The United Nations COP 24 climate change negotiations in Poland (Dec. 2-15) ended in overtime on Saturday. While some progress was made, the Paris Agreement rulebook adopted by countries does not respond with the urgency outlined in the Global Warming of 1.5°C Report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPCC report emphasizes we are already experiencing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, etc.—and every extra bit of warming matters. This report was requested by the almost 200 countries who agreed to the 2015 Paris Agreement which aims to keep global warming “to well below 2°C” and “pursue efforts to limit” it to 1.5°C.
The key message of the IPCC report is that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would significantly reduce the risks compared to 2°C, where predicted consequences include the loss of virtually all coral reefs, hundreds of millions more people exposed to extreme heatwaves and up to 50% more people suffering water scarcity, more poverty, and more risk of long-lasting or irreversible changes. Coral reefs are already dying. They face catastrophic loss at 2°C of global warming and a 70–90% decline at 1.5°C of warming. Coral reefs provide habitat for over a million species as well as food, income, coastal protection and more for millions of people in tropical coastal areas. Losing coral reefs would increase poverty across this area. Our common home would also be impoverished by the loss of these places of wonder and beautiful diversity.
Where is the Hope? Around the World, People are Speaking Up
What is the report’s good news? Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is still possible. It requires “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, etc. Net carbon dioxide emissions would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach ‘net zero’ around 2050.
When the IPCC 1.5°C report was released in October, it was in the news which some people missed while others took notice. Across Canada environmental and faith groups are among those who met with MPs to speak about the report and give them a copy. An emergency debate on the report was held in the House of Commons on October 15th.
Youth have been speaking up. In November youth from around the world sent a message on a record-breaking postcard calling for countries to meet the 1.5 °C target. The postcard was formed from 125,000 drawings and messages from young people around the world laid out on the receding Aletsch glacier in Switzerland.
On October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis, Climate Pilgrims from the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, the U.S. and Europe began a 1500 km walk from the Vatican to the UN Climate Talks in Poland, carrying the world’s prayers with them. Philippine survivors of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation were among the pilgrims. They urged world leaders to limit global warming to 1.5 °C and spoke at parishes, schools and community events along the way to Poland.
Catholic Church leaders have been speaking up. Back in July, the Vatican organized an international Laudato Si’ Conference Saving our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth in hopes of inspiring a ‘massive movement’. One outcome line of action was to raise ambition at COP 24 around 1.5°C and protect the most vulnerable. After the October release of the IPCC 1.5 °C report, leaders of 18 Catholic development agencies, including Development and Peace, as well as leaders of several Catholic Intercontinental Bishops’ Conferences called for urgent climate action and transformative change. Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, Coordinator of the Ecology and Creation Sector in the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development, called 1.5°C a physical, moral and theological threshold: “We cannot afford to be silent witnesses of the destruction of our common home.”
Others churches and other faiths have been speaking up. Global church organizations representing over half a billion Christians, the interfaith Parliament of the World’s Religions, and diverse faith communities gathered in Poland on the eve of the UN climate change conference all called for ambitious action in light of the IPCC report.
In the final days when the UN climate negotiations seemed to be stalling, faith communities once again called for stronger ambition on 1.5 °C stating “Our faiths demand that we act for the protection of the vulnerable and as caretakers of Mother Earth.” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew shared a similar message and asked ‘when will we understand how important it is to leave as light a footprint as possible on this planet for the sake of future generations?”
The Vatican Delegation organized a press conference to urgently call for ambition, action and solidarity. On their panel were speakers from Malawi and Samoa — Joseph Sapati Moeono-Kolio explained “the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is the difference between us leaving our islands forever and getting to stay.” Small island nations, threatened by rising seas, have been one of the strongest voices calling for ambitious action at the climate change negotiations.
A Call for a New Era Resolution
Alongside a broad effort of youth, civil society, and many others, Catholic leaders, organizations and networks like the Global Catholic Climate Movement found hope filled common ground with other Churches and faiths seeking urgent and ambitious action on climate change to protect vulnerable people on the frontlines, future generations and our common home which we share with all life.
The climate change conference outcome in Poland did not adequately respond to the urgency raised by science, frontline communities, faith groups and others. We have choices to make over how we are going to live hope as people of faith going forward. Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam’s words help point the way:
“We will all need to embrace radical change in our lifestyles, energy use, consumption, transportation, industrial production, agriculture, etc.
Each of us needs to act.
We also need to act together, from governments and institutions
to families and individuals.
We need to come together as Churches to protect our one home…
we need to come together as religions…
we need to work with the civil society and all people of good will
to face this unprecedented challenge in human history.”
This is not a New Year’s resolution. It’s a call for some new era resolution.