Climate change is the conversation that isn’t going away. Over the next week, governments of almost every country continue to meet together to further discussions and negotiations for a coordinated global response to climate change. The annual United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) talks provide a critical moment each year where the world focuses on their impact on the planet. Last year’s COP26 was held in Glasgow, Scotland. This year, the baton has passed to Egypt.
While in the past, COP has come and gone and our attention has quickly moved on, in the last 12 months, something appears to have shifted. The conversation and focus on climate change hasn’t dropped from the news cycle. It may be due to the increase in natural disasters in Australia or around the world, the increasing energy challenges being felt globally or a more general understanding that time is simply running out, but no matter the reason why, it gives us a reason to hope.
Hope, because what is clear from Tearfund’s own research into the attitudes of younger Christians in Australia, is that making space to talk about climate change is a critical first step towards action. What this research also highlights is both a growing concern and a desire from young people to see the church provide leadership on the issue. And here is where the Church has an opportunity to step up. While others have led the charge on addressing climate change, Christians in Australia have an important voice to bring to the conversation, highlighting the injustice of climate change for people in our world’s poorest communities.
The poorest 3.5 billion people are responsible for just 10 percent of carbon emissions but are already facing the worst impacts of climate change.
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Although the climate crisis is a global problem, we know that its effects are felt most acutely by people in low-income countries: those who did the least to contribute to climate change and have the fewest resources to cope with it. Across the world, the poorest 3.5 billion people are responsible for just 10 percent of carbon emissions but are already facing the worst impacts of climate change. This is by far one of the greatest injustices of our time and for this reason alone, climate change should matter to Christians.
Hosted by Egypt, COP27 has been billed as the ‘African COP’. Central to its mandate is the issue of justice, and it must reflect the voices and priorities of African nations and other climate-vulnerable countries. They have been increasingly clear in their calls for higher-income nations – those most responsible for climate change, including Australia – to deliver on their promises and increase their support for climate action in low-income countries.
Promise Salawu, Advocacy Officer at Tearfund Nigeria, explains in no uncertain terms the paramount importance of climate finance for vulnerable nations: “Without financial help, it will be impossible for many families and communities to adapt to and survive the impacts of the climate crisis.”
Earlier this year, flooding in Pakistan displaced more than 33 million people from their homes. More than 1000 people lost their lives as destructive monsoon rains wreaked havoc. Right now, across much of the Horn of Africa, 22 million people are at risk of starvation. After four successive failed rainy seasons, and another one potentially on the way, food is scarce, and harvests have withered away. And in Afghanistan, severe drought is crippling communities where 60 percent of families rely on farming for their livelihoods.
When the climate crisis is having such a devastating impact on people living in poverty, our God of justice and righteousness calls us to respond.
Psalm 113 tells us clearly that we worship a God of justice who cares for the poor and takes action to change their circumstances. We see this theme of a God of justice all through the Scriptures. God expects all people, and especially leaders, to be people of mercy and compassion who spend themselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed (Isaiah 58: 10).
Jesus stood in this tradition as he met people’s physical and social needs, as well as their spiritual needs, and so did the early church as they collected money when there was famine and starvation. They developed such a reputation for it that even the emperors mentioned it – they not only cared for their own poor but cared for the poor from other communities as well! When the climate crisis is having such a devastating impact on people living in poverty, our God of justice and righteousness calls us to respond.
At Tearfund, we see the devastating impacts on the communities that we work with. We witness the rains become less predictable, crops fail, diseases spread into new areas and the frequency and severity of weather disasters grow. We hear the plea from our partners around the world and communities in Pacific nations for substantive action to be taken to address what is, for them, an existential threat. Climate change threatens to force large numbers of Pacific communities from their homes and livelihoods. In some cases, there is a real threat that entire island nations are lost to the sea.
In June this year, Australia strengthened its climate plan by committing to a stronger net-zero by 2050 target and a 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030. These targets, despite being significantly more ambitious than Australia’s earlier commitments, still fall short of our fair share in meeting the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
So why should Christians care about climate change and COP27? As Christians and churches, we have a crucial role in calling for, and working towards, a world that allows everyone to flourish – one that enables us to live in harmony with the rest of creation. To turn this into reality, and to prevent further harm to our global neighbours, we must urgently tackle the climate crisis together.
As followers of Jesus, through whom all things were made, we are called to be at the forefront of protecting and restoring God’s creation. Millions of lives hang in the balance right now. Ahead of us is the biggest challenge our world will face in this lifetime. The conversation needs to shift further still and Christians have vital part to play: speaking up for justice, being the salt and light of Jesus’ good news for the poor.
Greg Hewson is Head of Communications and Education at Tearfund Australia. Tearfund’s vision is built upon the gospel, which, as Jesus proclaimed, is “good news for the poor” and an understanding that God’s reconciling and restorative work on the cross is good news for the whole creation.