To declare a Climate Emergency?

Who can doubt that we are facing a Climate Emergency?

Declaring it acknowledges that we are living in a time that represents a grave and urgent threat to the global environment, to ecology and to humanity.  Both today’s and future generations. 

What does it mean to declare a climate emergency?

Our Christian values call us to care for each other and to cherish the Earth.

The question needs to be asked: have we and are we caring for creation and for each other?

The scientific consensus is that without incredibly ambitious and rapid decarbonisation, we face severe environmental degradations that will cost lives, will displace people from their homes, will impoverish communities, and will so badly degrade ecosystems, that they will take many many decades to recover.

It is the vulnerable among us, young, old and those in need, who will suffer the most despite them having contributed the least to the problems we face.

Scientists tell us that we can still stabilise the climate.  We can do so at a level that, whilst still dangerous, is short of catastrophic consequences.

This is what a climate emergency is.  To declare it is to waken us to take the actions we need to take, to cherish the earth and to care for others, even if we may not have in the past.

The problem is getting worse, not better

Despite New Zealand’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and our Zero Carbon Amendment Bill, the problem caused by emissions of fossil-fuel derived carbon, is getting worse.   New Zealand’s gross emissions increase 2016 – 2017 (the latest year for which data is available) was 2.2%.  Even worse, the net increase, that is after reductions from land use change (mainly forestry) are accounted for, was 4.8%.  

If we continue increasing net emissions at this rate, the task of limiting warming to less than 1.5°C, will become impossible to achieve.

People of faith must decide their responses to the emergency we face.

People of faith must now decide the response to climate change that we will support. That response needs to be guided by four conditions.  

Our response must be urgent and ambitious.  We are well past the time for talking about the issues.  To me, this requires a mobilisation similar to past wartime mobilisations.

Our response must be transformative and impact our energy, transportation, food, water and waste systems, as well as our buildings and infrastructure.  And then there is our economic system to re-build.   All must change if we are to meet the challenge.  Business as usual, even in a cloak of green, will not be sufficient.

Our response must exclude climate engineering as a response.  The technologies behind these approaches are in their early stages of development, are unproven at scale, carry significant risks and uncertainty and hold the potential for severe unintended consequences.  The precautionary principle must apply here.

Our response must care for those most vulnerable to the climate emergency, and invest heavily in our communities.  We must provide for the workers displaced from traditional jobs by investing in re-training and ensuring an adequate income to all.

Can declaring a Climate Emergency make a real difference?

The science is very clear. A massive effort is urgently required to reverse global warming and protect humanity and the natural world from collapse. We can argue by how much we think the world will collapse around us, but collapse to some degree it will.  It already is.

Does our Anglican Church have a role to play in preventing this collapse?   I believe so.  And in doing so, our Church would join many other churches and organisations around the world in telling the truth about the climate – that this is an emergency.

As people of faith, we must recognise the moral responsibility we hold to get the world on track to a liveable future where everyone can thrive, instead of simply surviving.   And having recognised that, we must then take action to make it happen.   The challenge for humanity is unprecedented and the consequences of inaction so dire, that we need to start immediately. 

Do we support declaring a Climate Emergency at all levels of government – from our central government to local councils and organisations like the Anglican Church?  What do you think?