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Creation on the brink: the climate emergency explained

Mass flooding, unprecedented heatwaves, raging wildfires – what exactly is happening, and should we be worried?

Gideon Heugh | 10 Aug 2021

A UN report released this week has given the direst warning yet that we’re facing a climate emergency. This comes as the world reels from months of extreme weather events. Here, we break down exactly what’s been happening, what can be done about it, and how you can pray.

What's been happening?

Right now, wildfires of an enormous scale are sweeping across Greece, Turkey and California. In July, China experienced its worst flooding in over a thousand years, while Europe also saw devastating floods. At the same time, North America was scorched by a record-breaking heatwave.

Last week, scientists warned that the Gulf Stream – the flow of air in the Atlantic that has a huge influence on the world’s climate – is at risk of collapse. These are just the latest developments after years of increasingly frequent and severe weather events.

But aren’t these just natural changes in the climate?

No. A landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said  ‘it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land’, and that this warming is ‘already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.’

This confirms the message that the scientific community and organisations like Tearfund have been communicating for years: the climate emergency is here, now, and it is being caused by human activity.

Should we be concerned?

Yes. People living in poverty are already facing the devastating consequences. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the weather in many countries is swinging between extreme floods and extreme droughts. This is causing havoc on food production, putting millions at risk of hunger. According to the UN, more than a billion people could be forced from their homes within the next few decades as they try to escape the climate chaos.

The new report makes it clear that any further heating of the planet will cause irreversible damage – and that we will all be affected. This is a fight for survival.

Kunna, 40 years old, carries a container of water to her home in Kenya. People living in poverty are already suffering the effects of climate change.

Kunna, 40 years old, carries a container of water to her home in Kenya. People living in poverty are already suffering the effects of climate change.

What is the international community doing about it?


Currently, not enough. In 2009, $100 billion a year of funding was promised by world leaders to help tackle the climate emergency in vulnerable countries. That promise has yet to be fulfilled. 

In November, the UK is hosting the UN Climate Talks – COP26. This event has always been of crucial importance, but now looks as though it could be a make or break moment for our world. As host, the UK Government needs to answer this wake up call by pushing to end support for polluting fossil fuels and prioritising a sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

Is there hope that things can change?


Yes – if action is taken now. The IPCC report says that rising temperatures can be stabilised if widespread and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are made within the next few years. It is vital that we keep putting pressure on governments and businesses to make this happen. And the church can help lead the way – loving our global neighbours and shining the light of Christ by boldly speaking out on this issue together, as well as making changes in our own lives.

What is Tearfund doing?


In our work around the world, Tearfund has been seeing the effects of the climate emergency for years. We’re supporting vulnerable communities by working through the local church and other partner organisations. This work includes building homes that are more resistant to storms and floods; giving farmers the seeds, tools and training they need to cope more effectively with drought; and campaigning for governments to make good on their climate pledges.

How can I pray right now?


God of creation,
At this time of great need and urgency,
we pray for your kingdom to come.
We pray for world leaders to wake up
and see the need for immediate action.
We pray that industries that are polluting the world
will start to put people before profits.
And we pray for all those who are suffering now
because of the climate emergency –
bring comfort, bring protection, bring relief.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

We have also produced a prayer room resource that’s designed to encourage and equip your church or group to pray for the climate emergency.

What else can I do?


Tearfund is signed up to The Climate Coalition Declaration, which calls on the UK government to lead the world in delivering a recovery from the pandemic that limits global heating to 1.5°C. Any further heating after that could have disastrous consequences. By signing the declaration, you can urge our government to take serious action in tackling the climate emergency.

Gideon Heugh


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