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Faith communities: help us to keep the Paris heartbeat strong

12 October 2018


One of several art installations designed by the artist-in-residence Sukey Bryan, at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, host to the service before to the Global Climate Action Summit

One of several art installations designed by the artist-in-residence Sukey Bryan, at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, host to the service before to the...

WHEN the global interfaith community worked in unison with businesses, investors, cities and states, and civil-society organisations across all geographical boundaries in the run-up to the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, it helped to form the foundation on which we were able to build political will for a global agreement that put us on course to a future free of fossil fuel (News, 30 October 2015).

We knew then that the ambition put on the table by governments would represent their first best effort; so we ensured that built into the agreement was a ratchet mechanism that would provide space for the bigger efforts to come. It was agreed that every five years governments would come back to the table with more. I like to call this five-yearly cycle “the Paris heartbeat”, because it is fundamental to ensuring that we collectively deliver the long-term goal of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2ºC, while striving for 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

PAChristiana Figueres speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, in 2016

As we head towards the first big heartbeat in 2020, when governments must come back with bigger, bolder commitments, the faith community again has a critical part to play in bringing stakeholders together to support governments.

IT HAS been extremely encouraging to see that, since Paris, the faith community has been continually stepping up its own action efforts in this space — and, in particular, its leadership in the movement to disinvest from fossil fuels.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the moving official opening of the Global Climate Action Summit at Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco, last month, where leaders and congregations from the different main faith groups, and more, were represented.

During the ceremony, we heard how Islamic centres in the United States and in the UK has made a commitment to source 100-per-cent of their energy from renewables. We heard from Buddhist foundations that said that 100 per cent of their centres will be vegetarian by 2020, reaching about three million people and, as a result, massively reducing their carbon footprint. We heard how Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are shifting their source of energy to 100-per-cent solar, with similar commitments coming from the Hindu tradition.

The World Evangelical Alliance made a commitment to have at least 20 per cent of its global electricity footprint powered by 100 per cent clean renewable energy within five years.

The Episcopal Church in the United States stated that its entire institutional structure would  meet the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Indigenous communities were also represented at the ceremony. Those from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that they would work together with religious leaders and communities, interfaith organisations, and the United Nations Environmental Programme to launch the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative: an effort to train and mobilise religious communities to work alongside indigenous leaders to protect tropical forests and their indigenous guardians.

During the recent Season of Creation, 19 Roman Catholic institutions disinvested from fossil fuels, bringing the total number to more than 120.

THESE are all strong signals of the faith community’s dedication to supporting and caring for the world’s most vulnerable, and to the overarching and unifying mission of peace.

It is important that all these messages and actions are heard, that they inspire more, and can continue to strengthen the Paris heartbeat. That is why I am pleased that, on 4 October, the last day of the Season of Creation, walkers on the Climate Pilgrimage began a 1500-km walk for climate justice from Rome to Katowice, in Poland, where the next big UN gathering on climate change (COP24) will take place.

Some of these pilgrims are survivors of Typhoon HaIyan, which killed more than 6000 people in the Philippines, and was linked to climate change. You can send your prayer of support, optimism and hope to the pilgrims via the website climatepilgrimage.com.

We cannot underestimate the importance of this upcoming gathering in Poland as part of the rhythm of our Paris heartbeat. It is during this moment that we will need national governments to send a signal that they do intend to come back in 2020 with bigger, bolder climate action plans. Understanding the significance — and, in part, because almost 89 per cent of the population in Poland is Roman Catholic, —the Global Catholic Climate Movement has established a sub-office in Poland to bring the voices of the RC Church into the COP discussions, and to act as a platform to bring together different stakeholders to understand and act.

Along with the national government leaders and their negotiators, they will be reflecting on the sobering results of this week’s IPCC 1.5ºC special report. These make it clear that fast action to limit warming to 1.5ºC, compared with 2ºC, will substantially reduce risks for a wide range of significant impacts, including halving the proportion of humans who will be exposed to water scarcity, and preventing massive heat-related deaths and other health impacts.

In addition, participants at COP24 will reflect on the real economic progress that we are already seeing in energy, among other sectors, where, for example, the price of wind and solar farms has fallen so far that they are now cheaper than the marginal cost of coal generation.

They will also be reflecting on stories from around the world, submitted via the UN climate convention’s Talanoa Dialogue progress (News, 2 November 2017), from constituencies far and wide. These stories will incorporate evidence of the will of the people from all nations for a peaceful, climate-safe future. More and more voices are demanding cleaner air and water, more energy and food security and independence, and better transport.

Now, more than ever, the faith community needs to be a living part of that story, and to ensure, together with communities from around the world, that we do what it takes — including leading by example — to keep the Paris heartbeat loud and strong and protect the most vulnerable from climate change.

Christiana Figueres was executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016. She is currently the convener of Mission 2020, a global initiative that seeks to ensure that the world “bends the curve on greenhouse gas emissions” by 2020.

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