FAQ

  • 1. What are the key points of the Paris Agreement?
  • 2. How important is it that governments sign and ratify the Paris Agreement and when must they do it by?
  • 3. What do you mean by rapid emission cuts, in line with the 1.5C goal?
  • 4. What does GHG neutrality mean?
  • 5. Explain more about financing
  • 6. Explain more about adaptation, loss and damage
  • 7. Explain more about phasing out fossil fuel subsidies
  • 8. Explain more about Divestment and Reinvestment from a Faith Context
  • 9. What is the Faith World Doing about Climate Change?
  • 10. How are Faith Based Organisations Reducing Emissions?

1. WHAT ARE THE KEY POINTS OF THE PARIS AGREEMENT?

In Paris on December 12th 2015, the 21st Conference of Parties (196 nations)  to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (COP 21) adopted an historic agreement to combat climate change that will spur actions and investment towards a low-carbon, resilient and sustainable future.(For details see www.unfccc.int)  It is the first climate agreement that joins all nations in a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities. The main aim as described in Article 2 is to keep the global temperature rise this century to well below 2C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen capability to deal with the impacts of climate change and to make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. Countries furthermore aim to reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”.

2. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THAT GOVERNMENTS SIGN AND RATIFY THE PARIS AGREEMENT AND WHEN MUST THEY DO IT BY?

It is very important that countries quickly sign and ratify the adopted Paris Agreement so as to achieve the 1.5C goal.   The measures set out in the Paris Agreement are supposed to start in 2020. There will be a high-level signing ceremony hosted by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in New York on 22nd April 2016. Governments have one year to sign the Agreement, but there is not a time limit to ratify. The Paris Agreement will only come into force after at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting for at least an estimated 55% of total global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the Agreement. Ratification means that Parties´ legislatures have incorporated the entire Agreement into national law.   Once the 55/55 threshold is secured, entry into force will lay the legal basis for ensuring the long term durability of the Agreement and put us on a path to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, safe and resilient future. Future UNFCCC COPs will take decisions relating to the implementation of the Agreement, developing certain procedures only sketched out in the text. A preparatory Committee for the entry into force of the Agreement will hold its first meeting in May 2016 at the UNFCCC´s intersessional meeting in Bonn.

It was very positive to see Fiji become the first country to ratify the agreement in February 2016. In the same month, Fiji experienced the worst storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. Cyclone Winston left 42 people dead and left more than 50,000 people seeking refuge in makeshift shelters.

3. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY RAPID EMISSION CUTS, IN LINE WITH THE 1.5C GOAL?

The Paris Agreement put in place an important process for countries to increase the ambition of their post 2020 climate plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), every five years in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Agreement.  However, so far the climate plans submitted by 189 countries, which together represent over 98% of global greenhouse gas emissions put us on a dangerous pathway to a temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels.

Global emissions reduction need to scale up swiftly, now and over the next few decades, if we are to achieve the 1.5C goal.

According to the World Resources Institute[1] –

To have a likely chance of limiting warming to below 2 degrees C, we need to reduce GHG emissions according to the following timeframe:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions have to drop to net zero between 2060 and 2075
  • Total GHG emissions need to decline to net zero between 2080 and 2090

To achieve GHG neutrality with a likely chance of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees C, we need to reduce GHG emissions according to the following timeframe:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions have to drop to net zero between 2045 and 2050
  • Total GHG emission need to decline to net zero between 2060 and 2080”

Pre-2020 action is vital. The implementing decision adopted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) accompanying  the Paris Agreement itself also includes a set of elements to “ensure the highest possible mitigation efforts in the pre-2020 period. Pre-2020 actions are essential.  Some 85 nations made pre-2020 emission reduction commitments at the 2010 COP, which however were way below what scientists said were needed by 2020. Since then, there have been no improvements to these commitments. The focus of the developed countries for the pre-2020 period has largely been on technical expert meetings and high-level events, often termed by developing countries as “talk-shops that do not focus on any real action”. The next five years matter tremendously and we need to urge for concrete climate action pre- 2020.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued five Assessment Reports (the most recent in 2014) relating to the science of climate change. These reports are signed off by governments. (www.ipcc.ch)

[1] COP21 Q&A: What is GHG Emissions Neutrality in the Context of the Paris Agreement, Kelly Levin et al., WRI, December 11, 2015

4. WHAT DOES GHG NEUTRALITY MEAN?

GHG neutrality aims for a net emissions of zero, achieved by reducing emissions through a global shift away from fossil fuels and a massive uptake of renewable energy worldwide, and then offsetting any remaining emissions with an equivalent amount of removal and sequestration, whether through use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or mass planting of trees. Such measures would have to be carefully balanced against other land use requirements. There is concern that GHG neutrality could mean that the world will continue to produce emissions, as long as there is a way to “offset” them, also raising fears that this leaves the door wide open to dangerous GEO engineering techniques, massive land grabs for deforestation projects.

5. EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT FINANCING

At the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, and then in Cancún in 2010, developed countries committed to “mobilize” US$100 billion per year in private and public climate funding for developing countries by 2020. At COP21, this commitment was reintroduced as  as an implementing decision (not the Paris Agreement), setting US$100 billion as a minimum level, to be set post- 2025.

Many developing countries lack the necessary finance, skills and knowledge to undertake climate mitigation and adaptation actions. A clear road-map with collective quantified targets for the scaling up of finance, including for adaptation and loss and damage, as well as a reference to alternative sources of financing, such as a carbon tax on marine and air transport or a financial transaction tax, are needed

 

6. EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT ADAPTATION, LOSS AND DAMAGE

Adaptation is a cross-cutting and integrated issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) definition of adaptation states: “The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.” This requires an integrated approach as regards both built and natural systems – including networked infrastructure (piped water, drains, roads, electricity), services (including public transport, health care, emergency services) and through ecosystem- based adaptation to safeguard water supplies and to buffer expected enhanced erosion and coastal flooding risks caused by rising sea levels and increased  storm surges.

Loss and damage is about dealing with the financial impacts of extreme weather events as well as slow-onset events for which adaptation measures are not feasible. However it is not a new issue, it has been on the UNFCCC table since 1991. It was originally proposed by the small island state of Vanuatu as an insurance process to compensate against sea level rise. The adopted Paris Agreement gave breakthrough legal recognition to the concept of loss and damage (there had already been a COP decision about it in 2013), but did not incorporate any mention of liability or compensation, which developing countries advocated but developed nations opposed (as being the countries responsible for climate change).

7. EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT PHASING OUT FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES

If we are to have a likely chance to achieve the 1.5C goal, we need to phase out all fossil fuels. However, fossil fuel subsidies are a major obstacle to full decarbonisation and despite the enormous threat climate change poses, countries keep subsidizing fossil fuels. The International Monetary Fund estimated that energy subsidies totalled US$5.3 trillion in 2015, or 6.5 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product. Eliminating subsidies would cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by more than 20 per cent a year, according to the IMF. Another benefit would be to reallocate government revenue, (ie savings from eliminating the subsidies) to invest in health care, renewable energy, mass transit and other public services. The International Energy Agency has established an on-line database ‌to increase the availability and transparency of energy subsidy data as an essential step in building momentum for global fossil-fuel subsidy reform. The issue has been under consideration by the G-20 (the world´s 20 largest economies) since 2008 but there has been little action so far.

8. EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT DIVESTMENT AND REINVESTMENT FROM A FAITH CONTEXT

Many religious traditions share values regarding the ethical use of financial resources and religious groups around the globe are taking action to divest away from fossil fuels and reinvest into renewables and energy efficiency. The Divest & Reinvest Now! Campaign is mobilizing faith communities to support fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment in a clean energy future. – see here for further information.

9. WHAT IS THE FAITH WORLD DOING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?

1) Advocacy

In the last couple of years, faith based organisations have played a critical role in contributing to civil society’s momentum in urging for action on climate change. The importance of faith-based organizations taking a prominent leadership role in influencing policy has become clearer and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of religions at the local, national and international levels addressing climate change as a moral issue, in particular to show solidarity to those most vulnerable. At the international level, there is an Interfaith Liaison Committee with the UNFCCC Secretariat.

At the same time, more governments and the UN are recognising the importance of engaging with religious and faith based organizations in addressing climate change, as they are connected to the grassroots, as well as to leaders.

Listen to a news clipping that highlights the Pope’s encyclical and reactions from people like Naomi Klein.

Learn more about the positive impact that faith based organisation are contributing to, as explained by Sister Jayanti of Brahma Kumaris.

– Statements

Almost every religion has issued a climate change statement.

Key recent (2014-2015), faith statements on climate change include:

  • The Earth as Witness: International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change, 8th January 2014
  • Falling in Love with the Earth: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Statement on Climate Change for the United Nations, 2nd July 2014
  • Sikh Statement on Climate Change, 18th September, 2014
  • Interfaith Summit Statement, 21st September 2014
  • Catholic Bishops’ Statement in Lima on the Road to Paris, 9th December 2014
  • Lambeth Declaration 2015 on Climate Change, 16th June 2015
  • Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, 18th June 2015
  • The Islamic Climate Change Declaration, 18th August 2015,
  • The Statement of Faith and Spiritual Leaders, 20th October 2015
  • Appeal to COP 21 Negotiating Parties (Presidents of regional Catholic Bishops´ Conferences), 26th October 2015
  • The Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders, 29th October 2015
  • The Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, 23rd November 2015

A more detailed list can be found here.

