There is scientific consensus that climate change is damaging our world. Human-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are changing the weather, melting polar ice caps, enabling diseases and viruses that have existed only in warm regions to move to more temperate zones, destroying species of animals and plants, and raising sea levels. In addition, there have recently been more prolonged and extreme droughts, more torrential flooding, readings that indicate warmer and more acidic ocean water, and consequent large-scale migrations of peoples and increases in food insecurity around the world.
There is also a growing moral consensus, as well as increasing agreement, that this problem must be addressed immediately. The Paris Agreement (see below) and the pope’s encyclical on climate change are only the most recent examples of a groundswell of support for an immediate response that has developed in the religious community and among the nations of the world. The popular agreement and moral momentum are catching up with the scientific consensus, and the tide is changing.
Why do many members of the CRCNA care about climate change?
As we look at the harm caused by climate change, two matters of faith drive us: caring for creation and caring about the poor. Genesis 2:15 reminds us that we are to care for creation. Elsewhere the Bible says we are to be stewards of all that God has given us. We don’t own the earth; we are called to take care of it for the Lord (Matt. 25:14-30).
The people who are first and most harmed by climate change are the poor — in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. We advocate for a vigorous response to climate change because we know that if we do not respond, the poor will continue to suffer the consequences. Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that we are always to respond compassionately to people who are seen as “the least of these” (Isa. 1:17; Zech. 7:10-11; Matt. 25:31-40).
In addition, Synod 2012 of the CRCNA affirmed the reality of human-caused climate change and asked the members and congregations of the denomination to work hard to end the harm caused by a changing climate. Synod adopted a historic report on creation care and climate change that challenged the church to increased action to address the damage caused by climate change by reducing our own energy use and advocating for effective public policies.
The Paris Talks (Nov. 30 – Dec. 12, 2015)
The nations of the world have met annually since 1995 to discuss what they need to do to mitigate the effects of climate change. It was agreed that at their meeting in Paris on November 30 through December 12, 2015, the nations of the world would attempt to produce a binding agreement about planned steps they would take to address the damage caused by climate change.
What did the CRCNA do about the Paris Talks?
Because of the strong biblical mandate and the recommendations of Synod 2012, the CRCNA planned a vigorous witness in preparation for and during the Paris Talks. This included sending a delegation of four people to Paris for two purposes: to be able to report to the CRCNA on the results of the meeting and to witness to others at the event that climate change, though it is also a scientific and policy issue, is fundamentally a religious and moral issue.
To do this, the Office of Social Justice created the Climate Witness Project (CWP) in ten regions of the denomination in the U.S. and Canada. Regional organizers in those regions accomplished the following, completing Phase One of the project:
- Recruited more than 200 Climate Witness Partners, who gave leadership to the CWP in 35 congregations.
- Showed the video Climate Conversations: Kenya to the 35 congregations.
- Arranged for the Climate Witness Partners to receive daily newsletters and to participate in a teleconference from the CRCNA delegation in Paris.
- Recruited 13 CRCNA members to write op-eds for either news outlets (including the Huffington Post, Des Moines Register, Newark Star Ledger, Grand Rapids Press, Holland Sentinel, Hamilton Spectator, and Albuquerque Journal) or CRCNA blogs about the importance of the Paris Agreement.
- Arranged for 12 visits with Members of Parliament and Members of Congress.
- Prepared their congregations for the second phase of the Climate Witness Project.
What happened at the Paris Talks?
The 196 nations present at the Paris Talks signed the Paris Agreement, a powerful statement that commits them to several key steps to work together to address the challenges of climate change. This is the first time that all the nations of the world have agreed to common strategies to reduce the harm caused by climate change.
The nations of the world had previously agreed to ensure that there will be no more than a 2 degree Celsius increase by 2100 over 1880 levels. The Paris Agreement affirms this goal but goes even further by committing the nations of the world to keep the “global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels.” This new goal is ambitious and will require significant emission reductions and a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy.
Before coming to the Paris Talks, every country was asked to submit a pledge of the amount of greenhouse gases that they were willing to cut in order to reach the original long-term goal of not more than 2 degrees C of warming by 2100. With the current pledges, the temperature rise by 2100 would likely be 2.7 degrees C.
So there is much work to be done in the coming years to increase these pledges to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C over what global temperature was in 1880 The Paris Agreement does include a robust mechanism for the world’s nations to reassess their commitments at least every five years. By so doing, the nations will be able to increase their pledges in order to reach an increased temperature of no more than 1.5 degrees C.
Several funds, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF), were created at previous meetings of the nations of the world to provide a mechanism through which richer nations, as well as corporations and individuals, can contribute money to poorer countries to pay for their reduction of the use of fossil fuels and to repair damage already caused by a changing climate. The goal is that $100 billion will be raised by 2020 — and $100 billion every year after 2020 — for this purpose. That figure includes both the GCF and other funds. The United States has pledged $3 billion by 2020; Canada has pledged $2.65 billion.
How is the CRCNA following up on the Paris Agreement?
Phase Two of the Climate Witness Project started on March 1, 2016, and will be completed by June 30, 2017. Many of the regional organizers from Phase One are continuing, and we may expand into new regions. The CWP will work with at least 70 churches in order to continue educating congregations about climate change, will ask several Climate Witness Partners to write op-eds, and will arrange for visits with Members of Parliament and Congress.
In addition, congregations will be enabled to take steps to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions by making their buildings more energy efficient and reducing their use of energy produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Some congregations are beginning their work in energy stewardship by replacing incandescent light bulbs and CFL bulbs with LEDs, installing light sensors in bathrooms, and installing programmable thermostats. The Energy Star Program is helping the Climate Witness Project with this effort.
What do I do if some members of my congregation want to participate in some way in the CRCNA effort?
Please contact Rev. Richard Killmer, coordinator of the CWP, if members of your congregation want to participate in the Climate Witness Project or if you would like to learn more about it. He can be reached at 207-450- 7242 or at [email protected].
Because the Climate Witness Project is growing fast, we also need the financial support of CRC members and congregations. Donations can be made easily online on the CWP giving page.