COP25 – The Madrid Climate Summit (2019)


IN a few days, I will be heading to Madrid, Spain for the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit, a.k.a. COP25, or in full, the 25th Session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I will attend the summit as an official Observer-NGO with the Christian Climate Observers Program, an evangelical Christian delegation of 23 members, mainly from the US, but also four of us from Canada along with a few others from Latin America. This is an initiative I help put together with a number of Christian ministry partners, sponsored partly by the World Evangelical Alliance and the Lausanne Movement through the Lausanne / WEA Creation Care Network (LWCCN). We have been issued UN-issued passes to attend all the technical and diplomatic meetings / events at the Conference.

And we will not be the only Christian delegation; for many years there has been a consistent presence of Christian organizations, mainly from the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholics at the various COPs. The evangelicals are considered a rather late comer.

This is not my first time going to a COP. Back in 2015, I was at COP21 in Paris, France, joining an earlier global Christian initiative by Lausanne Creation Care Network and A Rocha, witnessing the final negotiation and adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement.

(For more details about COPs, UNFCCC, Paris Climate Agreement, and other related topics and resources, please check this page, The Basic: UNFCCC, COPs and Paris Climate Agreement)

Why COP25?

When the nations gathered in Paris four years ago agreeing to curb greenhouse gas emissions for that “below 2°C” objective, there was a cautious optimism, even though the Paris Agreement was far less than ideal in terms of immediate reduction targets being committed and registered by various nations and the compromised mechanisms for its execution. Things have worsened significantly.

Politically, it was a major blow to the internationally hard fought effort when the US President Donald Trump’s administration announced their intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (though the US still remains as a Party to the UNFCCC).

Meanwhile, the IPCC and other international bodies released numerous reports in the last couple of years on the current state of affairs on climate change; the picture is alarming, to put it mildly. 

Just two examples:

In October 2018, IPCC released the Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, the first of three within a window of 12 months, with the following assessment:

1. The differences between a warming world of “below 2°C” and that of “below 1.5°C” would be catastrophically significant, just to name a few of the impacts as shown in this chart: (reference)

below 1.5°Cbelow 2°C
Sea level rise by 2100An average of 48 cm

(current sea level is 13-20 centimeters higher on average than it was in 1900 – note)
An average of 58 cm
Extreme heatwave experienced by world population14%>35%
Arctic sea iceRemains in most summers Ice free summers 10x more likely
Coral reefs10-25% remainsVirtually all gone

2. If the nations of the world would be able to keep the crucial “below 1.5°C” goal, we need to reduce all emissions of human-caused Carbon Dioxide (CO2 ~ the most common among GHGs) to 45% (compared to 2010’s level, some nations will need to reduce more, from 50%-65%) by 2030, and then we must achieve net-zero emission by 2050. And this has not factored into the troublingly increasing levels of other more potent greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and Nitrous oxide (N2O).

And then on the day before I was drafting this piece, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) released its latest annual Emission Gap Report, which indicates that without drastic action, our planet is headed toward warming of 3.2°C by 2100. Despite multiple years of effort, greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased as planned but increased 1.5 per cent annually over the past decade. The UNEP warns that serious and immediate global efforts of curbing GHG emissions must increase at least fivefold (5x) for the 1.5°C goal and threefold (3x) for the 2°C.

As we know now, our current world has just seen a full 1°C rise in average global temperature above the pre-industrial level, and news of such catastrophic scenes, all related to climate change, have already filled up our newsfeed: the continuous wildfire in California and lately across eastern coastal Australia, the worst tidal surge in history submerging most of Venice, Italy, severe flooding in the north of England recently and in various parts of Central and Atlantic Canada earlier during the summer months. These are merely the more noticeable ones from the perspectives of affluent western audiences. Many go unnoticed: the continuous severe droughts in much of Africa, Middle East, Central America, and South Asian subcontinent, while significant floods hammered other regions during unseasonable times of the years; increasingly powerful and more frequent tropical storms across the globe…

NOAA (The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) estimates that US$1.5 trillion in damages has been incurred because of these climate-related disasters in the USA alone.  The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that CAD$1.8 billion in damages have been incurred in 2019 from climate change-exacerbated disasters, such as storms and flooding in Ontario and Quebec and lengthy wildfire seasons in BC and Alberta. And these are just the economic costs in monetary terms, the human costs are even greater, as millions have lost their homes, were forced to relocate, died in malnutrition, fled from homeland because of civil wars partly caused by climate change related disasters. The climate crisis is not in the future tense; it is now and here with us.

As representatives from the nations gather in Madrid starting next week, under the cloud of the news and facts briefly sampled above, they will have to work out the final pieces of mechanisms, policies and plans for the Paris Agreement to take effect starting next year. It is commonly held that the Paris Agreement, albeit being full of holes, is still the best and most comprehensive one the world has ever had thus far.

And we, the folks at the Christian Climate Observers Program, are there to witness that process, and hopefully more.

Why Christian presence and involvement in the COPs?

Questions would be raised, like, “Why do Christians get involved in these political things? Why bother?” “Why do you need to travel all the way to the COPs for merely witnessing? Could you simply pay attention from home?” Some might even challenge, “Flying across the ocean for these events would produce more GHG emissions than an average person driving for a year? Are you a hypocrite?”… etc.

These are all legitimate questions, deserved for careful reflections and sincere answers. I will try to unpack my thoughts and responses in some of the later entries during the COP throughout the next couple of weeks. For now, I will just put forward a few unfinished points, some sort of “trailers” for those pieces of further reflections.

  1. Caring for God’s creation, in this particular case, the concerns on climate change (or rightfully put, climate crisis / emergency) matters tremendously with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, echoing the profound statement from the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment (Part I, 7A): “…creation care is thus a Gospel issue under the Lordship of Christ.
  2. The Mission of God’s people involves more than proclamation of the Gospel (its meaning also in need of some redefining and expanding; that’s for another time); it must also include prophetic ministries, speaking Truth to power, for the concerns of justice, well-being of others, and shalom.
  3. From the experience of ministry involvements in the last decade, and also in light of various recent events and crises around the world, I am increasingly convinced that one of the main ways of Christian engaging the issues of the world, perhaps the only one in many cases, would be our “faithful presence” with those who are in suffering and despair, those who are in discernment and seeking, and anyone who is in need of God’s presence.

And these are what we in the Christian Climate Observers Program are set to do during the COP. In a nutshell, we plan to bring our Christian witnesses and voices to these critical meetings by speaking up for God’s creation and for those most urgently affected by climate change.  In particular, we want the world (and especially the international negotiators) to see Christians actively involved and participating in climate justice and creation stewardship. These will be done so through praying, networking, learning, advocating. During the conference, the four of us from Canada are attempting to set up meetings with the official Canadian negotiation team and delegation to the conference, as do other national representatives.  Meanwhile, we are working on our communication plans, both as a group and individuals, to bring the messages home.

Our team will send out daily update newsletters during the COP, please subscribe if interested.

(Afterword: the newsletters were sent as planned, and have been archived in this website)

  • We will be surrounded by people from every country in the world gathered to advocate for strong climate policies.  
  • Pray for bold outcomes.  
  • Pray that God will give us opportunities to speak truth to power to honor our creator and show love to our neighbors.  
  • Pray that God will change the hearts of Christians in our home countries who are reluctant to stand up for climate stewardship.  
  • And pray that the world will see the Church as an ally in this important effort.

The CCOP 2019 Team @COP25
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