Seeking climate justice in Paris

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When world leaders gather in Paris at the end of November to broker an accord on climate change, representatives of the faith community will be there to urge them to act.

The goal of the U.N. climate summit on Nov. 30-Dec 11 is to adopt a new international agreement to keep global warming under control.

Harm done to the environment is “harm done to humanity,” Pope Francis said in his recent address to the United Nations. Those who suffer the most, he added, are the poor and marginalized.

Human rights “should be strongly emphasized” in any new treaty, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, top executive of the World Council of Churches, declared during a climate justice consultation organized by the Latin American Council of Churches in September.

“Climate changes can only be addressed in a fair and sustainable way if it is proper dynamic between the care for the environment and the need for more justice,” he said.

One of the logos for the 2015 United for Climate gathering in Paris.

One of the logos for the 2015 United for Climate gathering in Paris.

United Methodists headed to Paris

A delegation from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries will be in Paris during the midpoint of the summit, Dec. 2-9. The team will connect with partner organizations like ACT Alliance, offering worship and prayer support, said the Rev. Pat Watkins, the board’s creation care missionary.

“Our focus will be to get messages back to the churches here,” he said, noting that team members will think about how to translate what happens in Paris to the six different regions they represent.

It is a continuation of the work done when the team traveled to Lima, Peru, where a climate change conference took place last December. “In Lima, everybody committed to making an action plan to how they could do some organizing in their part of the world,” Watkins explained.

The mission agency’s creation care team includes Sotico Pagulayan, Cambodia; the Rev. Marietjie Odendaal, Switzerland; Anahi¢ Alberti D’Amato, Argentina; Jefferson Knight, Liberia; Cliff Bird, Fiji, and the Rev. Susan Mullin, Minnesota. 

Knight, a director with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, also is a part of that agency’s delegation to Paris, along with representatives from Germany and the Philippines. “The goal is really to assemble a delegation that is reflective of the global nature of our church,” said John Hill, the social action agency’s director of economic and environmental justice.

Church and Society wants to encourage United Methodists to be engaged in what is happening in Paris and help translate the U.N. framework into understandable language. In preparation, the agency has created an education and action campaign called “Warm Hearts, Cool Climate” that is launching this week.

Members of their group are accredited for either the first or second week of the convention. In addition to Knight and Hill, delegates are Daniel Obergfell, Germany; Jennifer Meneses, Philippines; the Rev. Lisa Garvin, Emory University, Atlanta; and the Rev. Liberato "Levi" Bautista, Church and Society staff.

In Germany, The United Methodist Church was part of a “support circle” for an ecumenical pilgrimage to Paris that started in Flensburg, Germany, on Sept. 13.

Efforts at home

Kathleen Stone, who leads the environmental justice work for United Methodist Women, said she hopes to include the energy and experiences of those United Methodist teams in the climate justice study being prepared for the organization’s schools of mission next year.

But, unlike the 2008 environmental summit in Copenhagen, UMW will not send its own delegation to Paris. Instead, Stone is focusing on building relationships between UMW members and marginalized “front-line communities” where the environment is contributing to health problems.

An environmental justice simulation experience during July’s UMW National Seminar in Chicago, helped “tie the dots” in such situations. She hopes to use the simulation as a tool “that pushes us forward in commitments we need to make.”

Climate justice is one of UMW’s four social justice priorities and tools for “13 Steps to Sustainability” include an event-planning guide and measurement survey.

Expectations of Paris?

Hill said he finds “a similar sense of expectation” to reach an agreement in Paris, although in Copenhagen “there was a failure of the global community to come together in a significant way.”

Global partners have been rebuilding trust since the Copenhagen summit and action at the meetings in Warsaw and Lima showed “there is commitment to success in Paris.”

Hill, who was in Copenhagen, is optimistic. The realities of scientific fact and the experiences of those living in places where climate change has had a significant impact make it clear that, he pointed out, “delay is no longer an option.”

Watkins said he’s not certain that any official action will satisfy environmentalists or even “be a good enough agreement to really reverse climate change.”

He does find hope in the actions of religious communities, citing the recent encyclical from Pope Francis as an example, “If the governments of the world can’t figure out how to collectively be effective, then maybe the church can, maybe the international faith community can.”

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or [email protected]

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