Calls for Climate Justice in Paris
by Sharon Delgado
Starting today, November 30, government officials, corporate heads, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are meeting at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) for climate negotiations, this time in Paris. In light of the recent terrorist attacks in that city, world leaders and other official summit attendees will be protected by greatly enhanced security. Although public demonstrations have been prohibited, some are nonetheless staging protests in Paris, including those committed to nonviolence who formed a 10,000-person human chain and left 20,000 empty shoes, including a pair of the Pope's shoes, to represent protestors who were not allowed to demonstrate. And around the world people are gathering to pray for solace for the victims of Paris and other recent attacks, for the success of the climate talks, and for peace. People on every continent will also gather to demonstrate and call on world leaders to take strong action to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the first major gathering of world leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and corporate heads to focus on climate change and other environment and related development issues. It was clear even in 1992 that environmental concerns could not be effectively addressed without simultaneously addressing poverty and inequity. The governments of the world agreed in principle that "sustainable development" and justice for the poor were inseparable aspects of global action on climate change. There have been many summits since then, but greenhouse gas emissions are soaring, global temperatures are rising, and extreme weather events are multiplying while poverty and inequity continue unabated. People in poor and vulnerable nations, who are not responsible for historic greenhouse gas emissions, are being hit first and worst by typhoons, floods, and killing droughts. These are the very regions where churches reach out in compassion to provide relief to those who are in distress. According to the National Council of Churches, USA:
Negotiators from vulnerable, hard-hit nations are calling on world leaders in Paris to establish a just process for transfer of renewable technologies and payment of "climate debt."
The impacts of global climate change threaten all creation and will make it more difficult for people of faith to care for those in need. With expected increases in drought, storm intensity, disease, species extinction, and flooding, the impacts of global climate change will increase the lack of food, shelter, and water available, particularly to those living in or near poverty.
Calls for "climate justice" are growing louder. Negotiators from vulnerable, hard-hit nations are pleading with those in wealthier nations to take strong and binding action to limit greenhouse gas emissions now. They are calling on world leaders in Paris to establish a just process for transfer of renewable technologies and payment of "climate debt." Young people whose futures are being foreclosed are demanding strong and binding action on climate change. They are calling on negotiators to end fossil fuel subsidies, go beyond corporate-friendly systems of carbon credits and offsets, and keep fossil fuels in the ground.
People of faith and conscience on every continent are calling for those who gather in Paris to establish justice for the poor and vulnerable, intergenerational justice, and justice for all creation.
We must give special attention to the voices of those who live and work on the front lines of climate change: climate activists from the global South, people living in "sacrifice zones" polluted by fossil fuel extraction, women farmers struggling to feed their families, young people speaking out for intergenerational justice, and indigenous peoples calling for policies that respect the rights of the earth. Together this rising chorus expresses the yearnings of people joining together in the growing movement for climate justice. Their pleas, demands, and warnings urge us to demonstrate God's care and concern by praying and advocating for just policies on their behalf.
As we face the painful realities of climate change in the context of our faith, behind the facts and statistics we can see the faces of God's children, our brothers and sisters around the world. As followers of Jesus, we are called to respond to them in solidarity and to serve them in Christ's name.