Church leaders have expressed their regret over the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement, reached after years of negotiations culminating in the COP21 talks in Paris in December 2015, committed world leaders to work towards reducing global temperature increases.
A significant number of Anglican leaders, headed by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, were in Paris for the talks to push the political leaders towards an agreement. Yesterday, in the Whitehouse Rose Garden, President Trump confirmed the long-signalled decision to withdraw the US from the agreement, saying it was “unfair” on the United States.
“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States,” President Trump said. “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement – they went wild; they were so happy – for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.
“A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound. We would find it very hard to compete with other countries from other parts of the world.”
He continued: “We have among the most abundant energy reserves on the planet, sufficient to lift millions of America’s poorest workers out of poverty. Yet, under this agreement, we are effectively putting these reserves under lock and key, taking away the great wealth of our nation. It’s great wealth. It’s phenomenal wealth. Not so long ago, we had no idea we had such wealth and [were] leaving millions and millions of families trapped in poverty and joblessness.”
President Trump confirmed that new coal mines would be opening shortly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Church leaders were quick to respond to the announcement.
The message of the Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, was that: “we’re still in” – as he said that the Episcopal Church would “continue to take bold action to address the climate crisis.”
In a statement, Bishop Curry said that human beings “have been charged with being trustees, caretakers, stewards of God’s creation.”
He continued: “The United States has been a global leader in caring for God’s creation through efforts over the years on climate change. President Trump’s announcement changes the US’s leadership role in the international sphere.
“Despite this announcement, many US businesses, states, cities, regions, non-governmental organisations and faith bodies like the Episcopal Church can continue to take bold action to address the climate crisis.
“The phrase, ‘We’re still in,’ became a statement of commitment for many of us who regardless of this decision by our President are still committed to the principles of the Paris Agreement.”
He said that faith groups occupied “a unique space in the worldwide climate movement” and he highlighted the position of the Episcopal Church as an international body representing 17 countries with provisional observer status empowered to send accredited observers to UN climate change meetings.
“Furthermore, the Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian tradition, and we remain committed to ensuring that Anglicans everywhere are empowered to undertake bold action on climate change mitigation and adaptation,” he said.
“We know that caring for God’s creation by engaging climate change is not only good for the environment, but also good for the health and welfare of our people. The US is currently creating more clean jobs faster than job creation in nearly every other sector of the economy, and unprecedented acceleration in the clean energy sector is also evident in many other major economies.
“My prayer is that we in the Episcopal Church will, in this and all things, follow the way, the teachings and the Spirit of Jesus by cultivating a loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, all others in the human family, and with all of God's good creation.
“In spite of hardships and setbacks, the work goes on. This is God’s world. And we are all his children.”
Across the Atlantic, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, the Bishop of Salisbury Nick Holtam, went much further with an outright condemnation of President Trump’s decision, which he described as an “abject failure of leadership.”
“I am, frankly, very disturbed by President Trump’s decision to revoke the United States’ commitment to the Paris Agreement, which was a global commitment made in good faith,” he said.
“Climate change is one of the great challenges of our times. There is a moral and spiritual dimension with a strong consensus built among the faith communities about the care of our common home. The scientific, economic and political arguments point in the same direction.
“How can President Trump look in the eye the people most affected, including the world’s poorest in the places most affected by climate change now, and those affected by increasingly frequent extreme weather in parts of the USA? The leader of what used to be called ‘the new world’ is trapped in old world thought and action.”
He continued: “President Trump has not recognised the economic potential of renewable energy which represents a paradigm shift capable of generating sustainable prosperity. What will our children and grandchildren say to us about the way we respond to this extreme carelessness?
“Ours is the first generation which cannot say we did not know about the human impact on climate change.
“For the US government to withdraw from taking responsible action in keeping with the Paris agreement is an abject failure of leadership. The USA emits nearly a fifth of global CO2 emissions. This step is particularly disappointing at a time when China, the world's other mega-emitter of CO2, has committed to deep and sustained cuts in emissions to protect its own citizens as well as the rest of the world.
“In challenging President Trump’s decision, ‘We the people’, including churches and other faith leaders, must speak clearly: this decision is wrong for the USA and for the world. I commend those American churches and faith leaders who are speaking out and organising against this decision.
“How out of touch President Trump is with many of his own people was shown yesterday, when the Church of England helped lead a consortium of shareholders with $5 trillion [USD] of assets under management at the ExxonMobil AGM. A motion was passed overwhelmingly forcing the company to undertake and disclose analysis of what limiting climate change to two degrees Celsius would mean for its business.
“Shareholders can make a difference. So can citizens and electors.”
The decision was also condemned by leaders of other Christian traditions and ecumenical bodies.
“This is a tragedy, missing an opportunity to show real, accountable leadership for the future of humanity and our common home,” the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Olav Fykse Tveit, said. “This is a decision that is not morally sustainable; and not economically sustainable either. The struggle for climate justice has to continue.”
Rudelmar Bueno De Faria, the general secretary of the Act Alliance, an organisation which includes a number of Anglican development agencies, said: “Only 18 months ago global leaders welcomed the landmark Paris Climate Agreement for taking into account the immediate needs of countries most severely affected by the impacts of climate change. The move by the President of the United States today flies in the face of ethics and Christian values.”
Last month, Pope Francis presented President Trump with a copy of his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ during a visit to the Vatican. The chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops international justice and peace committee, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, described President Trump’s decision as “deeply troubling.”
“The Scriptures affirm the value of caring for creation and caring for each other in solidarity. The Paris agreement is an international accord that promotes these values. President Trump’s decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities.
“The impacts of climate change are already being experienced in sea level rise, glacial melts, intensified storms, and more frequent droughts. I can only hope that the President will propose concrete ways to address global climate change and promote environmental stewardship.”