CHRISTIAN groups have called for urgent action from the Government after the publication of a UN report described as a “code red” for humanity by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres.
The study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the biggest review of climate science since 2013. It comes just months before the crucial COP26 global summit is to be held in Glasgow this November.
The authors of the report have take a starker tone than in previous publications: the document opens with the words, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
The report warns that without rapid and deep cuts in emissions, the world is likely to heat up by more than 1.5ºC — the goal agreed in the Paris climate accord — in the next ten to 20 years. The world is currently at 1.1ºC of warming since the Industrial Revolution, which is the benchmark for these calculations.
The report, known as AR6 (it is the panel’s sixth assessment report since 1990), sets out how extreme weather is becoming an ever-growing threat. Heatwaves that happened only once every 50 years are now happening about once a decade. Tropical cyclones are getting stronger, while there is more rainfall or snowfall each year in most land areas. The report says that severe droughts are happening 1.7 times as often, and fire seasons are getting longer and more intense.
The Roman Catholic development agency CAFOD urged the Prime Minister to “throw the kitchen sink at climate change.” The Rt Revd John Arnold, Bishop of Salford and lead Bishop for the Environment for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England Wales, who chairs CAFOD, said: “The grim and disturbing findings of the AR6 report only reinforce the message of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ – we must do everything we can, and now, to protect and defend Our Common Home. . . . This is a time to be acting for the common good, not self-interest or self-serving politics.”
The director of advocacy and influencing at Tearfund, Ruth Valerio, said: “The IPCC report makes it painfully clear that we are in a fight for survival and can’t afford distant promises of action. The door is still open on limiting warming to 1.5ºC — but only if world leaders make swift cuts to emissions and end further support for polluting fossil fuels. It’s time for politicians to stop dragging their feet and do what needs to be done to secure a safer world for us all. Anything less is accepting a death sentence for people at the front line of this crisis.”
The UN’s top diplomat, the secretary-general, often takes a measured tone in response to such reports, but, on this occasion, Mr Guterres did not equivocate: “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. OECD countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040. Countries should also end all new fossil-fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil-fuel subsidies into renewable energy.”
His comments were echoed by the charity Operation Noah, which posted on Twitter: “In light of today’s report, we’re again calling on our friends at the @churchofengland’s Pensions Board & Church Commissioners to stop funding fossil fuels.” The IPCC report was dedicated to a former patron of Operation Noah, Sir John Houghton. A Christian and one of the founding scientists of the IPCC, the former Oxford professor died last year, aged 88 (Gazette, 8 May 2020).
The global lead for climate change at Christian Aid, Dr Kat Kramer, said that the findings needed to be a wake-up call to leaders at COP26: “Poorer countries and people in the global South have high hopes that leaders will take the ambitious action needed. COP26 needs to deliver real progress in pledges to cut emissions and provide financing to vulnerable nations which has been promised but not yet delivered. These catastrophic impacts will grow exponentially in the future unless we achieve net-zero. The package currently on the table is perilously inadequate.”
Boris Johnson said: “Today’s report makes for sobering reading, and it is clear that the next decade is going to be pivotal to securing the future of our planet. We know what must be done to limit global warming — consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline.”
One area on the frontline is Africa, which has long faced more extreme temperatures than other parts of the world. The director of Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, Mohamed Adow, said: “Those of us living in Africa have been aware of the urgency of the climate crisis for many years. This is not a simple question of succeed or fail, every fraction of a degree of heating is important; each decision, each coal plant closed or oil pipeline cancelled has a material impact on those of us living on the frontlines. This year at COP26, leaders have an opportunity to act on these scientific warnings. They have no excuse not to.”
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, who is the Church of England’s lead bishop on environmental matters, said in a statement on Monday afternoon that the message of the report was loud and clear: “’Wake up world!’
“It is time to stop playing political games and take action now.
“We are already seeing the effects of the climate emergency around the world — and it is the world’s economically poorest people who are already suffering the most.
“So it is our moral duty and a Christian calling to do all we can to try to turn the tide.
“In just a few months at COP26 there will be an opportunity to act, our leaders must seize this moment and deliver real and impactful change for the future of God’s creation.
“We don’t have a spare Earth – this is our precious home.”
Joe Ware is Senior Climate Journalist at Christian Aid.