The topic of climate change reveals some unfortunate weaknesses in Christian thought, which are also strengths. The Reformation was a reaction against unhelpful or unbiblical doctrines, and an understanding of salvation that could ignore personal responsibility over corporate belonging. Protestants have their own paper popes, their preferred sources of authority, be they pastor or popular theologian. However, we tend to be individualistic, both because of Reformed doctrines of salvation and the surrounding consumer culture. Combine that with an Australian anti-authoritarian strand and it is easy to see why many in the church have a problem with climate change. They can automatically link the science with consequences, and I think this as much as anything leads to rejection of the message. Ironic given how big the church should be on repentance.
COP26 is not about policing as such (pardon the bad pun). The name itself bears guilt, however – 26 of these meetings and little real action. COP stands for Conference of the Parties. The parties are the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994. This followed on from the first assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990. We have been talking for a long time, without enough doing.
While the COP is a meeting of politicians, it is informed by IPCC reports, which is a consensus report by scientists. In one sense, we didn’t need a sixth IPCC assessment report to tell us things are bad. What is striking however as I compare these reports is how much more certain of the reality of climate change, and the disastrous consequences, they now are. Imagine jumping out of a plane but delaying pulling the ripcord. Each report tells us in greater clarity than we are falling, and how further delays in releasing the parachute determine our survival. No doubt some readers will question this – but not because you have obtained the degrees and carefully examined the science. It’s time to abandon our pride.
While the COP is a meeting of politicians, it is informed by IPCC reports, which is a consensus report by scientists.
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What COP26 recognises, leading on from the 2015 meeting in Paris, is three-fold. Firstly, a 1.5° C warming above pre-industrial levels target produces much better outcomes for God’s creation, and for people around the world in terms of sea-level rise, droughts, impacts on crop yields, etc, than 2° C or more. To push for this is an act of loving God and neighbour. This means ambitious 2030 targets to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Net zero emissions doesn’t mean a “hail Mary” appeal to some magic extraction technologies – be their technological or natural like forestation. The area needed for tree planting would have disastrous impacts on food prices. To be sure, we need more trees, swamps, mangroves, and sea grasses to mop up CO2. Restoring nature – which we understand as a good creation – is part of COP26’s concerns. But we need a rapid end to fossil fuels. This is a fact that has been in the scientific literature for decades.
Loving our neighbour comes at a cost.
Loving our neighbour comes at a cost. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes it plain that is often financial. As “developing nations” have often been a source of cheap resources, goods, and labour for rich western countries, and contribute little to the problem of climate change, we owe them a debt. Yet to date, rich countries are yet to meet the 100 billion dollars per year set out in the Paris agreement to help them adapt to a changing climate. This too will be a focus of COP26.
What can we do while COP26 goes on? We should pray that nations will take climate change as the threat that it is – not just to the abstract idea of the economy – but to the lives everyone of us, particularly to the majority world who bear much of the cost but little of the guilt. We should pray that the voices of concerned Christians will be heard, particularly Indigenous Christians like Uncle Pastor Ray Minniecon.
We need to pray for a sense of urgency. There are few jobs on a dead planet, and fewer things grow – let alone economies – when weather disasters and failed crops plague us constantly. Better to plan a smoother transition into a just future than a catastrophic one, and then claim it is God’s judgment when repentance was always possible. We should pray for Christians at COP to speak this message – that God is making all things new (Rev 21:5), and that this calls for repentance from the old idols of growth without gratitude, of taking without sharing, of profit before people. This whole mess illustrates sin better that we realise, which is why Christians should realise COP is not about policing our lives as much as acknowledging there is a better future for the world. The church after all, is meant to be at the leading edge of this (Rom 8:22–23).
Mick Pope is a forecast meteorologist with twenty years of experience in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. He also is a university professor with a PhD in tropical meteorology, and is part of the ISCAST (Christians in Science and Technology) network.