000 species known to be at risk of extinction, the report by the Chatham House thinktank said. Without change, the loss of biodiversity will continue to accelerate and threaten the world’s ability to sustain humanity, it said.

“The root cause is a vicious circle of cheap food, the report said, where low costs drive bigger demand for food and more waste, with more competition then driving costs even lower through more clearing of natural land and use of polluting fertilisers and pesticides.”

The report, supported by the UN environment programme (Unep), focused on three solutions. First is a shift to plant-based diets because cattle, sheep and other livestock have the biggest impact on the environment.

More than 80% of global farmland is used to raise animals, which provide only 18% of calories eaten. Reversing the rising trend of meat consumption removes the pressure to clear new land and further damage wildlife. It also frees up existing land for the second solution, restoring native ecosystems to increase biodiversity.

The availability of land also underpins the third solution, the report said, which is farming in a less intensive and damaging way but accepting lower yields. Organic yields are on average about 75% of those of conventional intensive farming, it said.

“Fixing the global food system would also tackle the climate crisis“, the report said. The food system causes about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with more than half coming from animals. Changes to food production could also tackle the ill health suffered by 3 billion people, who either have too little to eat or are overweight or obese, and which costs trillions of dollars a year in healthcare.

“Politicians are still saying ‘my job is to make food cheaper for you’, no matter how toxic it is from a planetary or human health perspective,” said Prof Tim Benton, at Chatham House. “We must stop arguing that we have to subsidise the food system in the name of the poor and instead deal with the poor by bringing them out of poverty.”

Benton said the impact of the food system on climate and health was becoming widely accepted but that biodiversity was too often seen as a “nice to have”.

Susan Gardner, director of Unep’s ecosystems division, said the current food system was a “double-edged sword” providing cheap food but failing to take into account the hidden costs to our health and to the natural world. “Reforming the way we produce and consume food is an urgent priority,” she said.

Jane Goodall, the renowned conservationist, said the intensive farming of billions of animals seriously damaged the environment and inhumane crowded conditions risked new pandemic diseases crossing into people: “It should be phased out as soon as possible.”

On Tuesday, a landmark review by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta concluded the world was being put at extreme risk by the failure of economics to take account of the rapid depletion of biodiversity.

The Chatham House report said the world had lost half its natural ecosystems and that the average population size of wild animals had fallen by 68% since 1970. In contrast, farmed animals, mainly cows and pigs, now account for 60% of all mammals by weight, with humans making up 36% and animals just 4%.

In reforming the global food system, “the convergence of global food consumption around predominantly plant-based diets is the most crucial element”, the report said. For example, it said, a switch from beef to beans by the US population would free up fields equivalent to 42% of US cropland for other uses such as rewilding or more nature-friendly farming.

In another example, the report said if the permanent pasture around the world that was once forest was returned to its native state, it would store 72bn tonnes of carbon – roughly equivalent to seven years of global emissions from fossil fuels. Benton said the report was not advocating that all people should become vegan, but should follow healthy diets that are as a result much lower in meat.

The year ahead offers a potentially unique opportunity to redesign the global food system, the Benton said, with major UN summits on biodiversity and climate, as well as the world’s first UN Food Systems Summit and an international Nutrition for Growth summit. The large sums being spent by governments as nations recover from the Covid-19 pandemic also provide opportunities for “policymaking that affords equal priority to public and planetary health”, the report said.

Philip Lymbery, at Compassion in World Farming, said: “The future of farming must be nature-friendly and regenerative, and our diets must become more plant-based, healthy and sustainable. Without ending factory farming, we are in danger of having no future at all.”

HALKI IV Keynote Address by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Opening Webinar of Halki Summit IV

January 26, 2021

* * *

Beloved friends and dear listeners,

Distinguished speakers, guests, and participants,

It is a special privilege to welcome you to this opening webinar of our Halki Summit, which marks the fourth in a series on environmental responsibility and sustainability.

These summits follow a long tradition of almost three decades. They are named after the island of Halki, just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, Turkey, the site of great importance for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, since on the top of the hill of this island, known as “the Hill of hope,” is located the historic and magnificent edifice of the Patriarchal School of Theology, which has remained silent for exactly 50 years, since the end of the academic year of 1970-1971.

But this year – and this particular summit – is unusual in many ways, not least because of the painful impact of the Covid-19 on people’s lives and interactions. This is why we wanted to dedicate a series of discussions to the relationship and connections between the pandemic and climate change.

We are particularly honored by the presence of eminent leaders, thinkers and experts, all of whom share the same vision and the same purpose, the same prayer and the same promise – namely, the healing of vulnerable human lives and a wounded planet.

Our efforts over the last three decades have focused on promoting conversation and cooperation among all faiths and all disciplines in an effort to contribute to awareness and change with regard to the ecological crisis.

The Halki Summits have proved a vital step in this dialogue and partnership. We are convinced that any real hope of reversing climate change requires a radical transformation of the way we perceive and treat the world.

However, part of the problem lies in our unwillingness to make sacrifices for the sake of others and the earth. We are called to distinguish between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs first and foremost.

We must be ready for costly surrender and sacrifice. As the Prophet David says in the Book of Samuel: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing.”[1] Such sacrifice is a fundamental religious and spiritual value. It is also a fundamental moral and existential principle.

At the same time, very much like the climate crisis, Covid-19 has also taught us the priceless lesson of the importance of listening to and learning from one another. Of being humble enough to care for and share with one another. Of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” so that all may have life – and “life in abundance.”

This unprecedented crisis has revealed the power and value of love and solidarity, which transcend human standards and bear the seal of God’s grace. The pandemic has reminded us that the world is larger than our individual concerns and ambitions, larger than our church and faith communities, and larger than our political powers and national interests.

During the period of this global crisis – with the mandatory restrictions and lock-downs; with the suspension of movement and travel; with the shutdown of factories and the diminishment in industry – we observed a reduction of pollution and contamination of the atmosphere. We were reminded that there can be no genuine progress that is founded on the destruction of the natural environment.

