Paris climate deal ‘progress’, but only a start, Church leaders warn

14 December 2015

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Appreciation: (left to right) the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, the French Foreign Minister and President of the COP21, Laurent Fabius and the French President, Francois Hollande, applaud after the final session of the conference, in Le Bourget, north of Paris, on Saturday

Appreciation: (left to right) the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, the French Foreign Minister and President of the COP21, Laurent Fabius and the Fr...

THE climate-change agreement reached in Paris on Saturday has been welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a “remarkable achievement” and a sign of “courageous progress”.

In a statement on Monday, the Archbishop said that the agreement, which committed every nation on earth to seeking to prevent a rise in global temperatures of more than two degrees, was “welcome and courageous progress”.

“The success of the negotiations to bring together so many different countries and groups to an agreement is a remarkable achievement,” Archbishop Welby said. “The global Church — extraordinarily led on the issue of climate change by Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch — must be a key partner in tackling climate change.”

Every member of the Body of Christ must play their part in putting the Paris deal into action, particularly as climate change hit the poor the hardest, he said.

The Paris agreement was the fruit of two weeks of negotiations led by the UN. For the first time, every country has signed up to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, and thus keeping temperature increases “well below” 2° and to “endeavour to limit” them to just 1.5°.

Scientists expect that, if the average temperature on earth increases to more than 2° above its pre-industrial level, this will do dangerous and irreversible damage to the climate.

The Paris agreement also calls for emissions to be reduced to the amount that the environment can absorb naturally with no harm by the second half of the century. Poorer countries will receive at least £66 billion a year from 2020 in “climate finance” from the West to help them to adapt to climate change and to switch to renewable energy sources.

The individual pledges to cut emissions offered by each country are not legally binding, but will be reviewed every five years.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, who leads the Church of England’s environmental campaigning, said that, while the agreement looked like progress, it was only the first step. “It is good to have an ambitious agreement about the aspiration. What matters now is that governments actually deliver a low-carbon future,” he said.

Referring to the failed round of climate talks in Denmark in 2009, the Bishop said: “It feels a much better ending than Copenhagen felt, and a much more positive spirit about what now needs to happen.”

Christian Aid, which has campaigned on behalf of poorer countries most at risk of rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather, also welcomed the agreement. The charity’s senior climate adviser, Mohamed Adow, said: “Although different countries will move at different speeds, the transition to a low-carbon world is now inevitable. Governments, investors, and businesses must ride this wave, or be swept away by it.

“Crucially, the Paris Accord has not left poor countries behind. For the first time in an international treaty, clear consideration has also been given to . . . support for countries facing climate change so severe it can’t be adapted to.”

The Pope said on Sunday that the Paris deal was a historic moment. But putting the plan into action would require a “concerted and generous commitment” from every party.

The head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners, Edward Mason, said: “[The Paris summit] has created new momentum and expectations on climate change far beyond the negotiating suites in Paris. It is clear that church investors can play a key role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The ACT Alliance, a group of 137 Churches and faith-based charities, has called on wealthier countries to speed up their transition away from fossil fuels. 

The head of the Alliance's delegation to Paris, Mattias Soederberg, said: "Now we call on all national governments to close the remaining loopholes, which were included in the agreement due to countries not willing to take on their responsibility. More and faster climate action is needed to adequately address the core concerns of poor and vulnerable people." 

In a statement to the House of Commons, the Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, said that Britain should be proud of its part in the negotiations.

“This deal in Paris was not done to us: it was done by us,” she said. “Of course, Paris is not the end of the road: we cannot sit back and say ‘Job done.’ Far from it. Paris is the beginning. Now the hard work to implement the agreement begins.”

Ms Rudd has also defended the Government’s plans to cut subsidies for renewable energy. She argued that, as the costs of solar and wind power fell, so should subsidies.

Not everyone welcomed the agreement, however. The director of the pressure group Global Justice Now, Nick Dearden, said that richer nations had watered down the final text, and that the non-binding parts of the agreement would render it “meaningless”. Although reducing temperature rises to 1.5° had been included as an aspiration, the promised cuts to emissions would lead to a rise of 3°, he said.

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