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Sino-US ratification of Paris Agreement

Sino-US ratification of Paris Agreement

Bishop Geoff Davies

05 September 2016 5:06PM

At the weekend, the US President Barack Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping announced their respective countries’ ratification of the Paris climate change agreement. The former Bishop of Umzimvubu, the Rt Revd Geoff Davies, founder of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) considers its implications.

The ratification of the Paris Agreement by both the US and China is of immense importance. We pray it is an indication that the world’s leadership is beginning to take climate change seriously. The world’s two largest economies who are also the largest carbon emitters (China 20.1 per cent and the USA 17.9 per cent), have agreed to reduce their emissions. 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.

But we also have to face the reality that the Paris agreement is still inadequate. It will be a real challenge to keep average global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have already increased average global temperatures by 0.9 degrees. and we are feeling the impact. Our experience in Africa is that climate change is not a future threat – it is with us now, causing horrendous impacts with droughts and new climate patterns and extremes.

Though they have signed, the message from the G20 meeting is that the overall purpose is to promote the gospel of “economic growth” – this on a finite planet. If that growth is to bring about development in renewable energy and education, this is to be commended. Economic growth is needed in the face of population growth and the challenge to overcome poverty.

The question is whether the goal is economic growth or the well-being and sustainability of planet and people?

We are told by Jesus that we can’t serve both God and Mammon. Our contemporary world clearly serves Mammon, whereas money should be the “tool” the “resource” to bring about well-being. Part of this is the unbelievable inequity of our present day world with 85 people controlling of the worlds wealth while two billion go hungry.

I am not advocating limitations to individual initiative and enterprise. I am advocating that the full costs of economic activities must take into account the impact on people and planet of our enterprises.

In the context of climate change, we have to reduce carbon emissions, but most industry, most “development” involves machines, and machines do people out of jobs! Consider the massive machines used in opencast mining. The trouble is that manual labour cannot produce as much as machine, but we also have a massive unemployment situation – in South Africa around 50 per cent. There is an enormous amount of work that can be undertaken by people, working harmoniously with the natural environment, utilising intermediate technology.

The Old Testament prophets clearly call on us to seek to establish two principles – justice and equity. But this is not only for people. 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.