Moreover, it became apparent in recent studies that humanity’s persistent and excessive “intrusion” into nature, with the vast illegal wildlife trafficking and the destruction of the natural ecosystems, through deforestation, urbanization, intensive farming, and through the dispersion of chemical contaminants, as well as globalization and increased interconnectivity, are responsible for the quick spread of contagious diseases and viruses from animal to animal, including man. It is no coincidence that the rise in wildlife-borne diseases has occurred alongside increasing human encroachment on natural world and a rapidly changing climate. The pandemic is not an act of “revenge” by God, but it is a desperate call to a much more respectful approach to nature by all of us.

We pray above all that the God of love and mercy, creator of heaven and earth, maker of all things visible and invisible, physician of our souls and bodies, will give rest to those who have lost their lives, strengthen the sick in their suffering, console their family and relatives, and support the selfless service of healthcare and essential workers.

This time will soon pass; the pandemic will gradually subside; God will heal all wounds. Spring is already in the air. May all of us emerge having discovered a dimension of depth in all things, having experienced a “good transformation,” and having appreciated the value of the divine gifts of life and health, as well as of sacrifice and solidarity.

We sincerely hope that the Halki Summit IV deliberations and discussions will unfold fresh and fruitful ways of informing and working with one another. Whether you are participating “live” or listening to a recording, we pray that all of you will be inspired to initiate new and vital ways for a genuine conversion of hearts and minds.

May God bless you all!

1] 2 Samuel 24:24

EXCITING NEWS: Fr John Chryssavgis and Fr Jack Khalil join POCA’s new ADVISORY GROUP

We are delighted to announce a new tier to our charity’s structure – an Advisory Group.

We are honoured and humbled to have two highly respected Eastern Orthodox theologians join us in our quest to educate others on Eastern Orthodox Church teachings on compassionate care for all of God’s creatures. See further details below:

The Fr. Dr. John  C H R Y S S A V G I S is Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, serving as theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Born in Australia (1958), he matriculated from The Scots College (1975). He received his degree in Theology from the University of Athens (1980), a diploma in Byzantine Music from the Greek Conservatory of Music (1979), and was awarded a research scholarship to St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary (1982). He completed his doctoral studies in Patristics at the University of Oxford (1983) under the supervision of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. While serving as Personal Assistant to the Greek Orthodox Primate in Australia (1984–95), he co-founded St Andrew’s Theological College in Sydney (1985), where he was Sub-Dean and taught Patristics and Church History (1986–95).  He was also Lecturer in the Divinity School (1986–90) and the School of Studies in Religion (1990–95) at the University of Sydney. In 1995, he moved to Boston, where he was appointed Professor of Theology at Holy Cross School of Theology and directed the Religious Studies Program at Hellenic College until 2002. In December 2020, he was elected Honorary Professor of Theology at the Sydney College of Divinity.

Fr. John also serves as senior advisor of the Department of Ecumenical Affairs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The author of over thirty books and numerous articles in several languages on the Church Fathers and Orthodox Spirituality, his publications include Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Holy Cross Press, 2000), Light Through Darkness: the Orthodox tradition (Orbis Books, 2004), The Letters of Barsanuphius and John (2 volumes, Catholic University Press, 2006–2007), and The Office of Primacy and the Authority of Councils (2 volumes, St. Vladimir’s Press, 2015–2016). He is the editor of three volumes containing the select writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Fordham University Press, 2010–2012) and the official biographer of the Ecumenical Patriarch with his publication Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary (Harper Collins, 2016). His latest book is Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality (Bloomsbury Books, 2019). He is also now a member of the Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals Charity Advisory Group.

Archimandrite Jack Khalil is Dean of the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology – University of Balamand and Professor of New Testament Studies. Furthermore, he has been visiting Professor at many Orthodox Theological Faculties and Institutes over the world, e.g. University of Athens, Thessaloniki, IOCS (Cambridge) and St. Serge (Paris), University of North Eastern Finland, Theological School of the Church of Cyprus, et cetera. He holds a Ph.D. degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and studied for 3 years as Visiting Fellow at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität in Tübingen, Germany. His main fields of interest are the Epistles of St Paul and the Johannine Literature. He is the author of one book published in Greece, which has been admitted as a textbook reference at the University of Thessaloniki since 2005, and many chapters in books, researches and studies published in Lebanon, Greece, France, USA, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, and Bulgaria. He is known for his contribution on the contemporary Orthodox interpretation of the Justification by Faith in the Pauline Epistles.

Archimandrite Khalil is a member of the Biblical Federation in Lebanon, the Hellenic Society of Biblical Studies, the Revision Committee of the van-Dyck–Boustani Bible Arabic Translation, the Synodical Revision Committee of Liturgical Books, the Synodical Committee of preparing a modern translation of the New Testament.  He is also a Central Committee member in the WCC since 2013, as well as a member of its Faith & Order Commission since 2014. And he was between 2007-2012 the Eastern Orthodox representative in the WCC Continuation Committee on “Ecumenism in the 21st Century”. He was for many years the Church representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East in the Committee of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches for the Collaboration with the United Bible Societies. He is also now a member of the Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals Charity Advisory Group.

Asceticism, Ethics, and the Renewal of the Earth: Orthodox Christian Contributions to an Ecumenical Ecology

We have been given permission by Father John Chryssavgis and Aaron Hollander to reproduce this interview on our website and we thank them both for this honour. This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Ecumenical Trends, a publication of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute. See below for further details. An excellent way to start 2021.

The Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was born in Australia, studied theology in Athens, completed his doctorate in Oxford, and lived for a time on Mt. Athos. He has taught theology in Sydney and in Boston, and he currently serves as theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, known worldwide as “the green patriarch.” His latest book is Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality (Bloomsbury, 2019). He lives in Maine.

