The debate over the reality of climate change is over. The evidence is both obvious and compelling.
The debate over the cause of this rise in temperatures should be over. The global consensus of climate scientists that climate change is caused by human action is close to 98%.
The current reasonable debate is on what we do about this suicidal situation.
It is good news that most national governments, many multinational corporations (including major oil production companies) and even the U.S. Department of Defense are no longer denying the reality of what we human beings are facing.
But there is no global clarity on how we effectively stop pouring gas on the current climate fire.
The U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Code Red” for the world. You don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to know that a “Red Alert” is a scary thing.
I would encourage you to look at the 2021 IPCC findings. I warn you; it is not bedtime reading.
But amid our code-red crisis, there is some good news.
The recent UN multilateral meeting held in Glasgow (called COP26, short for Conference of the Parties) did make some progress. At minimum, COP26 narrowed the debate on the “what to do” question.
In a meeting held by the United Nations Association of New York on Dec. 2, the Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Action Selwin Hart gave a realistic, but cautiously hopeful, report of the conference.
He began by saying that the meeting started with a significant dearth of trust and great division between the developed world and developing countries.
The fact that it ended with a consensus document is a sign of hope. It is very good news that multilateralism can still deliver in a time of deep division.
The “net-zero” commitments of states and non-state actors varied greatly, but some were very significant and showed signs of real progress.
The reference to coal in the final document was not as strong as many wanted, but it was the first time that coal has been explicitly called out in a COP meeting – also a sign of progress.
Hart noted that the action plan on coal emission reduction needs to be stronger, but the focus on coal is essential to keep us below a 1.5-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures.
There were, of course, concerning developments.
The commitments of emission reduction, and other mitigating actions, offered by states were often short of 2030 targets coming out of COP21 (Paris). Many countries simply re-submitted their previous commitments.
And there is the very present question of loss and damage. In some regions, unprecedented impact is happening today. How do we finance, repair and rebuild as an angry climate rains more destruction?
Part of the answer to that is that we must face it together. We must find the moral and political will to share resources so that resilient societies can be sustained everywhere.
The developed world has promised a $100 billion fund to the developing world for climate change preparation. By most estimations, this is woefully inadequate.
Given that reasonable estimates say the United States has spent $21 trillion on war since Sept. 11, it makes sense that we should invest something comparable on life-sustaining technologies.
If taken seriously, this crisis could be an opportunity. The global community could provide support for developing countries to make early adaptation by building resilient infrastructure.
At the New York meeting of the UN Association, the Assistant Secretary General was asked about hopeful “non-tangible” signs at the Glasgow conference. He listed these three.
First, the mobilization of young people, as activists were energetic and specific in their requests.
Second, movement in the developing world, partly led by South Africa, to address the crisis.
Third, growth of the non-state actor commitment – the number and size of companies, for example, who were attempting to make a positive impact has grown.
I’m convinced that most of us want to live as “faith-full” people in a world of want and struggle at the thought of such a global crisis. So, where does one start?
First, take a look at this “visual statement” put together recently by the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
It’s a stark and evocative picture of our current crisis. At the end, there is a call for specific actions. Consider those.
Second, take the personal and familial actions that seem right to you. In my home, we recycle, compost and are eating less meat (a sometimes challenge for this Oklahoma farm kid).
Third, recognize that we will not recycle and compost our way out of this moment. It will take the serious engagement of every major government to commit to major emission reduction over the next decade.
Finally, let’s not forget the Isaiah’s picture of people who have forgotten how to love, share and care for the vulnerable:
“The earth is bleak, has withered, forlorn, the world has withered; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed teachings, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumed the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore, the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few are left” (Isaiah 24:4-6).
May this not be a portrait of a dystopian future.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to the United Nations’ Human Rights Day (Dec. 10).
The Persistent Widow and the United Nations | Wissam al-Saliby
Words Alone Won’t Secure Human Rights, Address Climate Crisis | David Wheeler
Humans Right Day: A Proclamation of Freedom for All | Jaziah Masters
Resolutions Are Only Revolutionary If Implemented | Helle Liht
A Life and Death Look at Human Rights | William Brackney
Stearman directs the International Advocacy Baptist Collaborative that seeks to amplify and coordinate the advocacy work of the global Baptist family at the United Nations and in WDC. He is vice chair of the board of trustees for the Parliament of World Religions and writes regularly on the intersection of religion and international/cultural affairs. For over three decades, he served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His educational background includes theological degrees from Southwestern and Princeton Seminaries and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.