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A chance to back those in need

by
08 November 2013

Politicians need help to do the right thing at the Warsaw summit, argues Joe Ware

christian aid

Massed campaigners: Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses a rally in Copenhagen at the 2009 climate summit

Massed campaigners: Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses a rally in Copenhagen at the 2009 climate summit

IN SEPTEMBER, the world's scientific community gave its verdict on the state of global climate change - in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report - and it was not pretty (Comment, 27 September; News, 4 October). Now it is now the turn of the politicians to respond.

Government negotiators, including energy and environment ministers, from more than 190 countries will be meeting in Warsaw from next Monday to plot their response to human-induced climate change.

The meeting does not have the snappiest title: the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But this is one body that really does have the power to change the world for the better. It is not often that policy-makers from every country come together to make decisions that will have an impact on billions.

At the 2011 meeting in Durban, South Africa, countries promised to create a new global plan to curb carbon emissions by 2015; this latest meeting will be an important step in that process. The most high-profile COP gathering in recent years, the 2009 summit in Copenhagen, ended in disappointment, after it failed to create a legally binding emissions treaty.

You might think that coal-loving Poland is an odd choice to forge the next stage in the fight for a cleaner, safer, and healthier planet. And you would probably be right. Early signs have not been promising that the government of Poland really grasps the situation. Perversely, it has decided to hold a meeting of global producers of coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, in Warsaw during the climate summit.

Also, the number of summit passes provided to representatives from NGOs has been slashed this year. Civil-society groups do a vital job in observing the talks and speaking up for the victims of climate change, who are often from the smallest and poorest nations. By reducing the NGO numbers, Poland seems to be hoping for a smoother ride, with fewer awkward questions.

Finally, a few weeks ago, a bizarre government-backed blog post was published on the summit's official website, celebrating the economic benefits of a melting Arctic, and claiming that it would allow the chasing of "pirates, terrorists and ecologists that will come to hang around". After a backlash, the post was taken down.

 

THE choice of Poland as host may seem darkly comic, but it could provide an opportunity for progress. The Polish government is notorious for obstructing previous talks and undermining the EU's efforts to negotiate in this area.

As host, however, it will not want the meeting to end in failure. A botched summit would be an embarrassment; so this could create pressure that would force the Poles to be more co-operative.

I will be attending the talks, and doing my bit for the atmosphere by travelling there by train. These international summits can sometimes feel cumbersome and full of impenetrable jargon, to the point where some question their usefulness. But what is important about the COP is that it has representatives from the world's most vulnerable countries.

The small island-states whose existence is threatened by rising sea-levels, and the leaders of drought-affected African nations get to bear witness to the actions of the large polluters. It might feel like a tortuous process, but it does have the potential to deliver fair, global action on emission-reductions and help to those who are suffering.

 

ONE of the big issues that are expected to come up in Warsaw is that of "loss and damage". The reality is that, even if we avoid future climate chaos by cutting carbon-emissions now, irreparable damage will have already been done to countries that contributed the least to the problem.

At the meeting in Doha last year, delegates agreed to formulate some system of compensation to help countries facing catastrophic human and economic losses because of climate change. We hope that Warsaw will be where this is finalised.

Seeking political action can be hard work, as often politicians are thinking only of the immediate election cycle. The Church has a prophetic task in looking beyond our own narrow interests to the wider Body of Christ, and holding our elected leaders to account. The Bible speaks of the Church as a body, and, as Christians in the UK, we need to be more aware of our fellow members around the world, who are facing an inhospitable climate.

Not only can Christians act for people who are geographically separate: we can also act for people generationally separate. The unborn millions who will inherit our planet are just as much a part of the Body of Christ as those alive today.

As Jim Wallis, the writer and spiritual adviser to Barack Obama, says, we need to give politicians the political capital to do the right thing. Often outside pressure allows them to do something that they want to do but cannot justify politically. This is where church-based campaigning organisations, such as Christian Aid and Operation Noah, which are made up of volunteer supporters, can bear witness for the common good.

The narrow vote by the House of Lords last month not to include a decarbonisation target for 2030 in the forthcoming Energy Bill was disappointing. In Britain, we need to make sure we are doing our bit. The recent IPCC report revealed that scientists are now 95-per-cent certain that humans are the driving force behind climate-change and its effects around the world. This is a stark reminder that we need our politicians to act: the Church has a duty to help them to do the right thing.

Joe Ware is Church and Campaigns Journalist at Christian Aid.

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