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COP28 must be more than a glitzy talking shop

30 November 2023

The summit should make good on commitments to tackling climate change, writes Graham Usher

COP28 — the 28th annual Conference of the Parties — began on Thursday in Dubai. World leaders and their negotiation teams are meeting to focus on delivering action on the climate crisis.

This year’s COP needs to deliver on its commitment to reducing the use of fossil fuels, as well as make progress with the loss-and-damage fund (News, 25 November 2022). The latter needs clarity about where the money will come from, and assurances that it will be distributed fairly to those countries in greatest need. In particular, many Churches around the Anglican Communion want to see resilience- building prioritised for climate-vulnerable communities, and a transition to green development pathways which is just and ambitious.

It is not just the Communion that is prioritising these areas. The UK’s Environment All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is also calling for the loss-and-damage fund to be up and running as soon as possible; for a consensus on phasing out fossil fuels; and for attention to how the earth’s resources are being used.

I would encourage prayer for progress during COP28, always remembering those who are on the front line of the climate crisis. This is not an abstract issue that we can afford to ignore. People around the world who are experiencing devastation from climate change need solidarity and support, and for real and effective changes to be made in reducing fossil-fuel consumption. I still have the words of the Bishop of Vanuatu ringing in my ears from the Lambeth Conference last year: “My islands are sinking, and you are doing nothing to help us.”

The Communion can be found in all parts of the story, from the people facing the impact of climate change first-hand, to the polluters and investors with the power to make changes.

CLIMATE change knows no international borders. The climate emergency is a global threat that requires global solidarity. This is why these global summits are so important. They must not be expensive and glitzy talking shops, but places of lament and soul-searching, as we seek together to bring enormous change for the sake of people and planet. We do not have long to bring about the changes needed.

In the King’s Speech, the Government made a commitment to “[continuing] to lead action on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss”. These must not become empty words. The Government needs to heed the warnings of scientists around the globe, and to take responsibility to ensure that the UK meets its international commitment to reaching net zero by 2050.

Sadly, in many areas, we are failing to meet our pre-existing targets. The 2023 Progress Report for Parliament from the Climate Change Committee found that the net-zero targets were being missed on nearly every front; for example, home insulation is slowing down, and little progress is being made on transport emissions. We have made a commitment to protecting 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030, but the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee has found that only 6.5 per cent of England is effectively protected — and it is “not clear” how the Government will achieve this goal.

By 2030, the APPG says, we need to have trebled renewable energy, doubled the investment in energy efficiency, and followed through on our Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent. This is also an economic opportunity, as Lord Stern, the author of the 2006 review of the economics of climate change, said in a debate in the Lords in early November: “The growth opportunities of the 21st century lie in clean and efficient technologies, and not the destructive methods of the 20th century.”

There is much being done around the Communion, such as the Communion Forest: a global initiative comprising local activities of forest protection, habitat creation, and eco-system restoration. We support and have signed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls on states to end the expansion of coal, oil, and gas production. Many Provinces are implementing net-zero carbon strategies, and there has been disinvestment from fossil-fuel companies in the portfolios of the endowments and pension funds in a number of Churches.

Climate change does not just affect humans: all systems and species feel its consequences. Climate change, pollution, and habitat loss mean that 45 per cent of the world’s known flowering plants could already be threatened by extinction. Of the nearly 19,000 new plants and fungi species discovered since 2020, 77 per cent are thought to be endangered.

CHRISTIANS believe that creation is a gift from God which human beings must steward, as they are called to in scripture. We have failed to care for creation, to tend to the plants and birds and animals created by a loving God. There is much to lament, and much material for soul-searching.

For those around the world already facing climate catastrophe, for our future and that of the species that we share our home with, the evidence is clear: changes needs to be made now. They need to happen in Dubai. COP28 needs our prayers — and our voices, calling for action.

The Rt Revd Graham Usher, the Bishop of Norwich, is the lead bishop for the environment.

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