Katowice: do we still have our heads in the sand? by Rev Dr John Weaver

The Korea IPCC meeting in October noted that research indicates that if we fail to keep temperatures

Rev Dr John Weaver

below a 1.50C rise from the pre-industrial average global surface temperature we will experience some significant, dangerous and irreversible changes to our world.

The COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland was extended by a day to find a resolution with which all the delegates were content. While some may consider that this has been a success, others will point to the deficiencies and omissions in the final documents. The negotiators in Poland believe that they have finally secured agreement on a range of measures that will enable the Paris climate declaration to come into being in 2020. Delegates believe that the rules agreed at COP24 will limit global temperature rises to well below 20C.

Some observers see the stated agreement as being too weak to address the urgency of the climate crisis. One delegate is reported as saying that the result was a position of what is possible to agree, but not what is necessary to address the current state of global warming.

The final statement of the Conference, agreed by 196 states and nations, presents plans for a common rulebook for all countries, containing regulations that will govern the practicalities of how countries will cut CO2 emissions. There was also agreement to provide financial support for poorer nations to enable them to meet the cutting of greenhouse gases identified at the Conference.

But there are significant weaknesses in the final agreements. The suggestion that the main producers of greenhouse gases should be legally liable for causing climate change has often been rejected by the richer nations who fear litigation in the future when the results of climate change become significantly damaging.

Tensions emerged early on in the debate when the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait shocked scientists and delegates by refusing to ‘welcome’ (meaning recognise the truth of) the Korea IPCC report to keep global temperatures within the 1.50C limit. Instead they pushed for a watering down of the final statement which welcomed the ‘completion’ of the report and invited countries to make use of it.

There was a deadlock between Brazil and other countries over carbon credits and carbon trading. It was these disagreements that threatened to derail the whole summit. Under carbon trading, a country having more carbon emissions than the agreed target is able to purchase the right to emit more and a country having less emissions is able to sell the right to emit greenhouse gases to another country. With Brazil wanting a weaker set of rules governing carbon markets these discussions have been put off until next year.

Bury your head in the sand

While many environmental commentators see that at Katowice an opportunity for radical action has been missed, we can be encouraged by the growing chorus of young people’s voices and their campaigning actions for such radical action.

What about cutting carbon faster? The situation is urgent. This is the greatest challenge of our generation. Every fraction of a degree of warming is going to matter. Many individuals, agencies and governments want to see more tangible moves to address climate change. Businesses across the world are looking for a signal to work for change in: investment, research and development, and future planning.

In the UK, on 26th November we recorded the 10th anniversary of the Climate Change Act. The Act makes it the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account by 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline, with the intention of avoiding dangerous climate change. Early next year, the Climate Change Committee will advise the UK Government on the date by which we must reach net zero emissions. 

This is a global challenge across finance, health, education, energy, agriculture, industry, housing and transport. In the UK, it requires citizens, businesses and government to work together. To do this, we have to be honest about the damage we have done, and the scale and urgency of the challenge. But we also have to be energised to act, for the sake of our children and future generations.

It was therefore disappointing that Claire Perry, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the minister for clean growth refused to criticise Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris accords, when asked the question about his action by a Channel 4 News presenter at Katowice.

At the opening ceremony of COP24 Sir David Attenborough said that climate change is humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years. The British naturalist was taking up the ‘peoples’ seat’ at the conference, acting as a link between the public and the policy-makers. He suggested that climate change could lead to the collapse of civilisation and the extinction of much of the natural world. He concluded that we are facing a human created disaster of global proportions. He stated that the people had spoken and that time was running out.

Nations from the Oceanic region implored delegates to act as time was running out for the survival of some of these island nations.

As Christians we are fully aware of the injustice climate change is bringing to people living in poverty and to our planet. That’s why we are challenged to live sustainably, to raise our collective voice in advocacy and also pray and worship in a way that inspires great change. The church as the world’s largest network has the ability to urge world leaders to step up their commitment to the agreements of the Paris and Katowice conferences.

We know about God’s covenant with the whole of creation (Genesis 9:17) and we read of God’s purpose for us to care for the world (Genesis 2:15). We pin our hope on God’s promise to redeem creation (John 3:16) and we are challenged by Paul’s prophetic word that the whole of creation groans as it waits for human beings to live in a Christ-like way (Romans 8:19-22). For us the call is unchanged: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God as the mark of our Christian discipleship in the power of the Holy Spirit (Micah 6:8).

Now is the time to speak and to act as the outworking of our love for our children and grandchildren, for our planet, and fundamentally as an expression of our love for God.

Rev Dr John Weaver

Rev Dr John Weaver is Vice President of JRI

Photo: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons