With the UN warning that irreversible catastrophic climate changes are now a possibility, the Revd Canon Dr Jeff Golliher, Adviser for the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Communities at the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations; and the Revd Canon Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, explore how Anglicans are responding to the climate crisis.
On 8 October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its most recent warning to humanity about the global climate emergency. In this special report, the IPCC said that we will face irreversible catastrophic changes by 2040, if we continue on our present course, which includes the Paris Agreement three years ago.
Other well-known scientists have warned about this possibility, suggesting that in some ways the IPCC’s recent assessment might still be understated. After all, people in some regions of the earth already experience catastrophic changes in the form of unprecedented droughts, flooding, and wildfires. Nevertheless, based on ongoing research over the last few years, their latest warning is clear enough.
Here is the gist of it. We must cut 50 per cent of global greenhouse emissions by 2030 and essentially eliminate them by 2050. This must be done in order to prevent global temperatures from rising no more than 0.5 degrees Celsius above present levels, rather the 1.0 degree increase that the Paris Agreement considered safe.
It’s not that dangerous heat waves will be completely avoided. Rather, according to IPCC estimates 420 million less people will be subject to them. Similarly, West Antarctic ice might not melt. We’re talking about minimising the destruction and loss of life – both to humanity and to the ecosystems on which our lives depend.
The IPCC report points to the scale and depth of changes that we must set in motion – beginning now. These involve nearly every part of our lives, especially economics, food, water, and energy systems, and political will.
In the Anglican Communion, we have already begun to implement bold collaborative strategies in our Provinces that provide opportunities to put the Fifth Mark of Mission into practice more effectively, and to strengthen the Anglican Communion at the same time.
The word “collaboration” is crucial. Provinces are working with the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) and the Anglican Alliance to make this happen. Two important regional gatherings have taken place this year – the first in South America; the second in Southern Africa – both areas where the most vulnerable are already experiencing hectic climate change from drought and flooding. Outcomes from both regional gatherings are briefly summarised below.
Bishops and their representatives from six South America countries either reported on, or are now pursuing environmental and environmental justice work with high priority given to land use and deforestation, youth-oriented community organising and creation care, reducing carbon footprints, more effective communication, recycling and sustainable and organic gardening, water issues involving public use rather than privatised water, evangelism and creation care especially in relation to forest issues, soil contamination from oil drilling, and education around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Bishops from 14 African countries released a statement called An Urgent Cry for Ecological Justice: Reclaiming the Gospel Imperative for All Creation, which included the following:
“Lamenting our gravitation to the greed systems of the world that have resulted in gross inequalities and poverty, and continue to rape the earth, erode the dignity of humanity, and break genuine communion; our distortion of the Gospel by focusing narrowly on individual salvation rather than the redemption of all creation.”
“Committing to Theological Education holding eco-theology trainings at all levels (clergy, laity, guilds, youth), including ecology in liturgies.”
“Recognising the key role of Youth by initiating and increasing environmental consciousness and awareness among children and youth, and empowering children and youth to initiate or take part in tree planting and re-planting programmes and to desist from contributing to pollution; creating an African Youth Eco-Movement.”
“Sustainability by using church land productively, for example, for solar energy, and increasing green cover and bio-diversity; establishing waste management projects, including collection and productive use of waste; promoting organic, climate smart agriculture; advocating for the provision of clean water, sanitation and accessibility, ensuring that our church buildings and property provide an eco-model for the community; stop using single-use plastics on our church properties.”
“Partnerships by promoting the establishment of environmental desks in every diocese.”
“Our urgent cry is to the Anglican Communion: To our Dioceses, Provinces, CAPA, and Lambeth 2020, that Good News for creation and ecological justice be placed at the top of the agenda.