At the “Global Stocktake” session of the meeting, Hoesung Lee, Chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) reported that human activities have warmed the planet at a rate not seen in the past 2,000 years, putting the world on a path towards global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades. The increase currently stands at 1.1 degrees.
in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November of this year.
Yet there was very little progress in agreeing on how to manage (and pay for) the 50% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 that the scientists tell us is imperative in order to have any hope of avoiding a warming of the planet’s surface temperatures greater than pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. This lack of progress around mitigation, is matched by their failures in providing for adaptation in the face of current temperature increases and the irretrievable losses and damage all living things increasingly continue to suffer.
In part due to
the outcry at the 2021 Conference of Partners (COP 26) held in Glasgow last
November, commitments have been made on behalf of the UNFCCC Secretariat
(leadership) to listen more respectfully and inclusively to the concerns being
expressed by civil society. Marianne Karlsen, the Chair of wrote: “ . . . .[W]e have seen unprecedented
engagement on the part of non-Party stakeholders who have a key role to play in
helping governments achieve their climate goals.”
It was in this spirit that I had eagerly joined the ACT Alliance advocacy team efforts during the COP 26 in Glasgow last year where I represented Presbyterians for Earth Care in Official Observer status. ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance,
But the outcome there was, to say the least, disappointing. The United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of all agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development. UNFCCC partners at the most recent COP 26 in Glasgow last year, committed to the goal to “keep 1.5 [degrees centigrade] alive.” But there seemed to be a palpable lack of urgency around this goal as well as concerns for adaptation or loss and damage on the part of the developed country negotiators at the conference.
The designation “SB 56” refers to this being the 56th time such deliberations of what are referred to as “Subsidiary [decision-making] Bodies” have been held as part of (UNFCCC) process which began in 1992 at the now historic conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (The two Subsidiary Bodies are SBI, the body that oversees implementation of prior decisions and the SBSTA, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Research and Statistics.) Thus, 2022 is the 30th anniversary of this effort to document and reign in the destruction of the planet resulting from human activities about which scientists have been warning us with increasing precision and urgency since the 1970’s and before.
Perhaps the most gratifying moment of my time in Bonn came on my first day in a casual conversation with a staff person for one of the negotiating teams. Upon learning that I am a minister, the young woman asked, “How do you deal with the fact that so many of those who are activists and civil servants in this cause of Climate Justice seem to be non-religious?” She then proceeded to confide in me that she is a devout Christian and had been, in fact, reading her bible that very morning, but that she has not revealed this to any of her colleagues for fear they will judge her negatively in some way. She said that she attempts to allow her faith to radiate through her actions and presence in ways that influence without dogmatizing. I assured her that I understood the discomfort she felt but that, I do not condemn her for her reticence to reveal her faith to those in her work setting. Given the bad reputation the word “Christian” has taken on in certain circles, especially among the educated and science affirming portion of the population, I told her I might make the same choice were I in her shoes. But that was my pastoral mode kicking in.
As I continue to reflect on this issue, it seems to me more imperative than ever for those who profess faith in a spiritual reality not only draw on that faith to endure the ravages of climate change-induced storms but engage with all the resources of our various traditions, to bring about the changes that will be needed to correct the course of history for the sake of life on earth.
This process of acquiring the tools for engaging the political power structures requires a lot of effort. As I have learned in my experiences at COP 26 and now the Bonn Climate Conference, it requires learning a new language and a huge vocabulary of acronyms, each with its own history. It also requires walking among the “natives” of that rarified world of diplomacy where we are the novices and yet not lose our voice of prophecy to cut through the prevarications and foot-dragging and at times perhaps, even risk screaming out for action like Greta Thunberg.
It may require us to shout that it doesn’t matter if every comma and sentence is perfect because God’s creatures are drowning and starving and burning and dying while such debates over who pays and how much they pay, continue. Some would argue that our world would be much worse off than it currently is if these meetings had not been going on for the last 30 years. But slowing the boiling isn’t enough. And the church must stand with all people of faith and call our leaders to action.
So, as difficult and frightening as it may be, we must be present there, as people of faith, and demand the changes come and come quickly for the sake of the world we know God loves and calls us to serve.
Grace and peace,