Dr. Aaron Hollander is Associate Director of Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute and Associate Editor of Ecumenical Trends, currently serving as Vice President of the North American Academy of Ecumenists. He is a scholar of theology and culture, whose current research concerns the dynamics of ecumenical/interreligious conflict and coexistence, the aesthetic textures and political functions of holiness (particularly in Orthodox Christianity), and the circulation of theological understanding beyond explicitly religious settings.

Aaron Hollander, for Ecumenical Trends: Fr. John, we are so pleased to feature this conversation with you in Ecumenical Trends, as we reflect on some important ecumenical anniversaries and look with cautious optimism toward the future. We have had a lot to do with one another this year: GEII staff and our collaborators were delighted to have you join us for the “Ecology and Ecumenicity” webinar in September, and around the same time we featured a series of ecumenical responses to For the Life of the World, the new Orthodox social ethos document, in the composition of which you played an instrumental role. I was honored to participate in your interview series for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on antisemitism in the contemporary church, and I’m grateful that we now have the opportunity to share a little more of your tireless work and influential perspective with our readers.

Your personal and professional histories are themselves fascinating, taking you from a childhood in Australia, by way of theological, historical, and musical studies (and professorships) at the world’s great universities, to your current role as Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and special advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on ecological issues. Would you talk us through a few of the key milestones of this trajectory, and their significance to you today?

John Chryssavgis: Aaron, I am so glad to reconnect with you after first meeting you in Chicago many years ago, and now after these several collaborations of the past months. Your question highlights transitions that may appear curious, but there are some very fundamental connecting threads that bind together the aspects you raise. Born into a cradle Greek Orthodox and clerical family, I always envisaged combining ministry and education. That is what I dreamed of; that is what I studied; and that is what I’m doing and enjoying. That’s what took me to Athens, New York, and Oxford for academic studies; that’s what led me to Mount Athos, Australia, and America for early formation; and that’s what attracted me to the innermost court of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in recent years. It has been a journey fraught with frustration for the tensions within the institutional church, but also filled with gratification for the potential of the global church.

AH: You are very well known for your work in ecological theology and ethics, not least in light of the extraordinary global leadership of Patriarch Bartholomew on these matters. We’ll return to ecological questions a little later, expanding on your remarks at our recent “Ecology and Ecumenicity” program (which will themselves be published in a later issue of Ecumenical Trends). Yet much of your scholarship concerns the ascetic thought and practice of the early church, for instance, in works on the desert fathers and on John Climacus. How would you describe the connection between these two fields of interest, the ecological and the ascetic?

JC: Once again, at least from the perspective of my own journey and vocation, there is a direct connection between the early desert fathers (who are the center of my research and my passion) and the concern for the environment (which is at the heart of my energy and attention). I recall very vividly flying back to Australia after my studies in England and Greece, wondering how I could possibly relate or reconcile my love for ascetic and monastic spirituality in my beloved homeland Australia, a country so markedly shaped by (at best) a-religious indifference or (at worst) anti-religious secularism. It was only as I flew over the vast arid desert, which constitutes two-thirds of that continent, that I recognized the immediate association between the geography and the spirituality. I quickly became aware that the landscape had more to teach me – whether through the truth of creation or the imagination of the “dreamtime” – than I could ever hope to bring to the table in any dialogue and discussion. From this consciousness and confession emerged my first publication: an anthology of theological, historical, and literary reflections on the role and place of the Australian terrain, entitled The Desert is Alive.

AH: It’s easy to associate the desert with an ecology of deprivation and barrenness, not least when we’re familiar with the Christian ascetic tradition’s figuration of the desert as “wasteland,” “abode of demons,” and the like. But you see more than this in the cosmological orientation of the desert fathers and mothers, don’t you? What is it about the desert that speaks to Orthodox Christian understandings of ecological integrity?

JC: Most definitely. The desert is multifaceted, and the dimension of deprivation or barrenness is only one aspect, which in itself is so variegated. In Australia, for instance, the fact that people have chosen to flee the desert and live on the margins – which is exactly the opposite of what ascetic men and women did in third- and fourth-century Egypt – is surely indicative of a different set of priorities and principles. The desert is a place where you are forced to face your demons, which can easily be avoided in the distraction of a city.

By contrast, for the desert fathers and mothers, the desert was the place where you strive to meet and live with God, where you come to know yourself and open up to others, where you become attuned to your environment. There are abundant stories about the desert-dwellers and their association with nature and animals. And this is an affinity that surpasses sentimentality or superficiality. It is an alliance that transcends time and place, centuries and cultures – and so we find the same spirituality in the seventh century with Isaac the Syrian, in the thirteenth century with Francis of Assisi, and in the nineteenth century with Seraphim of Sarov. It originates in the conviction that God created and loves the world – “and all the fullness thereof” (as Psalm 24 has it) – and aspires to a reorientation and reconciliation of all things with God. If the early desert ascetics were eccentric, it is because they reminded the world that we have relocated or removed the proper center of the world.

AH: How about in the present day? As we look around at the culture and at the institutions of our industrialized society here in the US, as well as around the world, we see deeply unsustainable patterns of consumption as well as callousness toward the well-being of future generations. You’ve written about how easily human beings can become trapped in patterns of wish-fulfillment and self-prioritization: do you suppose that this applies to our institutions as well? Are we unwilling, or are we unable, to reimagine and reinstitutionalize our world for sustainability? And in either case, what can be done about it?

JC: I have been criticized for my emphasis on the ascetic dimension in responding to climate change. And I seriously contemplated and considered just how vital and practical such a response really is. But I am convinced – more so than ever before – that it is the only way of addressing the problem. There is an intimate inter-connection and inter-dependence between conscience (as self-understanding) and compassion (as concern for the world).

