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The climate emergency needs bold action in 2020 and Christians have a key part to play


Douglas is praying for an end to the severe drought in Zimbabwe. The father-of-eight used to have a flourishing farm but today nothing grows. In March 2019, two cyclones destroyed crops in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, compounding the food crisis facing these nations. The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people don’t have enough food to survive across nine southern African countries. This is one of the regions where the global climate crisis has hit people hardest.  

As we enter a new decade the UK is poised to host the UN Climate talks in Glasgow at the end of the year, with the hope that the world can be put on course for a safer future. This is no mean feat, with huge political opposition and inertia to be overcome globally. This urgency has already been accepted by the UK Parliament and public support for climate action is at an all time high. Hosting the climate talks provides the opportunity to demonstrate a comprehensive and ambitious agenda, commensurate with the threats we face globally.

Momentum has been building throughout 2019 with young people making their voices heard through global strikes, and Extinction Rebellion taking a stand and keeping the issue in our news. Greta Thunberg went from a Swedish schoolgirl striking outside her parliament to being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. But the year ended in a disappointing outcome at the UN climate summit in Madrid - where instead of unity, ambition and commitment to limit average temperature rise to 1.5C, we’ve seen postponing,  loopholes and disagreements.

The UK church has a pivotal role to play at this time. A recent poll Tearfund carried out with Christians in Scotland showed 93 per cent agree that caring about climate change is part of living out their Christian faith and 80 per cent believe that their actions can make an impact on tackling climate change. The world needs these Christians to stand up for the most vulnerable and demand action.

The extreme weather events our world is experiencing due to the climate crisis is wreaking havoc on both the environment and people globally. In the last year alone we’ve lived through deadly heatwaves in Europe, record-breaking forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon and California, devastation in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, destructive flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi from Cyclone Idai, bushfires in Australia and the all-time record breaking temperatures broken again.

We are experiencing the impacts here in the UK, but it is the poorest, most vulnerable people around the world who shoulder the impacts most, whilst having done least to cause this crisis. As the next host of the UN climate talks, we have the opportunity and responsibility to demonstrate we are committed to finding equitable solutions to the climate crisis. The UK must use all necessary diplomatic pressure to get the global action the world needs. Every fraction of a degree in warming matters, this means the biggest carbon emitting countries must make colossal commitments for any chance to put us oncourse for a 1.5C future meeting the Paris agreement.

To lead on the global stage the UK must get it’s own house in order. The new Net Zero legislation agreed in June 2019 commits the UK to reach this goal by 2050. Our priority now should be to reduce our carbon emissions swiftly and sharply - not waiting for a date some way into the future, but making the right decisions and taking action now. This should include ending investments in fossil fuels both at home and abroad.

The actions world leaders take in this new decade, and those they choose to delay, will determine how liveable vast regions of our planet remain. As the UK Church it is time for us to stand up and speak out. If we are to love our global neighbours and the world God has made, we have to tackle this climate crisis before it’s too late. We must call on our leaders to act with ambition not hesitation: meeting our new MPs, joining marches and events, teaching about the seriousness of the crisis to our communities, and modelling a better way to the world around us.

And we must pray, for those most impacted by the changing climate, for decision makers to act, and for protection for those speaking up. Tearfund is starting a year of prayer for the climate, inviting churches to host prayer rooms and Christians around the world to join us in prayer this year.

Douglas is putting his faith in action and praying for the future, how will you play your part?

Dr Ruth Valerio, director of global advocacy and influencing at Tearfund 

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