I grew up in Zambia’s mining hub- in a province called the Copperbelt, aptly named because of its mass deposits of copper. I was accustomed to seeing grey smoke churning from the furnaces into the air. I could never have imagined that there would be a time when people’s lives could be in grave danger because of similar emissions from fossil fuels. If somebody had told me then that global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions would worsen the world, I might have found it unbelievable.
But it is not. It is happening right now and has been happening for three decades. Climate change is visible in various long-term environmental changes, including sea-level rise, extreme weather, and ocean acidification. The planet’s top scientists, in a major report released on Monday 13 September, have definitively linked greenhouse gas emissions to the type of disasters driven by a warmer climate that has touched every corner of the globe this year: extreme rainfall, brutal droughts, record cyclones and compound events like the wildfires and heatwaves in different parts of the world.
The earthquake in Haiti in August and tropical storm Grace exposed the intersection between a country’s geographical vulnerability, extreme poverty and resulting inability to invest in preparation and adaptation to those risks. On the other end of the globe, Mozambique is still struggling with cyclone recovery and lack of funding two years after experiencing Cyclone Idai. The cyclone left a trail of destruction across parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Closer to home, this July, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany experienced novel flooding that led to the destruction of lives and property. The list of affected areas is endless. Instead of debating whether the climate agenda is political, we need to pay more attention to the fact that those least responsible for climate change are most affected.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is billed for 31 October and 12 November in Glasgow, Scotland. Activists and Scientists have touted it as the last chance for the world to avert a climate catastrophe. However, a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that global warming will continue into at least the middle of this century. Still, failure to take action to limit CO2 emissions now would mean the target set by governments – of remaining below 1.5C of warming – will be missed.
As a Christian organisation, we believe that there is a divine mandate to care for creation. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in a relationship with all of God’s creation. The Bible is replete with scripture reminding us to care for creation (Genesis 2:15, Leviticus 25:1-7 ). We are also reminded that God created the earth for good, proclaiming his glory (Genesis 2:15, 1 Corinthians 10:26 , Daniel 3:56-82 ). Therefore, our creation care should be a response to a loving creator.
Consequently, as those who live on this earth, we have a responsibility to tend to it. Whether it is by what we eat, wear, or buy or ensuring we are recycling what we can. We can also assist by signing those climate change petitions we sometimes ignore or choosing to regift items we have never used, starting our sustainable little gardens, and praying. Every little bit helps, and we can afford to do nothing because we believe change is impossible.
Most importantly, God desires justice, and this means that as Christ-followers, we have also been called to pursue all types of justice, social, economic, and environmental. We also have a moral obligation to care for creation, not just for ourselves but for generations who will come after us. Being selfless requires we do everything possible to ensure that future generations are not born into an inhabitable world.
COP26 is the last opportunity for political leaders to take decisive action and make commitments that keep us safe and keep global warming at 1.5C. It is an opportunity for leaders to focus on quality and inclusive climate finance and include the youth in discussions. However, it is also an opportunity for self-reflection from us all. What part are we playing in contributing to the problem or in finding solutions to the problem? As global citizens, what actions can we take to seek accountability from our leaders in the spaces we occupy to ensure that environmentally sustainable decisions are made. It is never too late to start. In the words of Kuki Rokhum, “Yes, the time to act was yesterday, but we still have today.”