The 2030 climate targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement will not be met without substantive changes, according to a U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) report published Dec. 9.

In 2019, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rose by 1.1% from 2018 – the third year in a row of increases – with a majority (65%) of GHGs due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. China, the U.S., the European Union (EU27), the United Kingdom and India account for 55% of global GHGs in the last 10 years.

GHG emissions have stabilized or declined in many of 37 nations who comprise the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), yet emissions are rising in developing nations as their energy demands increase.

While CO2 emissions in 2020 are projected to be around 7% lower than they would have been without a global pandemic, this reduction will have no substantive impact on the overall concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere.

“Although CO2 emissions will decrease in 2020, the resulting atmospheric concentrations of major GHGs (CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)) continued to increase in both 2019 and 2020,” the report said. “Sustained reductions in emissions to reach net-zero CO2 are required to stabilize global warming, while achieving net-zero GHG emissions will result in a peak then [a] decline in global warming.”

There are 126 countries that have adopted net-zero (or carbon-neutral) emission targets, which account for 51% of global GHG emissions.

Projections regarding future emission levels vis-à-vis climate agreements are tentative because it is unclear whether pandemic recovery efforts could include changes in emission policies adopted pre-COVID. In other words, UNEP wonders and worries about a focus on economic recovery at the expense of climate mitigation efforts.

In addition, current GHG-reduction commitments “remain seriously inadequate to achieve the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and would lead to a temperature increase of at least 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century,” the report said.

With a number of nations currently falling short of their commitments to reduce emissions, modeling based on emissions updates provided in 2019 suggests less than a 1% total emission reduction among the highest emitters by 2030.

Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders with experience in creation care and climate policy to comment on the UNEP report. Here is what they said:

“What this report strongly indicates is the need to cut carbon emissions very rapidly or we will risk very damaging climate change,” said Martin J. Hodson, operations director at The John Ray Initiative.

“This brings into focus the COP26 United Nations climate change meeting that is due to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021,” he continued. “The Paris Agreement of 2015 was a start, but countries all need to show increased ambition and commitment. There are some encouraging signs from governments around the world, but we need firm actions and not just environmentally friendly sounding words.”

Helle Liht is the assistant general secretary at the European Baptist Federation and a member of the Baptist World Alliance’s Creation Care Commission.

“UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2020 emphasizes, among other areas of national and international responsibilities, an utmost importance of individuals’ lifestyle changes in order to overcome the emissions gap between the current reality and the goals of the Paris Agreement,” she said. “It states that ‘two thirds of global emissions are linked to the private household activities.’”

“Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone to reduce consumption and exercise low carbon way of living which would honor the Creator and reveal truth about creation,” Liht said. “I imagine that this should be well understood, especially by Christians as we follow the incarnated truth – Jesus Christ, creator and redeemer of all. Truth has to be embodied and lived out as Jesus did in order to bring about the necessary change.”

“When I read this UNEP report, I thought about how the Christians faced previous existential threats in the past,” said Don Gordon, an ordained Baptist minister who is the founder and CEO of Christians Caring for Creation.

“We conquered the Roman Empire not with the vote or the sword but by loving orphans and the sick. We enlightened the Dark Ages with the advent of universities which held that theology and science both pointed to the same eternal truth,” he said. “Once again, Christians need to be first in advocacy and practice to care for God’s wounded creation as individuals and communities.”

“If we neglect this aspect of Christian discipleship, we forsake our call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” Gordon said. “An inadequate theology focusing exclusively on individual salvation has contributed to neglecting God’s creation and forsaking the poor. We need to do better, much better, for the sake of our grandchildren and our neighbors’ grandchildren.”

Rebecca Driscoll serves as the Minister for Creation Justice at American Baptist Churches USA.

“Sometimes as individuals, and as members of faith communities, we worry that the global environmental concerns are too big for us and that it is impossible for our personal actions to have any positive impact on emissions reduction,” she said. “However, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2020 offers data to the contrary. The report encourages individuals and communities to assess their lifestyle choices, especially those associated with travel, energy usage and food consumption.”

“The ways in which individuals and communities of faith discern how to adjust their travel habits, energy usage and food consumption can impact the choices of their larger communities as well as influence regional action to lower harmful emissions,” Driscoll said.

“Under current conditions, the environment’s health is in jeopardy and whole ecosystems are dying on the margins of our society. As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus and to tend to the health and well-being of those on the margins. Adjusting our lifestyle habits and our use of the earth’s resources are tangible ways for individuals and communities of faith to live out that call today.”

The full report is available here. An executive summary is available here.

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