The most important international meeting since the Second World War is currently underway.

I’m speaking of the United Nations climate change meeting, COP26, taking place in Glasgow, Scotland.

It is a crucial meeting, so I want to consider how we got to this point.

Let’s begin with the science.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been burning more and more fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). As a result, the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere has increased from a pre-industrial concentration of 280ppm to around 415ppm now.

The physics of the greenhouse effect suggests that it should get warmer and, indeed, it has, by about 1.1 degrees C (2.0 degrees F). That has led to more extreme weather events, the melting of ice caps, sea level rise and many other problems. It is likely to get worse later this century.

Scientists saw that we had a problem with climate change in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but it took some time before this thinking firmed up. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) first reported in 1990 concerning the science of climate change.

In their Assessment Report 1 (AR1) the IPCC was sure carbon dioxide concentrations were increasing, and fairly sure temperature was increasing, but was not sure they were connected.

By AR2 (1995), human-induced global warming was said to be “more likely than not.” Then we had: AR3 (2001) “likely”; AR4 (2007) “very likely”; and AR5 (2013) “extremely likely.” Finally, in August 2021, AR6 concluded that a human cause for warming was now “unequivocal.”

From 1990 to 2021 is 31 years of IPCC warnings about climate change. We should have taken more notice.

Climate change first appeared on the political agenda in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. That led to the COP (conference of the parties) meetings to consider emissions reductions.

In 1997, COP3 met in Kyoto, Japan, and agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5%, relative to a 1990 benchmark, by 2012 (the Kyoto Protocol). The ratification process by governments took until November 2004, and the Protocol entered force on Feb. 16, 2005.

By then, it was recognized that a replacement would soon be needed, and that was the job of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Sadly, the meeting was a disastrous failure, and there was no agreement.

It took some years to get the process back on track, and that finally happened at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

The Paris Agreement was agreed to by almost every nation on Earth, but in June 2017, Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from it. With the election of Joe Biden, the United States declared it would re-join the Agreement in January 2021.

And so, we come to COP26 in Glasgow.

But before we discuss Glasgow, where have Christians been in all of this?

The Bible is full of good advice on creation care and stewardship, beginning with what is often regarded as the first commandment in Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

But if we are honest, humanity has not done a very good job so far. The church has often shown little concern for creation and has focused almost entirely on the relationship between God and humans, and between humans.

There have been occasional exceptions, like Francis of Assisi, but overall our record has been poor.

I first became involved in the Christian environmental movement in 1990, when I was a founding member of Sage, a local group in Oxford, UK.

Back then, there was hardly any interest in the environment in UK churches, and our group was regarded as an oddity. Hardly any church leaders spoke about the environment, and there were only a handful of books available.

Over the last 31 years, that has all changed. We now have over 4,000 churches signed up to the Eco Church scheme, over 2,000 held Climate Sunday services in the run up to COP26, and those of us involved in leading the movement are overwhelmed with speaking requests.

There are many UK Christian groups now in Glasgow.

The situation with churches in the United States is not as positive as in the UK. The mainstream churches are very much in favor of taking action on climate change, but the Christian right is much less so.

The church, like the political parties, is much more polarized on climate change than in the UK. That is a matter for prayer.

What are the big issues in Glasgow?

The first and most important issue is that we need to see radical carbon emissions cuts.

Only deep reductions will keep us on track for the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degreees F) or, more likely, 2.0 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above the pre-industrial temperature. There has already been some movement on this in Glasgow, but we need a lot more.

Second, we need finance to support poor nations with adaptation.

Again, there have been some encouraging signs that rich nations are stepping up their donations, but more is needed.

Another crucial issue is that we need a rigorous international verification system to check that nations are keeping to their targets.

Finally, we do not need more “blah, blah, blah”, in the words of Greta Thunberg. We need actions not words!

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