First of all, we know that sustainability inevitably mandates consuming and wasting less – despite how much that goes against the grain of development and progress – so we must learn to embrace the notion of “detachment” if we are truly to appreciate the notion of “attachment.” Otherwise, if we are destroying the very resources we are hoping to enjoy, that in itself should raise a red flag. Second, we have become so unfamiliar and unaccustomed to doing with less – especially in a society where we are overwhelmed and overawed by cultural images of having more and more – that we literally experience “withdrawal symptoms” and profound denial whenever confronted by the need to have or waste less. As a result, travelling light or living simply appears unnatural and uncomfortable. And finally, frankly, if it seems challenging and inconvenient, perhaps we should consider that there might actually be something to breaking the patterns or contradicting the norms. That is, after all, exactly what the early desert-dwellers proved: that there is value in stepping back to reflect; that there is virtue in surrendering in order to share; and that there is validity in assessing the impact and consequence of our actions.

AH: Many would think of asceticism as something that individuals do; or at most, we might think of community structures where many individuals live together and support one another in their spiritual exercises. But can the lessons of the Orthodox ascetic tradition be scaled up, so to speak, or (dare I say it?) modernized? Can they intervene in the political order and our civic institutions, and if so, in what ways?

JC: I have already hinted at the correlation between the personal and the political, the spiritual and the social. Both poles need to be maintained: without the personal or spiritual, there may be no direction in the political or social; and without the political or social, there may be no purpose to the personal or spiritual. For centuries, the Orthodox Church has championed – indeed, even excelled in – the mystical and liturgical dimensions of social justice and responsibility. At the same time, Western Christianity and civilization have initiated – indeed, demonstrated leadership in – the societal and legal dimensions of the Christian response and vocation. But both of these aspects must be brought and held together if Christianity is to balance the tension in its mission and mandate of being “in the world” but “not of the world.”

The problem of course is that the term “asceticism” carries with it a long history and complicated baggage; people associate it with negative, even excessive behavior. But detachment and self-denial do not have imply self-pity or self-absorption; it is not ultimately about deprivation or disconnection. Asceticism is essentially about commitment and community; it is hardly about being consumed with oneself, but rather about being concerned about others. And that means that there is a direct line from the heart of the individual to the heart of the world.

AH: ACan we take up a concrete example here? In the United States, we have been living through a time shaped by political anger and avarice, a culture of despair and carelessness, a gluttony for material pleasures at the expense of the many worldwide who are crushed under the wheels of American consumption, and what might best be described as epistemological vainglory – the conviction that the information which supports our beliefs and practices must be true because we are satisfied by it and are able by way of it to maintain what we take to be a moral or cultural high ground over others. We have just undergone a presidential and congressional election that has been regularly described as a referendum on the “soul” of the nation. In this context, do I even need to mention those remaining two of the classic eight demonic thoughts – lust and pride?

The ascetic tradition (and not only in Orthodoxy) knows how to engage with anger, avarice, despair, carelessness, gluttony, vainglory, and so forth. What does it offer, on this larger scale, to a country deeply divided and disoriented by these same realities? What might it take to “talk back” to the demons of systemic racism, ravenous profit-seeking, or tribal epistemology (none of which can be addressed adequately by individuals)? Can the ascetic tradition speak to people and institutions that have not opted into a monastic environment?

JC: I have come to appreciate that it is so simple – and at the same time so tempting – to rationalize or spiritualize the fundamental response to and vital responsibility of creation care. Clergy and theologians are especially susceptible to this kind of justification or pretext. After all, we have all the bulwarks of inquiry and insight – from doctrines to heresies – at our fingertips.

But I have abandoned the notion that I have to convince people that living simply in order that others might simply live is a way of deconstructing the demonic systems that you mention. It would be like explaining to people that prayer can light up the whole world with fire or that silence can equal a thousand words of conversion and transformation. It is not persuasive to speak these things without demonstrating them in our lives. How then can we understand the spiritual struggle “against powers and principalities” as somehow different or detached from the struggle with outward systems of oppression and consumption?

When I surrender some of my indulgence in comfort, I learn to share with those who don’t have enough to survive. When I realize the discomfort of fasting, I recall the hunger of others. And when I consider the hunger of others, I begin to crave for God. Then I begin to suspect the sacred nature of food and that I “cannot live by bread alone.” Then I begin to affirm that material creation is not under my control and is not for my exploitation. Then I begin to break down barriers with my neighbor and my world, gradually moving away from what I want to what the world needs.

AH: In one way this strikes me as following in the model of the saints, as we are all invited to do: to represent the “beautiful struggle” (2 Timothy 4:7) for a healed heart and a renewed world not primarily by arguing about how to go about it (though there is surely a place for this too!), but by living this struggle in the presence of others, in ways that others will witness and from which they will, in John Chrysostom’s conventional metaphor, “catch fire.” I think we’ve just reinvented a modern aphorism by way of ascetic theology and hagiology: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” In this context, though, I’d say it feels less like a platitude and more like a genuine basis for hope.

Let me transition here to another matter of recent ecclesiological and ecumenical importance. You had a significant hand in the special commission that produced the groundbreaking Orthodox social ethos document published earlier this year, For the Life of the World – several responses to which we featured in the previous issue of Ecumenical Trends. Would you share your own perspective on the significance of this work, and on the rationale for producing the document in the way that it was written and disseminated?

JC: This groundbreaking document has special significance given the historical background of Orthodox Christianity that we spoke of earlier. In recent years, the Eastern Church has been allergic, even aversive to social statements. This is arguably the result of a struggle to understand its place in the world resulting from long periods of isolation or persecution within many traditional Orthodox homelands, particularly those behind the Iron Curtain. But, as I already pointed out, the church has always grappled with its place and role in the world. So, whether speaking of heaven in relation to earth, or of the world in relation to the kingdom, it has covered the full spectrum from identifying (and compromising) with the world to becoming estranged (and aloof) from it, frequently being reduced to an ethnic ghetto or to nationalistic triumphalism. In the last century, the church has been frequently viewed as responsible for handling otherworldly or sacred things, whereas the state was entrusted with worldly or secular things.

