Faith Communities Hold World Leaders Accountable at U.N. Climate Negotiations

Commentary
KATOWICE, Silesia, POLAND, December 8, 2018, March for Climate during Conference of the Parties COP24. Editorial credit: Bernadetta Sarat / Shutterstock.com

The United Nations climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland — the follow-up to the blockbuster 2015 Paris conference — came to a dramatic close on Dec. 15 with the adoption of the "Katowice Climate Package."

The package represents significant progress on global climate action and will allow nations to move forward in setting and meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets over the next five years. However, the roadmap will need major improvements to reach the level of “ambition” the scientific community says is needed to protect the most vulnerable.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an internationally constituted scientific body, published a landmark report on climate change laying out what the global community needs to do to prevent global catastrophe. Rather than responding with moral leadership when confronted with its release, the United States found itself in the company of Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in weakening language supporting the report. In a similar fashion, the U.S. opposed including strong protections for human rights in the Katowice package and failed to sign on to a landmark statement supporting the rights and wellbeing of workers in economies transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Representatives from faith communities were among the stakeholders gathered in Poland to hold negotiators accountable. U.S. faith leaders in particular were there to clarify that, while President Trump has signaled he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Americans are still committed. Interfaith Power & Light presented U.N. leaders with scrolls featuring more than 12,000 names of U.S. congregations and people of faith who have taken the "Paris Pledge" to reduce emissions and work for strong U.S. climate action.

Faith communities see the human face of climate change around the world through global missions, disaster response, and immigration ministries. The call to love one’s neighbor and care for the vulnerable is taking on grave new meaning as denominations, faith-based charities, and local congregations throughout the world and here in the U.S. respond to what has become a constant onslaught of extreme environmental events fueled by warmer temperatures. As American faith communities see their neighbors around the world endangered and their resources swallowed up by billion-dollar disaster response and recovery operations, they are increasingly united in calling for stronger U.S. climate action.

Across the country, congregations are organizing to pass meaningful clean energy legislation at the local and state level. With broad support from faith groups across the District of Columbia, the D.C. Council just voted to pass the most ambitious renewable energy goal in the U.S. — 100 percent by 2032. Rev. James Coleman, of All Nations Baptist Church, testified on behalf of the bill saying, "As a Pastor, I cringe in sadness and anguish when I consider the abuse humankind has with contempt inflicted disregard for God’s created earth." By adding a moral lens to clean energy campaigns, congregations are stepping up in faith in their communities.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, evangelical Christian, and member of the IPCC, says that the most important thing one can do about climate change is talk about it. It’s important that we break the climate silence in our sanctuaries. A great place to start is by participating in Faith Climate Action Week. Every April, thousands of congregations participate in this 10-day interfaith celebration of creation by preaching about climate change from the pulpit, organizing workshops, and leading classes on faith and the environment.

This year’s climate negotiations will have impacts for decades to come — not just on carbon emissions but on vulnerable people in the U.S. and worldwide. The international agreement is not a silver bullet, but rather a piece of the puzzle that requires all of us to continue in this sacred work of advocating for action on climate. In calling for climate action and climate justice, we are bearing witness to the truth all our faiths proclaim: The Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.

Avery Davis Lamb is Federal Policy Associate for Interfaith Power & Light and Director of Faithful Advocacy for the DC, Maryland, Northern Virginia affiliate.

Bee Moorhead is the Executive Director of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

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