Paris Lies Ahead: the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP21)

By Gary Payton


Paris lies ahead.  And, members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) across the nation will be faithfully following developments of COP21, the shorthand for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Heads of State; national negotiators; leaders of global faith communities, environmental organizations, and businesses; all come together from November 30 until December 11. The goal is straightforward: craft an international agreement to combat climate change (keep global warming below 2 degrees C) and accelerate the just transition to low-carbon societies and economies.


An international agreement on climate change can be an abstract thing, but for us as people of faith in North America, our global partners, and the creatures with which we share God’s creation, the impact cannot be more profound.  Without bold, coordinated action, our children and their children can expect spreading disease, prolonged drought, more extreme storms, lengthened fire seasons, expanding wildfires, sea level rise, ocean acidification, species extinction, and more.


Our biblical tradition reminds us of the heritage of our inherited earth, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” (Job 12:7-10)


Our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly policy grounds our approach, “…God’s work in creation is too wonderful, too ancient, too beautiful, too good to be desecrated…Restoring creation is God’s own work in our time, in which God comes both to judge and to restore…”  ( 202nd General Assembly (1990), “Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice”)  Further, the “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports comprehensive, mandatory, and aggressive emission reductions that aim to limit the increase in Earth’s temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less from pre-industrial level.” (218th General Assembly (2008), “Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming”)


In the weeks ahead, hundreds of official delegates to COP21from over 180 countries will journey to Paris.  Alongside them, thousands of global citizens will travel to Paris as part of “civil society.” These citizens will bear witness to the hopes of millions that a good and lasting agreement will be stuck to address climate change.  Those traveling will include Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, Coordinator, Social Justice Ministries; Rev. Rebecca Barnes, Associate, Environmental Ministries; and, Mr. Gary Payton, former Coordinator, Peacemaking Program and Mission Co-worker.


While in Paris, Bill, Rebecca, and Gary will regularly post their reflections on this Eco-Journey website on the progress, challenges, and spirit of COP21.  Along the way, they will observe the formal negotiations; attend environmental events sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the ACT Alliance, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, NGOs, and more; engage with church partners from Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, Europe; and, find common purpose for creation with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is  – all advocating for a good and  equitable outcome to the negotiations.


A spirit of hope surrounds COP21, but the human and national challenges to be overcome are great.  What is the balance between mitigation (the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (the necessary work to protect societies, particularly the most vulnerable, from the impact of climate change)?  What about finances?  Will developed countries follow through on pledges to the UN’s Green Climate Fund,  a fund to assist developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change.  And, what of political will?  Will individual countries demonstrate the political will to implement their part of an overarching international agreement?


In his 2015 encyclical letter, Pope Francis spoke of our necessary care for the earth, “our common home. ”  He reminded us of the need for an “integral ecology,” and he spoke eloquently for eco-justice:


“These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”


“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”


“We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”


Paris lies ahead.  Please pray for the wisdom of negotiators, the courage of decision makers, the reasoned calm of all who take part, and for God’s creation.  Follow the reflections of Bill, Rebecca, and Gary on this site in the days ahead.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)