Yet it wasn’t always this way. The early and Byzantine church had a bold voice on questions of social justice. Even a cursory reading of fourth-century writers like Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom reveals the prominence of the social core of the gospel teaching in their minds and ministry. While there may be some merit to questioning whether Christianity should merely be a “useful” accessory in a world of competing promises for security, the alternative does not need to be a Christianity that is primarily a “useless” anachronism in an age of pluralistic choices.

AH: That’s a helpful way of describing the great diversity of social perspectives (and diversity of attitudes toward social intervention) that have animated the history of Orthodox Christianity – the same, of course, is true for other churches too, even as their specific contexts may have looked rather different. So then, what is particularly unusual or significant about how For the Life of the World addresses the contemporary (that is, globalized and pluralistic) world?

JC: While the crafting of this document was in some ways unparalleled in the transparency of its process, and it was unprecedented as a partnership between the official hierarchy and the world of theological scholarship, the readiness and openness of the church to involve and inform the laity in matters related to doctrine and polity still fall far short of the ideal. An ongoing chipping away at the hardened nucleus of clericalism and institutionalism is still required. Nonetheless, the fact that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew commissioned, entrusted, and endorsed this social document is in itself a welcome and refreshing shift in mentality and priority for a church that is normally associated with the past and alienated from the present.

But For the Life of the World should be received as a first step toward imperative reflection on the social ethos of the Orthodox Church as well as toward the consideration and articulation of a social role for the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world. It is intended to provide a roadmap for reconciling contemporary issues with the traditional wisdom and spiritual beauty of Orthodox Christianity, while initiating a conversation with parishes and congregations, schools and seminaries, as well as ecumenical circles and the broader community. So I am delighted that you are asking me about it and, more significantly, that you have published a series of critical responses in Ecumenical Trends.

AH: There is an important ecological message in the document, as well. Chapter VIII of For the Life of the World deals with “Science, Technology, and the Natural World.” The section draws on Maximus the Confessor’s notion of human being as a “cosmic priesthood,” and it suggests that all humans – not merely all Christians – are called to “bless, elevate, and transfigure” the earth. For our readers who are not steeped in Orthodox theology, can you unpack this claim somewhat? And to what extent does this way of thinking resonate with, push beyond, or stand in tension with Patriarch Bartholomew’s longstanding ecological vision and initiatives?

JC: In the seventh century, some of the more insightful mystics understood that they stood at a crossroads embracing the past and espousing the future with a more open worldview. Writers like Maximus the Confessor, John Climacus, and Isaac the Syrian integrated the positive traditional concepts related to the sacredness of the human body and the significance of all creation. Thus Maximus spoke of the divine incarnation as reaching “the last extremities of nature” and of the world as a “cosmic liturgy.” Maximus also described the human person as a microcosm and a mediator between Creator and creation. In such a worldview, everything acquires a sacramental seal, and everything enjoys a sacred significance.

This means that there is a dimension of art, music, and beauty in nature’s liturgy. And it further implies that, whenever we narrow life – even religious life – to ourselves and our own interests, we are inevitably neglecting our vocation to reconcile and transform all of creation. Our relationship with this world determines our relationship with heaven; we cannot conveniently or complacently separate the two. The way we treat the earth is reflected in the way that we pray to God. Walking on this planet and kneeling in church are tantamount to the same thing.

In this sense, some Orthodox theologians have spoken of human beings as “priests” of creation. And while such a definition carries with it another complex constraint of misconceptions and abuses – whether in terms of chauvinism, clericalism, or institutionalism – there is no doubt that we are called to challenge and criticize our relationship with the rest of creation, beyond that of master or proprietor, and even steward or custodian. The last designations are often championed by Christian or religious environmentalists, especially because of the long history of “stewardship” in Judeo-Christian scripture and literature. However, this too retains some of the vestiges of management, command, and even control over nature and creation.

AH: Part of what you’re suggesting, it seems to me, is that we need spiritual exercise: we need to deepen our own being through a process of ongoing conversion. Maybe we don’t give up our fundamental points of reference, but we have to recognize that we often clothe them in self-serving habits, or we mistake an ideal for a nonnegotiable course of action in the world –

JC: Yes, but even sometimes our prized moral or theological points of reference – I think sometimes we do have to give them up, or at least suspend them temporarily. Sometimes we need to acknowledge – all right, I hold my beliefs and values, but I don’t operate out of all of them all the time, and often I live them poorly. So for now, for the sake of the other’s conscience and their created dignity and the possibility of breaking free of legacies of antagonism, can I just take a step back humbly and dare to view the other’s faith and call as legitimate, offering some new insight? John Paul’s description of dialogue as “the exchange of gifts” is a good starting point. But commitment to ecumenism also involves a willingness to be changed, inviting us to the more radical “dialogue of conversion.”

AH: What does this tension between Orthodox theology and such controlling modes of human intervention in creation suggest with regard to the natural sciences, and the technological advances that they have generated? One of my favorite lines in For the Life of the World is its declaration, with no tiptoeing or ambiguity, that “the Orthodox Church has no interest in hostilities between simpleminded philosophies, much less in historically illiterate fables regarding some kind of perennial conflict between faith and scientific reason” (§71). The language of the document is crisp and clear throughout, but this struck me as a statement that is given particular emphasis. Why is this rejection of a “science-versus-religion” mentality so important? And should a distinction be drawn, then, between an embrace of science and an embrace of the technological domination of creation?

JC: For the Life of the World was actually conceived and composed well before the appearance of COVID-19. However, much of its content – particularly the section you are referring to on religion and science – is certainly pertinent and timely. For a long time, faith and science were falsely understood to be in search of different sorts of truth, as if there was more than one truth. This resulted in a dangerous dichotomy of truth as transcendent on the one hand (in the case of the church) and immanent on the other (in the case of science). In terms of creation theology, this manifested as an emphasis by science on the “book of nature” and the response (sometimes reaction, and even retaliation) of the church with an emphasis on the “book of scripture.”

