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Tearfund declares a climate emergency… again!

We’ve launched a Climate Emergency Toolkit to help your church ‘recognise’ or ‘declare’ the emergency – and respond.

Written by Jack Wakefield | 04 Feb 2021

Aftermath of Typhoon Goni, Philippines

Aftermath of Typhoon Goni in the Philippines. Photo credit: PHILRADS (Philippine Relief and Development Services)

Over the past six decades, with your support, we have come alongside millions of people as they’ve transformed their communities and lifted themselves out of poverty. But now we are beginning to see that progress being undone as the impacts of the climate crisis worsen. Droughts are getting more severe, storms are becoming more powerful and earth’s life-support systems are being stretched to breaking point.

Without urgent action we could soon see 100 million more people struggling to get water, four times as many tropical cyclones and 12 million more people experiencing flooding in coastal areas.

Tearfund has been warning of the dangers of climate change for three decades. Now, at the start of a key year for political negotiations on climate change, we believe it is time for us to sound the alarm louder than ever before. So, we’re declaring an emergency again – and this time we’re asking your church to join us. 

In November, world leaders will gather in Glasgow for critical talks on how to tackle the climate emergency. Previous conferences have so often failed to meet the level of ambition needed to avert the crisis. But if we speak up together then we can see the change we desperately need.

To equip you, we’ve launched a new Climate Emergency Toolkit full of resources to help your church to either ‘recognise’ or ‘declare’ the emergency and make a plan of how to respond together. 

How we must respond as followers of Jesus

In the Bible, Esther speaks up against injustice even though it’s costly. Her example should challenge us about how we respond to the emergency we face today, an emergency that’s hitting the poorest the hardest.

When Esther hears of a plot that threatens the lives of God’s people, she first asks Mordecai to gather people together to pray and fast. And then she courageously approaches the king and asks him to act – even though she knows that it is against the law and she could lose her life.

2020 was one the hottest years ever recorded. The world was 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial average and it was a record-breaking year for many reasons (see end of this blog). 

As followers of the God of justice, the creator, sustainer and redeemer of all things, we must sound the alarm, and do so from a foundation of prayer and commitment to Jesus.

How Tearfund is responding to the emergency

At Tearfund, we remain committed to seeing an end to extreme poverty. This is the mission we believe God has called us to. But now it’s clear: we simply can’t achieve this goal unless we tackle the climate crisis.

As climate change disrupts weather patterns and destroys harvests, we are working with churches and our partners to help communities adapt. Through providing sustainable agricultural training, supporting renewable-energy projects and much more, we are working hard to support those already impacted by the climate emergency. As storms and wildfires become more powerful, we are investing in disaster-preparedness training and equipping local churches to be ready to respond and support their communities when disaster strikes. And we continue to campaign, calling on those in power, in governments and companies, to act at the speed and scale required.

We are also aware that, as a global organisation working in more than 50 countries, we have a responsibility for our own carbon footprint. At Tearfund we have two internal working groups to critique and explore how we can more fully ‘walk the talk’, both in our UK and global operations. As a result, we have revised our environmental policy both to strengthen our targets and to measure our impact more thoroughly, so those targets can be raised even further in future.

Our commitments include:

  • measuring and reporting our emissions, and expanding this internationally
  • sourcing 100 per cent renewable energy for all our offices internationally wherever this is possible and economically viable
  • reducing and moving to a total ban on single-use items across the whole organisation, in line with our procurement policy
  • not investing in or dealing with companies or organisations whose activities significantly conflict with our own environmental policy
  • maintaining strict criteria to minimise our flights wherever possible and emissions targets for all transportation. We will offset all air travel
  • seeking to reduce our emissions as much as we possibly can and work towards absolute zero as technology and cost allow

We know there is always more to do, and in 2021 we will continue to look at how we can improve as well as supporting churches to take action, through the Toolkit, new bible study resources, and more.

How you can play your part

Each church and Christian organisation that ‘declares’ or ‘recognises’ the emergency shines a spotlight on it. They are underlining its seriousness and the need for world leaders to agree to significant progress during the UN climate talks in November.

Today, we are declaring a climate emergency. Could tomorrow be your church’s turn?

Find out more about declaring a climate emergency

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A (long) footnote: an overview of 2020

2020 was one the hottest years ever recorded. The world was 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial average and it was a record-breaking year for many reasons.

The year began with record-breaking wildfires ripping across Australia, destroying thousands of homes and leading to the death or displacement of 3 billion animals. In February the UK saw a record-breaking number of severe flood warnings in England. More than a thousand homes were flooded and hundreds of people evacuated after a month’s worth of rain fell in 48 hours.

Not long afterwards, we saw severe flooding in Burundi and Kenya and drought in Zimbabwe. In the summer, super-cyclone Amphan hit India and Bangladesh, resulting in the loss of people’s homes, jobs and crops. A month or so later, a third of Bangladesh was under water due to the worst monsoons in more than 30 years. Hundreds died and millions were impacted. Meanwhile, rainfall in West Africa was erratic and scarce, significantly reducing farmers’ yields. Entire communities entered the lean season without sufficient food reserves.

In the autumn, powerful wildfires displaced up to 25,000 people in Syria and destroyed farms and forests just before harvest. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, 60,000 families were affected by some of the worst flooding they’ve faced in a decade; it caused waterborne diseases such as cholera to spread, and ruined the fish ponds and gardens that so many people rely on.

The winter was no easier, with countries in Central America, Asia and Africa all hit by history-making storms. The Philippines faced a series of typhoons, including the strongest tropical storm to make landfall in history, affecting more than 3 million people and leading to more than 280,000 seeking refuge in temporary evacuation shelters. In Central America, two huge hurricanes tore through Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, in a record-breaking hurricane season in the Atlantic. Alexis, Tearfund’s Country Director for Central America, says, ‘Most of the harvest has been destroyed… The problems in two or three months will be even harder because of the food shortages.’ And in Somalia, people witnessed the first cyclone-strength storm ever to hit the country. It caused more than two years’ worth of rain to fall in just two days and was the most powerful cyclone ever to hit East Africa.

So, it was a truly record-breaking year for all the worst reasons, but so much of this went unnoticed or under-reported as it was eclipsed by the pandemic. But even coronavirus should be a warning to us about our relationship with God’s creation. It is now clear that outbreaks of diseases such as Covid-19 are far more likely because of the ways we’ve damaged God’s creation. Deforestation, mining, the bushmeat trade, animal trafficking and unsustainable agricultural practices are all likely factors at play. Professor John Spicer, an eminent marine zoologist at the University of Plymouth, says: ‘The Covid-19 crisis is not just another crisis alongside the biodiversity crisis and the climate change crisis. Make no mistake, this is one big crisis – the greatest that humans have ever faced.

Written by

Written by  Jack Wakefield

Jack works in our Tearfund Action team and feels most at home walking in the countryside, he is also a pretty big fan of ice – cream.

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