As I reflect on my last two weeks at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris two things stand out to me.
First, this is an exciting time to be involved in climate change ministry! Although far from perfect, The Paris Agreement stands as the most important and ambitious climate agreement of the past two decades with several notable achievements:
- Included in the agreement are the individualized greenhouse gas reduction goals of more than 190 nations—the first time that every country in the world has participated in a reduction plan.
- The agreement establishes of a maximum 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise, with a target goal of 1.5 degrees. While current national commitments don’t quite meet these targets (we’re currently headed toward 2.7 – 3.4 degrees), the identification of an ambitious goal is a clear signal that we need bold and swift action.
- The middle of the 21st century (within my own expected lifetime) is named as the time frame for achieving global carbon neutrality.
- Countries will revisit their commitments every five years with the intention of progressing toward increasingly ambitious goals.
- The agreement establishes a financing mechanism for compensating those countries most severely impacted by climate change. With this plan the wealthiest countries (who have contributed the most to climate change) help finance adaptation and compensate for damage caused to the least developed nations that are most impacted.
Equally exciting as the actual Paris Agreement is the fact that the global church is beginning to respond. Dozens of evangelical leaders from at least ten countries gathered in Paris to demonstrate Christian support for climate action. Through prayer, worship, testimony, writing, speaking, and observing we were able to bring a strong Christian witness to the COP. What became clear from this gathering is that there is strong global support for climate action among the global Christian church. Indeed, our global brothers and sisters in Christ are looking to the American church to start providing clear leadership on climate action.
The second key takeaway for me was that we have a lot of work still to do. While things are changing with American opinions on climate change, we’re a long way from strong public support or bold political action. In other words, while we’re currently riding a wave of post-Paris excitement the urgency to act has never been greater. As God’s creation continues to groan under the burden of a fossil fuel-dominated infrastructure, our global brothers and sisters continue to be impacted by rising seas, devastating floods, crop losses, desertification, and other climate impacts.
What Paris tells us is that we need a new paradigm—a paradigm of prophetic action, hopeful solutions, and Christ-centered unity. In order to truly mobilize the world to action we need to think seriously about how to incorporate Christian virtues such as compassion, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, simplicity, and faithfulness.
Being in Paris for the COP21 felt very much like attending a significant historical event—the kind you tell your grandchildren about many years later. Whether Paris becomes a tipping point in the world’s fight against climate change or merely another stop on a long journey remains to be seen. But I am hopeful. The climate may be changing, but humanity is changing with it and we can solve this thing.
More importantly, the global church is beginning to respond and to demonstrate that climate action is an issue of faithful Christian living and witness. For me personally, loving God and loving my neighbors means acting today to reduce my contribution to global climate change.
So I will continue to pray. And I will continue to act. Will you join me?