On Friday, Sept. 20, driven by our faith and by our profound concern about climate change, we will be joining young people from around the world in a climate strike. We will join with youth who, frightened by the impact that a hotter planet will have on their lives and angry that adults have done so little in response, are demanding that world leaders take transformative action to address the emergency that we face. Millions of us will take to the streets to demand a right to a future for generations to come.
For the sake of compassion, love, and justice, we urge you to join us.
Four years ago, there was reason for measured optimism about the climate crisis. Countries and regions with major carbon footprints - China, the US, the European Union and others - had signaled that they were committed to reducing their emissions. The result was the coming together of the world’s leaders in support of the Paris Climate Agreement, the first-ever global climate change accord. While the commitments made in the Paris Agreement were not ambitious enough to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, a goal necessary to save millions of lives, there was a sense of hope globally that momentum was now on our side.
However, despite the admirable steps taken by a small number of countries, cities, states, provinces, companies, investors and other institutions, far too few have acted at the speed or scale required to avoid a full-blown disaster. Because of this, the climate crisis has now become an emergency. Eleven months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authoritative scientific body on the topic, made it abundantly clear that to avoid ecological breakdown with massive humanitarian consequences, action to transform the world’s energy, food, transportation, and finance systems would be required at a pace and level never seen before.
The UN Secretary General’s office, whose climate summit takes place three days after the Climate Strike, has been equally clear about what is at stake.
“Global emissions are reaching record levels and show no sign of peaking. The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves, and risks to food security.”
The good news is that more and more cities, regions, companies and institutions have proven that ambitious climate action increases social wellbeing and economic prosperity. When compared to business-as-usual scenarios, strong climate policies and plans have been shown repeatedly to create more jobs, increase access to energy for the 850 million people living without electricity, provide sustainable transportation, and improve health by reducing air pollution, to name just a few of the benefits.
In the face of evidence that positive solutions are at hand, it is all the more shocking that several major countries have publicly rejected the commitments they made in the Paris Agreement, and that major banks have actually increased funding for fossil fuel infrastructure since that agreement was reached. These actions are fundamentally destructive and immoral. They represent an affront to decency and a threat to the future of life.
As religious leaders, we feel particularly strong about this issue because so many of our communities include a growing number of people hurt badly by climate change. Our local congregations and religious relief and development agencies around the world see these impacts every day. They see them in the climate refugees they shelter, the children and families who have lost their homes in severe storms made more powerful by a hotter climate, the hungry who can no longer grow food on their parched land, and the communities and governments pushed beyond their limits by environmental stress.
These impacts compel us to join the global climate strike. They also compel us to join the strike’s youth organizers in calling on world leaders to take the bold steps needed to address the climate emergency at the necessary scale. We need governments to transition the global economy to 100 percent renewable energy, to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and extraction through a just and equitable transition that creates millions of good jobs, and to halt all leasing and permitting for fossil fuel extraction, processing and infrastructure projects immediately. We need governments to honor and enforce laws protecting the rights of Indigenous communities who have proven time and time again that they are the most effective protectors of Earth’s tropical forests and biodiversity. We need governments to end subsidies for industrial agriculture and to invest in farming that regenerates the planet. We need governments to direct investment into the frontline communities that are already facing severe climate impacts, and to replace hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric with a commitment to helping resettle those displaced by climate change.
Governments bear a unique and irreplaceable responsibility for setting and enforcing the rules by which our global society works. We need them to serve the interests of people and planet, not the select few wealthy, well-connected industries who would continue to profit as the world burns.
Throughout history, when large numbers of people take peaceful, principled public action, the world changes. This Friday, we must show leaders that countless people around the world are calling on them to do what is right and to act now to protect a future for our children and grandchildren.
Religious and spiritual leaders of the world, please join us in supporting the youth leaders who are demanding an urgent response to the climate emergency. Add your name to our multi-faith statement of today.