Rev Trevor Sargent’s Ecological Notes for November 2021 – General Synod Leads the Church of Ireland’s Response to the Glasgow Climate Conference

Taking place in Glasgow in the first two weeks of this November, the COP26 United Nations conference will bring together world leaders to put in place an updated and urgent strategy to combat and adapt to the accelerating climate emergency.

Climate change requires both urgent action and long-term sustained commitment. Whatever the outcome of COP26, it is our vital duty, as disciples of the Prince of Peace, that we push for solutions, and meanwhile, ‘take the log out of our own eye, before we take the speck out of our neighbour’s eye’, to paraphrase Jesus (Matthew 7:5).

Synod & COP26 singing off the same hymn-sheet

Members of General Synod will recall the address by the Most Revd John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland, who spoke as follows:

“In some ways we have made a good start as a Church, completing our divestment from the extraction of fossil fuels by the end of this year, therefore meeting its target date of 2022. This fulfils a commitment made in resolution of the General Synod in 2018.

But this is not the whole story. Far from it. Investments are one thing, and difficult enough to get right in this regard. The whole life of the Church, particularly in our parishes, where our main work and witness takes place is quite another. Not least if we are to be responsible ancestors, never mind have any credibility as the People of God with the younger generation, we will need to bake environmental sensitivity and action into our everyday life as a Church. To ensure that a carbon footprint assessment of our parish and personal activities is as natural to us as an Easter Vestry return and that we act on its results.

We cannot honestly challenge governments without also challenging ourselves. The Church of Ireland cannot solve the climate crisis. However, unless we take seriously how we can do what little we can to contribute to that solution, whether that’s making zero carbon a parish target (and asking young people to help us do so) or changing our personal life style, our credibility with another generation depends on our willingness to do so. I know that the Church and Society Commission (CASC) are in the process of giving that effort some organising principles in tools in a conference being planned for the spring of next year, and I wish them well in that.”

Why is this Glasgow Conference called COP26?

The story of COP26 is rooted in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. This is where the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed, which earned near universal acceptance. Ireland, along with 196 countries (called ‘parties’ in diplomatic language,) signed up to the UNFCCC.  Every year (except last year!) these 197 countries, known collectively as the Convention of the Parties, (COP for short) meet to assess progress and agree the actions which need to be taken next.

What needs to happen in Glasgow?

The latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, was written by 234 authors drawing on over 14,000 scientific studies. Its title is ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’, (August 2021). The U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, called the report ‘a code red for humanity’.

COP 21 in Paris in 2015 agreed that civilisation could not easily survive beyond a 1.5 degrees centigrade increase above average pre-industrial temperature levels. We are presently feeling the effects of just one degree of global warming. However the collective national plans, following the 2015 Paris Agreement, are insufficient to avoid over-heating the Earth. Our current national plans would lead to a global average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees by 2030 and an increase of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century. That would mean a veritable ‘hell on earth’!

COP 26 in Glasgow, this month,will need to agree legally binding measures, and ways to enforce the national and international actions needed to hold global warming to the 1.5 degrees increase which was agreed in 2015 in Paris. All of us, especially our children, require no less!

Meanwhile, in the words of the hymn writer, Walter J. Mathams, let us pray:

Jesus, friend of little children, be a friend to me; take my hand and ever keep me close to thee.