Climate talks limp over the line

Tearfund's Paul Cook and Helen Heather share their thoughts on COP24.

The annual UN Climate Talks – COP24 – ended with a whimper rather than a bang in Katowice, Poland, late on Saturday 15 December after overrunning by more than 24 hours.

Sadly these talks have been characterised by dithering and disruption rather than recapturing the high level of ambition that led to the Paris Agreement on climate change three years ago. They agreed a rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement, so enough progress was made to keep things moving forward. But much more ambition will be needed very soon to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C.

Tens of millions of people were following these talks closely, including tens of thousands of Christians, church leaders and activists from around the world who are part of the Renew Our World campaign.

They were looking for the talks to show world leaders are committed to continued action through:

  • Rules: Agreeing a clear ‘rulebook’ – a set of instructions for how each country will cut emissions and measuring what each one does – to implement the Paris Agreement.
  • Emissions cuts: More ambitious climate commitments, including increased targets for stronger emissions cuts up to and beyond 2020  – to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C.
  • Money: Setting out where the money would come from to deliver their promise to provide $100bn each year to help countries most vulnerable to climate change adapt and develop sustainably. Funds for renewable energy and sustainable, low-emission agriculture are key to this.

Many countries made encouraging calls for further action. Most notably the Climate Vulnerable Forum of nations most impacted by climate change; the Least Developed Countries; and the High Ambition Coalition of EU nations, poorest countries and others such as Argentina, Canada and New Zealand. But further progress across these three objectives has been held up by some of the world’s most powerful nations such as the US, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.  In this context a just about adequate, though incomplete, rulebook was agreed. But there was little extra on emissions cuts or money for the poorest countries.

The Next Milestone After COP24

However, the story does not end here.  This conference is only one step on the journey of rolling out and implementing the Paris Agreement. The next milestone is the UN Secretary-General’s high-level Climate Summit in September 2019 at the UN in New York. Unlike COP24 (hosted by a Polish government still heavily committed to coal, the most polluting fossil fuel), the summit is specifically designed to place high-level political pressure on nations to come forward with tougher emissions cuts and more climate finance.  

Renew Our World will continue to pray and act to keep the pressure up through the Climate Summit and beyond. Last week in Poland we met with country delegations to urge them to press for more ambition. We met with 16 delegations from virtually all the nations where there is a national Renew Our World campaign, a significant step up from the great meetings with 7 delegations we had last year.

Renew Our World continues to grow at a rapid rate as a movement of Christians around the world, coming alongside millions of others from all faiths and none who are building pressure on world leaders and will continue to do so. They won’t do enough unless they feel that pressure growing, and we’re committed to making sure they do.

We’ve been presenting our message to ministers and delegations along with a mustard seed – a small seed – saying that as Christians we have faith as small as a mustard seed. Avoiding climate disaster might seem impossible, but with God all things are possible.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20.

The poorest and most vulnerable people are hit hardest by the changing climate.  The changing climate is already destroying homes, food supplies and livelihoods. It is pushing more people into poverty.

Like Esther who spoke up for the survival of her people (Esther 8v6), we need leaders who are prepared to speak up for and commit to more ambitious action.  They have been called for ‘such a time as this’ and history will judge whether they grasp that opportunity like Esther, or let it pass them by.

Together, let’s keep acting and praying as we go into 2019 and beyond to encourage them to do so. Here are two ways you can take action:

  • Join the movement at renewourworld.net and sign up to campaign emails.
  • Do you want to engage your church in prayer and worship for the climate? Here is a helpful toolkit with lots of tips and ideas on how to organise a Renew Our World worship moment in your church or community.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20.

Paul Cook is Head of Advocacy at Tearfund. Helen Heather is Senior Global Campaigner at Tearfund.

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