However, during the current pandemic, the entire debate has emerged as a bone of contention as churches and faith communities have been compelled to address their role and responsibility toward their parishioners and constituents. It isn’t a coincidence that the pandemic is described as a crisis; and “crisis” is a Greek word that indicates judgment. We will be judged by our response to this defining moment in our lives. In the Orthodox Church – both here in the US and globally – this has culminated in a heated conversation about the way Holy Communion is distributed and received.

And what was painfully apparent during this crisis was the absence of an articulate Orthodox social ethos – capable alike of guiding the behavior of Orthodox leaders and Orthodox believers – in matters of public concern regarding the role of religion in the public space, the relationship between church and state, and the tension between faith and science. With the recent “lockdown” restrictions, and particularly with the closure of churches and temples, it has sometimes been difficult to discern whether religious leaders (in Greece and other “native” Orthodox countries) were sometimes more interested in protecting medieval treasures from imaginary enemies or in promoting conspiracy theories or global “plots” against Christianity. One exception has been the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (but also some metropolitan dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Europe), where the intense debate resulted in creative decisions. But for the most part, our churches are not always prepared (and in many cases are sinfully incompetent or at least reluctant) to respond appropriately to the most fundamental and crucial problems of their faithful in the modern world.

As for the strain between the Orthodox sense of “cosmic liturgy” and the modern drive to “master nature,” it should always stem from and lead to a creative tension that reveals a sense of humility and partnership between religious thought and the natural sciences, instead of reflecting a sense of conceit and condescension toward one another.

AH: We are living through a time that – while it may be a stretch to claim that it is somehow more ethically contentious than times gone by – can leave no doubt that the great challenges we face are exacerbated by profound ethical divisions among us. Ecological ethics, not least, can be a society-dividing issue, as well as a church-dividing issue (as was a key topic of conversation at our “Ecology and Ecumenicity” event). Have you found this to be the case in the Orthodox Church, that ecology is polarizing? What have you found most challenging and most rewarding with regard to engaging ecumenically on ecological matters – whether within your church or between churches?

JC: There is no question that adopting an ecological ethos is fraught with challenges of denial and resistance. Some of these we have already touched upon in our discussion about asceticism. But there is also no doubt that engaging individuals – whether believers or not, whether Christian or not, and even whether Orthodox or not – on environmental ethics is very often polarizing. I have watched as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has patiently and pastorally encouraged his peers in other autocephalous Orthodox Churches to recognize that creation care is part and parcel of their ministry and mission as Orthodox leaders, especially since many of them are so often preoccupied with nationalistic interests and political survival. But I have also witnessed Orthodox clergy and laity struggle to embrace the spiritual vocation required by climate change or, worse, vigorously dismiss climate change as a partisan hoax and leftist construct.

I was, in the past, inclined to contend or contest such arguments, particularly where I perceived a willingness and openness to frank conversation and sincere exchange. But when politics and ideology remain deadlocked and convoluted – when, for example, the “culture wars” in the US deliberately brand any association with protecting the environment as a boutique ideology that implies certain positions on abortion, gun control, gender and sexuality issues, and so forth – then I have to wonder if we are all reading the same Scripture. Because creation is not a partisan reality. And the libertarian ideology and mercenary selfishness of dismissing the need to subordinate our own pleasures to the well-being of creation is diametrically opposed to the Christian gospel. It is, moreover, definitely incompatible with the ascetic imperative, which we discussed earlier and which aims at restraining the crude and irrational passions of greed, envy, and lust, which are drivers behind the market economy and free trade. The jungle ethic of survival of the fittest is fundamentally irreconcilable with the liturgical ethos; the former suggests a “dog eats dog society,” while the latter resonates with the scriptural admonition to “love one’s neighbor as oneself.” For deniers, environmentalism has become a conspiracy against commerce and the freedom to consume whatever we want whenever we want. Whereas I perceive the spiritual approach as emphasizing compassion instead of consumption.

AH: I think that many of us look to the Orthodox Church as containing a wellspring of ecological insight, as it is reasonable to do with the Franciscan tradition as well. But are there aspects of your eco-theological understanding in which you have been particularly informed ecumenically, by listening to and learning from the witness of other churches? And in what ways have you learned from encounters with other religious traditions, beyond Christianity?

JC: I am so glad that you ask this question. Because it would be a sign of temptation and conceitedness to somehow imagine that, as Orthodox, we somehow hold the answer to the urgent crisis of climate change. If we did, then Athens and Moscow wouldn’t be the polluted cities they are, while the Mediterranean and the Black Seas wouldn’t be wastelands of plastic and hazards for biodiversity. As His All-Holiness “the green patriarch” Bartholomew likes to say: “We’re all in the same boat.” Nothing will happen without humility and sensitivity, without accountability and responsibility, as well as without sacrifice and compromise in order to learn the how the cry of the poor is reflected in the cry of the earth.

And in this vein, all of us must be willing to learn from and work with one another. So, yes, I have been informed by other religions and traditions, by other churches and communities, by other theologian and thinkers – from my time in Australia through my time in America. I have learned from indigenous peoples – the Aborigines and the Native Americans. Perhaps most importantly, I have collaborated with scientists and activists, establishing close friendships and networks, which have shaped many of the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the last two decades and longer. Orthodox clergy and theologians often forget the vital importance of “translating” basic scriptural and religious concepts into a living tradition and language that relates and responds to contemporary world. The sort of questions that are foremost in my mind – indeed, the questions addressed in For the Life of the World – are: What happens when Christians want to interpret the phrase “on earth as in heaven”? In other words, how is God manifested among us? Or what does God’s kingdom look like in human society?

