Safeguarding creation, renewing the life of the earth: the Katowice climate summit and our Advent hope

2 December 2018

“As Anglicans, we are called to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth. Three years ago, the global community came together to agree targets to safeguard the world against cataclysmic climate change. Recent scientific studies have shown that those commitments are at risk of being nothing more than warm words if they are not backed up by significant political will and real action. I pray that global leaders will take their responsibilities at the Conference of Parties seriously and that the outcomes of discussions in Katowice will lead to immediate and transformative action to curb the worst effects of climate change. Our world and the people who make up our local and global communities depend on it.” Jack Palmer-White, The Anglican Communion Permanent Representative to the United Nations

This weekend, representatives of almost every country in the world will gather in Katowice, Poland for the United Nations climate summit (COP24). It is now 3 years since 195 nations adopted the landmark Paris Agreement, with its central aim of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement was hard won and a momentous achievement. Christiana Figueres, who led the Paris climate talks, described the Paris Agreement as “A critical milestone reached, a decisive turning point inscribed into history”. However, she knew Paris was only the beginning, saying, “As we celebrate this momentous step, may we remember that the journey ahead, although irreversible, will equally require our determination, our ingenuity, the best of our humanity and above all our community of purpose.”

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dances with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of South Africa to celebrate some 1.8 million signatures on an interfaith petition for climate justice during the COP21 climate summit in Paris, France, November 28, 2015. Photo: LWF/R. Rodrick Beiler

The delegates now arriving in Poland are meeting in the wake of the publication of the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is unambiguous in its warning that “Limiting global warming to 1.5º would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of one of the IPCC Working Groups, said “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5º or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems”. The summit is regarded as crucially important. The current UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa has said, “In Poland, as I call it Paris 2.0, we will put together the pieces, directions and guidelines in order to make the [Paris] framework really operate”.

Advent hope

This Sunday is also the beginning of Advent. In the coming weeks we will retell the story of the incarnation and remember that “God so loved the world (Greek: kosmos – the whole of creation) that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). Once again, we will read the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel and allow the songs of Zechariah and Mary to stir us. These glorious prayers are full of waiting and watching, of longing and fulfilment; they sing of an upside-down kingdom where power relationships are transformed, the needs of the marginalised met; and they are shot through with the confident hope that light will overcome darkness.

These great themes of Advent resonate strongly in the context of climate change and can help shape our prayers for the COP meeting. A reflective prayer Powerpoint, which explores these ideas, can be found here.

You can directly download the Powerpoint (22MB) here: Advent Light for Katowice.

Our call to care for creation

As Jack Palmer-White reminds us above, creation care is part of our calling as Anglicans, articulated in the fifth mark of mission: “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. The last Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) gathering in 2016 passed ACC resolution 16.08 Response to Climate Change which “encourages Anglicans everywhere to join in pastoral, priestly, and prophetic action as we seek together the redemption of all things in Christ” by, among other things, praying and fasting, living sustainably, building resilience, reviewing investments and “urging political, economic, social, and religious leaders in our various constituencies to address the climate change crisis as the most urgent moral issue of our day consistent with the United Nations’ 21st Climate Change Conference, Paris 2015”. The Anglican Communion has an Environmental Network (ACEN) which has a host of resources and is a space for all who care for God’s creation to connect and share their experience and knowledge.

Climate justice and the Anglican Alliance

Salt tolerant seedlings on their way to Ontong Java in a project run by the Anglican Church of Melanesia to provide food security

Climate justice is a specific focus of the Anglican Alliance’s work. Executive Director Rachel Carnegie writes, “As we connect with Anglicans across the world, we are constantly hearing about the impacts of climate change on people’s lives. Sea level rise, the salination of soil, coastal erosion, floods and drought are having devastating consequences on communities, in some cases even forcing people to leave their homes. But we also hear stories of hope. Anglican churches everywhere are working to help their communities adapt to climate change. The Anglican Church of Melanesia, for example, has helped provide communities with salt-tolerant seedlings. We are also working with others to help build the resilience of communities to disasters, sharing best practice across the Communion through tools such as the Pastors and Disasters toolkit,  developed by Episcopal Relief & Development and their partners.”

“So there are many points of light too,” Rachel reflected. “I am constantly reminded of the words in the opening chapter of John’s gospel, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’”.

Please pray for the gathering of global leaders in Katowice. We will be posting prayer points on our Facebook page in the coming days.