As the UN's climate change conference gets underway in Poland, Tearfund's Ben Niblett explains why this is an issue all Christians should care about.
Climate change is our generation’s issue. We didn’t ask for it, but it’s knocking on our door. I’ve heard from people in poor communities in many countries, the people Tearfund serves through local churches, saying that the weather is changing and it’s harder to make a living. One that sticks in my mind is a grandmother from Malawi saying when she was a girl every home in her village had a maize granary to store the harvest in, but these days her grandchildren don’t know what a maize granary looks like as nobody needs them any more – nowadays the rains aren’t reliable and the harvests have shrunk.
The Church should give a lead on climate change that causes suffering like this. We already know God loves each person, and our love for our neighbours doesn’t stop at the end of our street or our national borders. We already know creation reflects God’s glory and he wants us to be good stewards of it. We already know the point of life isn’t to pile up as many possessions as possible before we die. So I’m delighted when church leaders such as Justin Welby and Pope Francis speak up in public. It reminds me of the church leading the campaign to abolish the slave trade in Wilberforce’s time.
The COP climate talks in Poland this next fortnight need our prayers, as the world’s governments decide what they’ll do. In 2015 our prayers and campaigning helped get the historic Paris Agreement, where each nation promised to limit how much warmer the world gets, to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It doesn’t sound much, but it matters. We’ve already warmed by 1 degree and many people are feeling the impact already with floods, droughts and storms. 1.5 degrees is the maximum we know we can cope with – beyond that level the risks of climate change are likely to run out of control. For example, all the coral reefs will probably die, and we don’t know what that’ll do to the fish, or to people who make a living from fishing.
If you shoot an arrow, there’s a time after you’ve fired when you can see whether it’s going to hit or miss the target but it’s too late to change it. Climate change is similar – you see the action well before the impact. Globally we’re putting more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, and we need to start reducing it in as few years as possible. In the UK, we already are.
At the Poland COP, each government is pledging how quickly they’ll cut their emissions. They need to promise more, faster, and to agree on the rules for tracking what each country does so we can see if they deliver. The Marshall Islands are the first country to commit to cut their emissions faster since the Paris Agreement. Other countries need to follow suit.
The other big Paris Agreement promise was money. Rich countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year to help poor countries cope with climate change and find clean ways to develop. COP began with the World Bank promising $10 billion a year of this, which is good news, but we need more countries to show us the money.
America’s Still In
The rest of us can overcome climate change together without America, but it’d be harder. The US is the world’s second largest emitter and President Trump has announced that they’re leaving the Paris Agreement, which takes three years to do, so for now, they’re still in. I’m praying God will change hearts and minds in the US so they stay after all.
In the meantime, I’m encouraged by how much Americans are doing. Budweiser is an American icon brewed with renewable electricity. The US is closing a record number of coal power stations this year, the biggest single thing they need to do on climate. The National Association of Evangelicals has spoken up. Climate leadership is something young people look to the church for, with groups like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action mobilising their peers.
California’s wildfires and Houston’s floods are reminders that climate change affects rich countries as well as poor ones, as I saw for myself when my street in Staines flooded for the first time in living memory in 2014. The injustice of climate change is that it’s the world’s poorest people who are most likely to be hit by it, have the least resources to cope with it, and did the least to cause it. I think Christians should take action – switching to renewable electricity, flying less, driving less, and eating less meat are among the most useful things most of us can do in the UK – as well as speaking to our governments, and praying.
Ben Niblett is a senior campaigner at Tearfund