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Church leaders welcome US-Sino action on climate change

Posted on: September 5, 2016 6:28 PM
Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping meet at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou where they announced their countries' respective ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Photo Credit: Pete Souza / Whitehouse

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Church leaders from around the world have welcomed the announcement that the US and China have ratified the UN’s climate change agreement that was reached in Paris last November. The news emerged as US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang Province, ahead of this year’s G20 Summit.

The Paris Agreement commits countries to a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels; and an aim to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees to “significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change”. It won’t come into effect until at least 55 countries accounting in total for at least 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified it.

Before the weekend’s announcements by China and the US, just 24 of the 180 states that are party to the agreement had ratified it, accounting for just 1.06 per cent of emissions. The inclusion of China and the US – the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases – puts the percentage above 39 per cent. And there is now increasing pressure on other countries to follow suit before the ratification process comes to an end on 21 April 2017.

The agreement could come into effect earlier than that – as it applies 30 days after the two 55 targets have been met. Campaigners hope it could come into effect before the end of this year.

President Obama said that the weekend’s announcements might come to be seen as “the moment that we finally decided to save our planet.” And President Xi said the agreement “bears on the future of our people and the wellbeing of mankind.”

The former Bishop of Umzimvubu, Geoff Davies, founder of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) described the announcement as being of “immense importance.” In a comment for ACNS, Bishop Davies said: “This is setting an example to the world which will, it is hoped, produce a ‘ratification surge’ to obtain ratification by the fifty-five countries needed to implement the Paris Agreement.”

He added: “We have to implement justice for all of life if we are to have a sustainable future. We are intricately part of the web of life. We cannot survive without clean air and water and unpolluted soil. We must recognise our obligations to all life that God has brought into being. All of life as a right to survive. We must care for all of life for our own future well-being.”

The Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, the Bishop of Salisbury Nick Holtam, described the Paris Agreement as “remarkable” saying it brought “the world to a common position on the problem of climate change that threatens us all.”

He added: “I congratulate the USA and China, as the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, on formally ratifying the Agreement.

“It is a huge step towards the agreement coming into force. . . I call on the [British] Prime Minister [Theresa May] to ensure that the UK also completes the ratification process as soon as possible. It will confirm that decarbonisation remains a top priority for her government.”

The Bishop of California in the US-based Episcopal Church said that he was “grateful and encouraged” by the weekend’s news. “The Presiding Officers of the Episcopal Church are highlighting the vital role that ‘sub-national’ entities like churches must play in enacting the Paris Agreement. Churches can do ground-level work in greening the buildings and land we steward. We can also engage in policy advocacy that forwards the work undertaken by our country’s Executive and Legislative branches.

“We are in an unprecedented ‘long emergency’ that requires action by everyone at every level. The leadership of Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama both inspires us, and heralds policy that will make our grassroots work more possible.

“We must also recognise that this ratification is a reflection of a ground-swell of experience of the leading edge of climate change by many millions of people on the planet.”

And the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, the environmental coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, a member of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) also welcomed the ratification as “a sign of hope”.

Speaking of the local situation, she said: “future climate change in South Africa will be ‘significant and potentially catastrophic’. This is according to the Government’s 2011 National Climate Change Response white paper which warns that if little action is taken on climate change, the interior of South Africa will be 3 degrees hotter by 2050 and double that by 2100.

“The government report concludes by saying ‘Life as we know it will change completely.’

“At yet, and yet, the government is politicking, trying to move towards nuclear instead of renewable energy and the process of change to a low carbon future is being delayed. Civil society, of which the faith based sector is a huge part in Africa, must call upon our minister of the environment to ratify the commitments made at Paris.

“As Archbishop Tutu said: ‘climate change is the human rights issue of our time.’”

The US-Sino announcement came the day after the ecumenical Global Day of Prayer and at the start of a Season of Creation in which Anglicans are joining Orthodox, Catholic and other Christians to unite in prayer for the environment.