At the crossroads of climate change

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement. Shilpita Mathews and Josh Evans consider our progress, and lack of, in implementing the agreement.

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

‘Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back and it is already doing so with growing force and fury,’ were the remarks of UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in a speech entitled State of the Planet, last week. This is a sombre tone as the world marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement on the 12th of December. As we look forward to the UK hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021, there is a need for urgent climate action. 

We are not on track to meet the global 1.5°C target

Despite the progress made, there is an ambition-implementation gap when it comes to emission reductions. Global commitments, fall short of meeting 1.5°C, with Climate Action Tracker (CAT) calculating that in a best-case scenario, net zero pledges could lead to warming of 2.1°C by 2100. However, they also show that this estimate has dropped from 3.5 degrees in 2009 with 0.5 degrees of this in the last year alone as a direct result of climate emergency and net-zero declarations.

Further commitments are required by governments

Photo by Paddy O Sullivan on Unsplash

While the UK has committed to reducing emissions by 68% by 2030, this remains below the 70% reduction required to meet Paris targets projected by Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of the landmark Stern Review on the economics of climate change. Moreover, the UK’s current Covid recovery stimulus spending is behind other European countries when it comes to a just and green recovery.

Concerningly, there remains a stark contrast between government spending on programmes like  ‘Gear Change’, promoting cycling and walking ( £2 billion), and continued spending on road building (£27 billion) as well as £12.8 billion on fossil fuels annually. This indicates ambitious 2030 targets are needed to prevent catastrophic consequences, as the UK announces its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) this week.

Delaying action will impact the poorest countries the most

Meeting Paris commitments in a cost-optimal way will require a global reduction in emissions by 40%–50% by 2030. Research show that delayed action will lead to additional costs and may lead to the failure of the Paris Agreement as a whole. These costs will be borne disproportionately by developing countries. For instance, South-East Asia will face more extreme impacts than other regions, with 600 million to one billion people in Asia living in areas with a nonzero annual probability of lethal heat waves by 2050.

Rich countries have an obligation under the Paris agreement to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries limit pollution and adapt to climate change. However, recent UK aid budget cuts, from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, jeopardise this.

Divestment makes economic sense

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Net zero targets outline a hopeful trajectory for planet earth and a worrying message for anyone deeply invested in fossil fuels.  Stranded assets could become a reality faster than anyone has previously predicted. There are economic gains to be made as entire economies orient themselves to net-zero pathways. Yet, the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), a project launched by the Church of England and supported by several Churches, found in its 2020 State of Transition Report that none of the major oil companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement targets.

The climate crisis demands urgent action

We are at the crossroads of climate action. In the lead up to COP26, there are many ways citizens and churches can hold the government accountable:

  • Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, which Operation Noah has recently endorsed. The CEE Bill’s aim, according to Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International, is to demonstrate ‘the path needed to avoid the catastrophe outlined by the United Nations… it is farsighted, aiming to protect those at risk now and in the future.’ Young people are leading the call to action. For instance, ‘climate education at every level of formal education, tougher ecocide laws, stronger regulation on air quality and banning the offshoring of emissions’ were some of the many demands made of the UK government by young activists at a global Mock COP26 event recently.
  • Divest! Our calls for government to do more carry more weight when we have our own house in order. The church has a unique moral voice that still carries weight in 2021. Its potential can be realised if it can call on the UK government with integrity to make ambitious agreements at COP26 a national priority. For this reason, churches must divest from fossil fuels now before this golden opportunity to use a platform to bring God’s kingdom passes us by. The reasons for doing this are outlined in Operation Noah’s Bright Now report Church investments in major oil companies – Paris compliant or Paris defiant?
  • Go Net Zero. Many churches are increasing their climate ambitions, as seen in the recent Scottish Episcopal Church vote to go net zero by 2030, which was welcomed by Operation Noah. Their announcement follows on from the Church of England’s announcement in February of this year.
  • Declare an Emergency. Tearfund is encouraging and assisting churches to declare or recognise a climate emergency.

From plans outlined in the USA by the incoming Biden-Harris administration, to China’s recent climate targets, there is much to be hopeful for. Yet, as Guterres reiterated, ‘the targets set at Paris were always meant to be increased over time.’ The world needs urgent action if we are to address the climate emergency.  As we look ahead from Paris, the UK needs to make the most of its impressive diplomatic networks to orchestrate a similar united approach in 2021.

Shilpita Mathews is currently Strategy Lead at YCCN  and serves in the student ministry of her home church, All Souls Langham Place in London.  

Josh Evans was part of the Pilgrimage2Paris in 2015 and is currently Campaigns Lead at YCCN.

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