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Why COP26 matters – a Christian perspective

Here’s what you need to know about why the UN climate summit COP26 matters and what role you can play.

Written by Ruth Valerio | 27 Sep 2021

A man in Tanzania gathers wood (Tom Price / Tearfund)

In just a few weeks’ time, leaders from across the globe will gather in Glasgow for a meeting that will shape our future. Here’s what you need to know about why it matters and what role we can play.

Climate emergency?

The world is reeling from months of extreme weather events. Wildfires of an unprecedented scale have swept across Greece, Turkey and California. China has experienced its worst flooding in over a thousand years. Europe has also seen devastating floods, and North America has been scorched by a record-breaking heatwave.

In the midst of these events, a landmark United Nations report in August gave its starkest warning yet that we’re facing a climate emergency. We’re on course for catastrophic global temperature rises that will put our whole world at risk – and the impacts are accelerating. 

Against this backdrop the UK will host the United Nations’ annual climate summit – known as COP26 – in Glasgow in November. This event, delayed for a year due to Covid, has long been regarded as of crucial importance, as it’s the first time countries will have to set out concrete plans for reaching the emission-reduction targets they set five years ago at the Paris conference. COP26 is a make-or-break moment for our world. 

World leaders must seize the opportunity and act with urgency. Most importantly, they must put the world on course to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Every fraction of a degree matters. And as hosts, the UK has a unique opportunity to push for an ambitious outcome.

But what’s this got to do with Tearfund, or the church?

A beautiful yet broken world

First, the Bible tells us that creation was made through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). That’s a stunning declaration of our planet’s worth. The Son of God loves this beautiful world that exists in him, and we are called to care for it. But the climate crisis is wreaking havoc, intensifying threats such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, melting glaciers and biodiversity loss. Scientists are clear that this is a human-made problem, driven by the burning of fossil fuels. As God’s image-bearers, we can’t stand by while our common home is being destroyed.

An issue of justice

Second, in my work with Tearfund I see all too clearly the devastating impact of climate breakdown on people in poverty. As global temperatures rise, rains are becoming less reliable and droughts, floods and storms are becoming more frequent and extreme. Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the weather is swinging between extreme floods and extreme droughts. That affects food production and is putting millions at risk of hunger. 

For those who are already vulnerable, this is a life-threatening emergency that is pushing them further into poverty. Without radical action, climate change will push 132 million more people into poverty this decade. It’s those least responsible for the climate crisis who are the most affected. This is a colossal injustice.

The church cannot ignore this crisis which is causing so much suffering to people living in poverty. God calls us to meet their needs – in so doing to help build his kingdom on earth.

The church’s call

Oscar Danladi from the Jos Green Centre in Nigeria shared with us how climate change is affecting his city in Plateau state, and how he thinks the church should respond: 

‘Jos used to be known as the “garden city” because of its weather and green spaces. Over the years things have changed. Many trees have been cut down and water sources run dry. The weather has changed – it used to be cool and temperate, now it is harsh. My father’s a farmer. His crop yields aren’t as good as he used to get, and it’s impacted his income. 

‘As Christians we need to understand that creation care is a gospel issue, and an issue of justice. The church needs to know that we are all neighbours, that what we do impacts each other. Churches across the world have the potential to hold those in power to account and demand change.’

What can we do?

If we want to see an end to extreme poverty, we have to tackle the climate crisis. As followers of Jesus, it’s part of how we must work out our faith today. But what can we do?

First, it’s right and appropriate to lament the destruction and injustice of the climate crisis, to recognise where we, as individuals, nations, businesses and the church, have fallen short and to repent of our part in it.

Importantly, we can pray – for those already impacted by the crisis and for world leaders to recognise the need to take immediate action. Prayer is crucial if we’re to see a breakthrough in this crisis, and God is powerful beyond anything we can imagine. Find resources here to help you pray.

We can speak up – and call on UK leaders to act urgently to get us on track to limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the agreed global target and, according to the August IPCC report, still possible if widespread cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are made in the next few years. With COP26 taking place on Scottish soil, Christians in the UK have a unique opportunity to call on world leaders to play their part. There’s a petition you can sign here.

We can also make changes in our own lives, such as reducing our energy consumption and our waste, and thinking more carefully about what we buy. When we show by our actions that we want to live in a fairer, more sustainable world, we are caring for our global neighbours and valuing what God has given us. 

We’d also love to invite you and your church to join with churches throughout the UK in our COP26 Church Service on Sunday 7 November, when Pete Greig, Carol Ng’ang’a and Celtic Worship will lead us in a powerful, climate-focused service during the middle weekend of COP26. The video content will be available in different segments, so your church can choose how to integrate it into your service. Find out more and register your interest here.

For other ways to take action, as well as resources to help get your small group or church involved, visit our Reboot campaign page.

Written by

Written by Ruth Valerio

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