The Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, explains the role of the US-based Episcopal Church at the UN’s climate change conferences.
There is an intimate, personal side to this great global challenge that we have wrought through climate change. In the spring of 2015, eight months before the United Nations held what turned out to be a historic climate summit in Paris, the Revd Canon Stefani Schatz, who tragically died of ovarian cancer this past summer, said to me, “Marc you need to attend the Paris climate summit.” She didn’t elaborate on this statement, she didn’t need to do so – I immediately felt the truth and force of my colleague’s words and began planning to attend.
I would go to the gathering formally known as the “Conference of Parties” (COP, or COP 21 in this case) as the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California, but I also wrote to the then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and volunteered to represent her, if she wished. Bishop Katharine accepted my offer, and also appointed a diverse and capacious team, which was affirmed by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry when he assumed the office.
The first COP was held in Berlin in 1995, and established the ongoing goal of assessing progress around the globe in dealing with climate change. Beginning with COP3 in Kyoto, the summits took on the further, enormous goal of establishing legally binding goals in each United Nations member country for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. COP21 in Paris in 2015 achieved something that has never happened before – the Earth’s nations agreeing to take action for the health of the whole Earth (initially only Syria and Nicaragua held out from signing the Paris Agreement, but they have both signed on – President Trump of the United States, however has announced that the US will no longer be a party to the Paris Agreement, more on that below).
The 2017 COP23 in Bonn, Germany thus was the third UN climate summit I’ve attended, with my ecological scientist wife, Sheila Andrus and really terrific team members from all over the Episcopal Church, appointed by the Presiding Bishop. Sheila and I attend the whole conference each time, about two weeks, and most of the rest of the team comes for either week one or week two.
We organise our work at the COPs into four areas:
- Advocacy around the Episcopal Church’s General Convention resolutions on environment, climate change and eco-justice. The overall thrust of our resolutions pushes toward the lower, aspirational goal of the United Nations: 1.5° C rise above historic global temperatures rather than the 2° C level formally adopted in the Paris Agreement. Advocacy like our will, we hope, adjust the goal towards the more sustainable 1.5° C when the Paris Agreement is reviewed in 2020.
- Networking – we actively work to relate to Anglican Communion partners, representatives of member nations that are part of the Episcopal Church, ecumenical and interfaith representatives, and US climate actions organisations.
- Learning – we attend workshops, presentations, and seminars throughout the summits.
- Being the Church at the COPs – we hold daily worship services in the public spaces of the COPs, inviting people to reflect, converse, sing and pray together. Each day we focus on a spiritual value that supports a healthy, sustainable life on the Earth. Some of the values we have used in Paris, Marrakech and Bonn include: Courage, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Compassion, Ambition and Letting Go.
COP23 in Bonn had, for me, one major minus and one great plus. The Pacific island countries and territories made a strong appeal for immediate financial aid from the rest of the world to help them cope with the present threat of rising sea levels, an appeal that was turned down. This is a tragic response – villages and communities have already been inundated by the rising ocean, and the low-lying Pacific islands are facing total loss. These islands have been the homes of the Pacific island peoples for thousands of years; moving to a new home is something of almost unimaginable gravity for someone like me, the descendant of European immigrants to what is now the United States. The foreign minister of one Pacific island country said, “If we did leave our homes, which is not something that should be asked of us, our going would only help the rest of the world ignore the reality of extreme climate change effects.”
The big positive development was the vigorous presence of an “alternative United States delegation,” the embodiment of what is now known as the “We’re Still In” movement. Headed by Governor Jerry Brown of California, a broad coalition of American cities, states, regions, businesses and faith bodies are pledging to keep the United States commitment to the Paris Agreement, even without the Federal Government’s participation. I am delighted to say that the suggestion that faith bodies should be full partners in the We’re Still In movement came from our own Episcopal delegation representing the Presiding Bishop.
As a faith leader and long-time climate activist, I believe the inner aspects of climate action can be cultivated through a strong spiritual connection to one another, and with God. Through a strengthening of inner will, and through openness to the deep qualities of the divine in the universe, we can find the fortitude to fix the external issues.