AH: Again, to take a concrete example: 2020 marks the fifth anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Francis’ influential encyclical, Laudato Si’, “on care for our common home.” Can we reflect briefly on the ecumenical significance of this encyclical, which is so widely known for its ecological teachings? Have you found Laudato Si’ to be of any particular significance in your thinking about the integrity (or disintegrity) of creation as an existing unity that precedes and exceeds any division between Christians or between religions?

JC: What has become immediately apparent to me from the encyclical is not so much the specific contents or diverse interpretations of the text, but the ecumenical mandate that it represents. The integrity of the natural environment is the shared responsibility of all inhabitants of the earth. I have come to believe that, in our relationship with the earth, we are called to evoke and affirm our interconnectedness with the rest of the world, because this sense of interconnectedness reminds us that the earth unites us all – indeed, before and beyond any doctrinal, political, racial, or confessional differences. We may or may not share religious principles, ethnic backgrounds, or political convictions. But we most definitely share an experience of the earth: the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the ground that we tread – although this sharing is not always equitable or just. By some mysterious connection that we do not always understand, the earth reminds us of our interconnectedness.

As for the ecumenical importance of Laudato Si’, it is also important to note that, when Pope Francis began preparing the encyclical, he reached out to Patriarch Bartholomew in order to express recognition and admiration for the work achieved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate since the late 1980s. In fact, he included a prominent reference to the Patriarch and his environmental leadership in the papal encyclical, highlighting the patriarchal activities and pronouncements in an unprecedented manner. It was the first time that an Orthodox leader was spotlighted in a formal pontifical statement – this is an act of profound ecumenical significance. Prior to this, moreover, Patriarch Bartholomew had spontaneously decided to attend the inaugural mass of Pope Francis in March 2013. This, too, was an extraordinary move, the first time ever that an Orthodox patriarch was present at the installation of a Roman pontiff.

To an outsider, such events may appear insignificant and inconsequential. However, their impact on such issues as climate change is paramount and momentous. I believe that the papal encyclical letter on creation care was long anticipated not only from an ecological perspective, but also in the context of inter-Christian openness between these two contemporary religious leaders, who are personally and distinctly marked by a close friendship, while at the same time profoundly and steadfastly committed to restoring communion between their churches. There is no doubt in my mind that the favorable reception – in fact, I would venture to add also the adverse reaction to and harsh criticism – of their advocacy for God’s creation is arguably the greatest testimony and promising evidence that they are most definitely on the right track.

AH: The relationship you describe between patriarch and pope is doubtless a meaningful fruit of ecumenical friendship and love for the church universal, even in the midst of our political and ecclesial fragmentation. And that’s a fitting place to conclude, I think, as we are looking forward to the new year and to the 2021 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with its theme: “Abide in my love… and you shall bear much fruit.” There’s a resonantly and relevantly ecological valance of this theme, isn’t there? “Fruitfulness” requires being rooted, requires being sustained and sustainable where one is; God’s love, so to speak, functions in the metaphor as fertilizer to nourish and uphold our own ways of pouring love into the world, for its transfiguration.

Any last word you would like to offer on this sense of fruitfulness as an interpretive or prophetic category for Christian life, theology, or ecumenism?

JC: It’s true. By this [fruit] shall people know us – namely, if we have love for one another (cf. John 13:35). We know that we are on the right track, if and when we are establishing communication, building community, and affirming communion.

This is the power of ecumenical commitment and collaboration, which lies in beginning to open up beyond ourselves and our own, our communities and our churches. It is learning to speak the language of care and compassion. It is giving priority to solidarity and service. And in this respect, creation care has a vital ecumenical dimension in that it brings divided Christians and insulated believers before a common task that we must inevitably face together.


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Christmas Encyclical Letter

“Save the world, O Saviour. For this you have come. Set your whole universe aright”.

With the above words, Saint Romanos the Melodist introduces the last stanza of the famous Christmas kontakion. The lines are a supplication and an acknowledgement that the Lord will redeem humanity and save all creation. He Who was before all time heard the cries of humanity and came to save the world. It is this act of divine love that we remember and celebrate each year at Christmas.

The birth of Jesus the Christ was a moment in time when the course of our world was forever changed. Darkness was dispelled as the Sun of Righteousness shone, bringing hope to fallen humanity. Another hymnographer of our Church extolls us with certainty, “Christ is born, rejoice! And, we rejoice knowing that salvation has come to the world.”

This year, the joy of Christmas will be a different experience for many people, as the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 virus have changed our usual patterns of life. The preparations and festivities that normally capture our attention this time of year will be dampened by worries and concerns for ourselves and our families, for the vulnerable members of our communities, for our health care workers and our civil leaders. The essence, however, and the meaning of this holy feast remain untouched and true for us in every way. Every year, it is our hope that the bright lights and beautiful trimmings will serve to inspire an understanding and recognition that we are entering into a time of grace and light, as we prepare to receive the light of Truth. But, this year especially when we perceive the darkness around us to have grown, we feel within our hearts an even stronger desire for the light that shows us the way to the Kingdom on high. As Isaiah prophesied, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We know that child to be the light of the world, our Wonderful Counsellor, our Prince of Peace: Christ the Lord Himself.

Although this year we may have fewer people at our table when we sit down to celebrate the birth of our Lord, we are assured that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Christ is there present, as is the fullness of our hope in Him. Christ is our ballast amidst the storms of this life and the message of salvation is not only a remembrance of an event some two thousand years ago, but a constant offering and outpouring of love, an invitation for Him to be born continuously in the hearts of people—as the Holy Fathers of the Church themselves experienced and passed down to us. Even if our experience of Christmas this year will undoubtedly be accompanied by a prayer that next year’s feast will be restored to its full joy, we know that the love of the eternal, the living Word of God is unchanging. So, on Christmas day, and on every day, let us bow our heads in gratitude to God for the many blessings He has given us, with the conviction that we have received what was promised and more, “since God had foreseen something better for us (Heb. 11:40)”.

Together, this Christmas let us pray for Christ to come and be born in our hearts, so that His grace, peace and love may abide in us, as we abide in Him. Not only this, but let us offer, together, a doxology to Him, for He Who is gentle and lowly in heart “will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:1-2). Indeed, He comes as an innocent child to bring a new and different understanding of life to the world. He comes to bring justice, harmony, love and peace to the hearts of all, to each and every person. And, through His presence and witness, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord forever as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9).

May all the joy, peace, and happiness of the Nativity be with you and all the world, and may God lead us to the New Year 2021, filling it with every good and perfect gift which comes from the Father of Lights.

With paternal love and blessings,

+ Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain

More than 17,000 species worldwide to lose part of habitat if agriculture continues to expand

Around 1,200 species will lose a quarter of their habitat if little is done to stop the uncontrolled expansion of the food system, research says

reports Daisy Dunne, Environment Correspondent for The Independent

More than 17,000 species across the world will lose some of their habitats if little is done to tackle uncontrolled agricultural expansion, a new study has found. The research uses modelling to estimate the extent to which continued agricultural expansion across the world could encroach on the habitat of nearly 20,000 species by 2050.

It finds that 88 per cent of these species will see some habitat loss by mid-century if little is done to curb food system expansion. Around 1,200 species could lose a quarter of their habitat.

“Business-as-usual” agriculture would also cause 33 species to lose at least 90 per cent of their habitat, according to the results. These species include 14 frogs and toads, nine rodents, and two primates, the white-throated guenon and Sclater’s guenon. Both these monkeys are native to Nigeria.

However, the research, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, also finds that habitat losses could be stemmed if large-scale changes are made to the food system. The largest savings could come from greater agricultural efficiency in developing-world regions, which could free up land from nature, according to the study authors.  

A global transition towards healthier diets, including eating less meat and dairy, could also help to stem habitat loss, said the study’s co-lead author Dr Michael Clark, a researcher of environmental sustainability from the University of Oxford. “We need to start combatting biodiversity loss at much larger scales than we currently are, and we need to start doing this now,” he told The Independent. “Until we start addressing what we eat, how it is produced, and everything in between, we’re not going to make widescale progress towards existing conservation and biodiversity targets.”

The way humans use land is currently the biggest threat to Earth’s biodiversity. However, the threat posed by the climate crisis is fast increasing, with some research suggesting that it could overtake the threat posed by land-use change by 2070. “It’s worth noting that we did not include the impacts of climate change: the huge habitat losses we projected are just from agricultural expansion,” the study’s co-lead author Dr David Williams, a conservation scientist from the University of Leeds, told The Independent. “When combined with climate change, overharvesting, hunting, pollution then things are likely to be even worse…But the conservation approaches we examined could all help reduce these threats as well.”

For the research, the authors created detailed maps showing where projected agricultural expansion could overlap with animal habitat under different scenarios. The first of these was a “business-as-usual” scenario for the world’s agriculture, which would see populations increase and the popularity of meat-based diets continue to rise in the future. The researchers find that, under this scenario, global cropland would increase by 26 per cent from 2010 to 2050. Increases in agricultural land would likely be largest in sub-Saharan Africa, south and southeast Asia and, to a lesser extent, Central and South America.

This increase would lead the 19,859 species examined to lose 7 per cent of their habitat, on average.   However, of these species, 1,280 are projected to lose more than a quarter of their remaining habitat, 350 could lose more than half and 33 could lose more than 90 per cent.

One group particularly threatened by agricultural expansion could be saddleback toads, a genus of tiny toads and frogs that are typically 1cm in length and live among leaves on the floor of Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. Dr Williams said: “Many of them are already listed as being threatened with extinction, and out of the 21 species in our analysis, two are projected to lose more than 25 per cent of remaining habitat, four more than 20 per cent of remaining habitat, and seven more than 15 per cent of remaining habitat.”

The second scenario developed by the researchers studied habitat loss by 2050 if four different changes were made to the food system. These changes included global improvements to agricultural efficiency, a global transition to healthier diets with fewer animal products, a halving of food waste and global agricultural land-use planning to avoid competition between food production and wildlife. The authors find that, in a scenario with these four changes, global cropland would actually decrease by nearly 3.4 million square kilometres from 2010 to 2050. In addition, the average rate of habitat loss would be reduced to 1 per cent.

A global switch to more efficient agriculture would come with the largest savings because it would allow land to be freed up in biodiverse parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers said.

In addition, a global switch to eating fewer animal products could help to stem habitat loss while also helping to tackle the climate crisis, the researchers said. Meat production is particularly polluting because cows and sheep are ruminants, meaning they belch out methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In addition, meat production also requires large amounts of land to be cleared for the production of animal feed and to create space for grazing. Deforestation causes CO2 to be released into the atmosphere.

“There are clear win-wins here. What we need to do to safeguard biodiversity is also going to be really good for people,” added Dr Williams.

“We should already be trying to transition to healthier diets, including fewer calories and animal-based products in richer countries, to improve human health across the world. We should already be trying to waste less food to improve food security in the global south and better support people and farmers across the world.”

New Webinar on the Animal Experiment Testing Model

Most people are unaware of the high failure rate – 90%+, of the animal testing model and of its failures to advance human health. Here is the latest very informative webinar from Dr Andre Menache, who is writing a chapter on the failure of the animal testing model, for my new book. Please feel free to circulate widely. Those of you who have my book on Eastern Orthodoxy Christianity and Animal Suffering, will know that I have written extensively on this subject.
As a Board member of the Animal Interfaith Alliance, representing the Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals charity, I recently proposed that this subject become a campaign for the AIA over the next year and this suggestion was unanimously agreed by the Board. Part of this process will be campaigning for a Parliamentary Early Day Motion asking for an independent panel to investigate the use and failures of this mode. I will keep you posted as we move forward.

Click on the link below:

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