Standing before the participants of the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, “A political moment like this may not come again… we have never faced such a test. But neither have we encountered such great opportunity.” Similarly, President François Hollande of France said, “No conference has ever gathered so many leaders from so many countries… but never before have the international stakes been so high.”
I have known about these high stakes all my life.
Witnessing the effects of climate change on Bangladesh where I grew up as a missionary kid, I came to realize that the risks of climate change are not a fear for the future, but rather, risks we take today. Parts of Bangladesh are well below sea level and the poorest people live closest to the flood zones. Sea levels were already on the rise in my childhood and the flooding continues today leaving Bangladesh extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, forcing those least able to cope out of their homes. Even now the United States is starting to feel the impact of climate change, ask anyone living in Long Island, along the Jersey shore, or in the Florida Keys.
Recently elected Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), South Korean Scientist Dr. Hoesung Lee reminded the COP21 that, “The climate is already changing, and we know it is due to human activity…if we carry on like this, we risk the increasingly severe and irreversible impacts – rising seas, increase in severe droughts and floods, food and water shortages – to name just a few."
This is no longer only subject matter for scientists and policy makers, but is also an issue of faith. Along with other people of faith, I hold an underlying conviction that our task as people made in God’s image is to care for, act on behalf of, and live responsibly with the land, its resources and all creatures. With this conviction comes the belief that immediate action on climate change is not only technically possible and politically important, but is also morally necessary.
The Bible says that, “they who wait on the Lord will renew their strength,” and those of us in the Climate Witness Project were indeed waiting for renewed strength. After 20 years of fraught meetings, including the two weeks of COP21 on the outskirts of Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to an agreement setting ambitious goals to limit temperature rises and to hold governments to account for reaching those targets. This signals an end to the fossil fuel era revealing the real cost of carbon to global markets, hastening the transition away from fossil fuels and to a clean energy economy.
Though not perfect, the Paris agreement has sent a clear and decisive message to business, investors, and people made vulnerable by changing climate that the nations of the world intend to get serious about climate change. However, there is still much to do. We’re at the start line, not the finish line, and much work remains to turn the words of this agreement into action.
It is time for us to live our convictions about God’s creation. If we believe that we are the children of God it is far past time for us to help our brothers and sisters that are suffering from climate change everyday, whether in the flooded shanty towns of Bangladesh or in the dry hills of California. COP21 is the sign of our strength renewed and it is time to get to work on the changes it requires of each of us.