– Climate Change Petitions

In addition to Statements, last year over 1.8 million people worldwide put their names to a collection of faith-based petitions urging political leaders at the COP21 climate summit to take decisive action to curb global warming and deliver a strong, fair deal that helps poor countries adapt to their changing climate. The petitions were presented to the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and President Hollande on 28th November and 10th December 2015, respectively. See more information here

The interfaith delegation with President Hollande, 10th December 2015. Credit: Sean Hawkey/WCC

2) Climate Justice Pilgrimages: In 2015, there was 431 faith led pilgrimages for climate justice in Asia, Africa, Europe and USA. Collectively, pilgrims walked hundreds of thousands of miles to raise awareness on the impacts of climate and to urge world leaders to produce a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, December 2015. Click here to see a video of a very catchy and uplifting climate pilgrimage song, Tayo Tayo.

3) Prayers and Vigils: In monasteries, churches and temples, on streets and town halls, hundreds of candle-lit vigils took place around the world in 2015, demonstrating a display of hope and compassion for the future of our planet. See more information here

Candle light vigil – Philippines January 2015. Credit: Globalissues.org

Prayers

We all come from different faiths but we breathe the same air, we share the same trees and we live on the same earth with all species.

  • Pope Francis’ prayer intention for Creation, February 2016: “That we take good care of Creation, a gift freely given, cultivating and protecting for future generations.”  See video here.
  • Click here to read a Du’a written by Imam Zaid Shakir – Co-founder of Zaytuna College
  • Click here to read Interfaith Prayers for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

4) Fasts for the Climate: Fasting has been part of faith traditions and justice movements from the Hebrew prophets to leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. In 2015, thousands of people from around the world fasted either once a month, or during Lent to stand in solidarity with those already affected by climate change and to tell world leaders that they need to do more to solve the climate crisis. See more here and here.

 

5) Capacity Building – Training and Education

Education on climate change not only informs us about the science, the risks and impacts of climate change, but protecting the planet is a moral and ethical imperative and taking action can help us improve the world around us and protect the most vulnerable. We all need to reduce the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, reducing our consumption in general, using public transport, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights and putting profit before good. Many faith group organise workshops, seminars and webinars to help raise awareness on climate change and identify priority actions on climate change for which faith communities can engage in.

The importance of collaboration among religious groups in addressing challenges of climate change is vital and the adopted Paris agreement creates a wonderful opportunity to mobilize young leaders of diverse faiths on climate change. We can all benefit from their enthusiasm, as well as connecting with each other and share our resources to deepen our work.

 

 

 

10. HOW ARE FAITH BASED ORGANISATIONS REDUCING EMISSIONS?

Faith communities have an important role to play in pressing for changes in behaviour to reduce emissions, at every level of society. All of us need to make more eco-friendly choices and change our habits and take better care of our Earth. Reducing emissions is a responsibility of religious communities as well.

Many churches, temples, synagogues etc. already have various eco-friendly initiatives in place, but often do not communicate this. There are many inspiring examples of faith organisations reducing emissions in their places of worship. Solar electric panels and solar water heating are common choices for renewable energy being installed in churches, temples, schools, other buildings and in parking areas.

Recent examples include:

1) The Global Catholic Climate Movement is launching an Eco-Parish Guide (April 2016) directed at Catholic parishes globally to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, the Eco-Parish guide offers an active response to Pope Francis’ call for climate change action in his encyclical, Laudato Si’.  Many of the steps to reduce emissions are possible to follow without needing too much expertise and come within budget. All of these energy efficient steps can also be implemented in a temple, mosque, synagogue etc. It is important to also involve members of the congregation to help reduce emissions.

2) World’s Largest Community Kitchen at Golden Temple Will Now Serve Organic Langar (March 2016)- the Guru Ramdas Langar Hall at Sri Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple) – one of the world’s largest community kitchens that feeds up to 100,000 people everyday, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week for free, is raising the bar even further by serving organic ‘langar’ to their devotees.

Dr Rajwant Singh, founder and president of EcoSikh, a non-profit organisation working to raise awareness about environmental issues and inspiring farmers to focus on producing food through organic means, said that they are now hoping that around 25,000-30,000 gurdwaras in Punjab will follow suit to serve organic langar.

Organic farming systems generally use soil management practices that offer the best opportunities to reduce GHG emissions, build soil organic carbon (SOC) and sequester atmospheric carbon. Among the most promising are: reduction/elimination of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer applications; use of organic fertilizers and cover crops and conservation tillage.

3) In February 2016, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, endorsed a new campaign called the ‘Big Church Switch’ encouraging Christians to choose renewable energy tariffs. The campaign, launched by Christian Aid and Tearfund on Ash Wednesday in the hope to spur hundreds of thousands of Christians to switch energy suppliers.

4) Brahma Kumaris: For almost 20 years, Brahma Kumaris and its sister organization, the World Renewal Spiritual Trust (WRST), a recognized scientific and industrial research organization in India, have been conducting training, research and development in renewable energy technologies. They has done pioneering work in solar energy and sustainable energy, including developing the world’s largest solar cooker. ‘India One’, a 1 MW solar thermal power plant situated near the Brahma Kumaris Shantivan Campus in Abu Road, Rajasthan, India, is due to be completed in 2016. The plant will generate enough heat and power for a campus of 25,000 people and is a milestone for decentralized and clean power generation in India. See video here