Former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres has credited faith groups for helping to advance the Paris Climate Agreement by supporting “holistic, equitable, but above all, ambitious climate action.”
Now, faith leaders are going one step further, calling for immediate ratification of the landmark international accord to curb global climate change.
In December, 196 nations adopted the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit warming to well below 2º C (3.6º F) above pre-industrial levels. While nations have agreed to the language of the accord, 55 parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change representing at least 55 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions must still ratify the agreement for it to enter into force.
Monday’s Interfaith Statement on Climate Change urges “all Heads of State to promptly sign and ratify the Paris Agreement.” More than 80 groups and 3,600 individuals of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim faith have signed on, including the Dalai Lama, the head of the World Council of Churches and several Catholic cardinals. The declaration was assembled by a coalition of environmentally-minded religious organizations.
“The time for action is not five years from. It’s not 10 years from now. It’s now,” Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of Greenfaith, said in an interview. “I think that is our request and our deep desire, more than anything else, is that our leaders lead.”
The statement advocates the swift reduction of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. It also calls for 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 and financing to help developing nations adapt to the hazards of a changing climate: persistent drought, extreme heat, dangerous storms, and rising seas.
“Climate change is hugely consequential for the developing world, where many countries have started to climb out of absolutely horrendous poverty to begin to enjoy a more decent life,” said Harper. “You’ve got storm activity that threatens to destroy the infrastructure that countries have begun to build. You’ve got previously fertile agricultural regions becoming drought-stricken and barren. Climate change puts poverty on steroids.”
According to a 2014 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, majorities of most major American religious group — including 82 percent of Jewish Americans, 76 percent of black Protestants, and 69 percent of Hispanic Catholics — agree that dealing with climate change now will help prevent future economic problems. And while groups such as white evangelical Protestants remain skeptical of environmental science, even they are beginning to accrue widespread support for action on climate change.
In the lead-up to Paris negotiations, 1.8 million people signed faith-based petitions calling for climate action. Leaders of the all of the world’s major religions made statements, most notably, Pope Francis, who wrote that the climate “is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the pope’s encyclical on climate change was a “game changer.” According to a report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 17 percent of Americans say the pope’s stance on global warming has shaped their view of the issue.
Climate change puts poverty on steroids
In a statement prior to the Paris negotiations, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said Pope Francis and other faith leaders reminded the world that “we have a moral responsibility to act in solidarity with the poor and most vulnerable who have done least to cause climate change and will suffer first and worst from its effects.”
Indeed, along with Francis’ groundbreaking, scientifically supported encyclical, Monday’s letter is the latest in a litany of first faith-based clarion calls asking world leaders to take action on climate change. In August 2015, a group of Islamic leaders from more than 20 countries published a sweeping declaration demanding nations to phase out the use of fossil fuels. In 2015 alone, the World Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalists, Union Seminary, and the Episcopal Church all divested from fossil fuels, and the Church in England divested $19 million from tar sands. The Vatican, for its part, also convened two recent gatherings on climate change: a five-day summit with on sustainability in 2014 that gathered microbiologists, economists, and legal scholars, to discuss the challenge of specifically on climate change, and another in 2015 where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered the opening address.
The sustained efforts of faith groups may prove vital to the success of the Paris Agreement. The pact sets out a long-term goal of net zero carbon emissions and includes a regular review process to ramp up countries’ carbon-cutting ambitions. It will be the task to advocates, including members of the faith community, to push policymakers to fulfill their commitment under the accord. “We need all hands on deck to meet the climate challenge,” said Ban Ki-Moon in a recent statement. “Cities, schools, the business and investment communities, faith groups — all have a role to play.”
Now, that means pressing for the hasty ratification of the Paris Agreement, a first step on the long road ahead.
Jeremy Deaton writes about the science, policy, and politics of climate and energy for Nexus Media. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.