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Presbyterians prepare for UN Climate Change Conference

COP26 to be held beginning Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians are gearing up for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31-Nov. 12.

The event, which is also known as the 26th gathering of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, or COP26, will bring together delegates from nearly 200 nations to work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming.

Along with world leaders, many other people turn out for the annual event, including representatives from faith and environmental groups, scientists, business professionals and others who are concerned about humans’ impact on climate change.

Sue Rheem

“COP26 was postponed for a year due to the pandemic and we’ve lost valuable time,” said Sue Rheem, of the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN, which will follow the proceedings online. “Under the Paris Agreement, countries were to submit their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), by 2020, but with the delay, many countries did not comply. Therefore, it is imperative for countries to submit their NDCs this year with a commitment for significant reduction in carbon emissions in order to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.”

With the Presbyterian Mission Agency still under a travel ban due to the pandemic, staff primarily will be participating by staying in contact with partners attending the event. The attendees’ updates, reflections and snapshots will be shared on social media and on the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Eco-Justice Journey blog.

Jessica Maudlin Phelps

Jessica Maudlin Phelps, PHP Associate for Sustainable Living and Health Care Concerns, explained why the event is important to Presbyterians. “As a Matthew 25 Church, we are called to act boldly and compassionately to serve people. We believe that speaking out in favor of policies that will make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans by working to end environmental degradation and climate change is essential to this call.”

PHP is sharing its credentials with groups like the World Council of Churches and GreenFaith.

“While we are disappointed not to be able to attend this year, we are able to use our participant spots to connect Presbyterians and support partners,” Maudlin Phelps said. “We’ve also coordinated with PEC (Presbyterians for Earth Care) who was able to apply for their own participant status.”

The Presbyterian delegation — which includes individuals with ties to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and people from PEC — will include the Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, a retired PC(USA) staff person who attends almost every year; Burkhard Paetzold, a former PC(USA) mission co-orker; and the Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, a PHP advisory committee member and Red Latina co-founder who’ll attend in her capacity as a GreenFaith staff person.

There’s also the Rev. Fred Milligan, a PC(USA) minister working with the Church of Scotland.

“After a lifetime of activism advocating governmental policies related to care of the Earth and the poor as well as two terms on the Steering Committee of Presbyterians for Earth Care, I am happy to be present at this conference to see first-hand the decision-making processes at work as well as to encounter like-minded people from around the world,” Milligan said. “I am hopeful that these new relationships may serve as a foundation for future involvement and activism in years to come.”

PMUN will follow the events at COP26 and participate in advocacy efforts virtually with the Interfaith Liaison Committee of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Rheem said. Also, Leah Brooks, a Young Adult Volunteer assisting the PMUN, is creating social media posts and videos with a special emphasis on capturing young people’s interest in COP26.

With the effects of climate change becoming ever more apparent as natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods, wreak havoc around the world, the proceedings will be closely watched.

Burkhard Paetzold

“From an earlier prognosis, we were thinking that ‘only’ the generation of our grandchildren or great grandchildren will be affected by a climate crisis of some sort or ‘only’ those far away on small islands,” but that has been proven wrong, Paetzold said. Floods, storms and wildfires lit by extreme heat “have increased in number and intensity.”

Also, “the climate crisis is already one of the biggest drivers for migration of millions,” he added. “With all this in mind, world leaders should make climate justice their highest priority.”

A recent report, “Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation,” by the PC(USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (2020), notes that environmental, economic and racial justice must be sought to tackle climate change.

“To those who would worry about how difficult this transformation will be or how expensive to achieve,” the report states, “we must lift up our vision — an environment renewed, better health outcomes, living wage jobs, clean air and water, wilderness preserved for its own sake, access to healthy food, and the reparation of broken relationships.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN are Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Some ways to get involved:

  • Cathedrals and other houses of worship will ring their bells as a code red for humanity on Oct. 30, the eve of COP26. More information is here.
  • Support “Faith in Action for Climate Justice,” a global event on Nov. 2. The physical event will be at St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow. It also will be streamed online. Details are here.
  • Include a Creation Care hymn in upcoming Sunday worship. One new example, “The Climate is Changing,” can be found here.
  • Speak up about the Build Back Better Act,which includes a climate provision that promotes carbon-free energy by incentivizing every utility supplier with a federal grant when they supply a certain percentage of clean energy each year.

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