Communities in the Pacific are already made vulnerable because of climate change, Fine Ditoka of Fiji said. The challenge is church leaders need to wake up now. We need more educational awareness.
The issue of climate change quickly emerged as a key concern this week at the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in Vancouver, Canada, as Baptists from more than 50 nations met.
The first meeting after the signing of the Paris Agreement to curb carbon emissions, the topic particularly resonated with leaders in vulnerable island nations.
"This is the first universal climate agreement and it's comprehensive," explained Les Fussell of Australia. "It's now a legal document, but only certain provisions are legally binding."
Fussell emphasized key points about the agreement, including progress made on topics of mitigation, adaption and finance.
He noted that the parties meeting in Paris in December affirmed a goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (and even push for no more than 1.5 degrees), but explained that the pledges submitted by countries to curb carbon emissions would instead likely lead to up to 2.7 degrees of warming.
The BWA previously passed resolutions acknowledging the reality of climate change and urging actions to counter such warming at annual gatherings in Santiago, Chile, in 2012, in Ede, Netherlands, in 2009 and in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2008.
Bonny Resu, general secretary of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation (one of the six regional fellowships of the BWA), affirmingly mentioned the Paris Agreement in his regional report to the BWA's annual gathering.
"We are constantly reminded that we live in a dangerous world and we are very vulnerable, as the majority of our region are vulnerable to natural disasters," offered Resu, who is from India. "We hope the Paris Climate Accord will help curb pollution and resultant global warming."
Fussell reiterated the reality of climate change, including the impacts already being felt. Among the many consequences already seen in the Pacific region are increased droughts, damaged crops, coral bleaching and loss of coral reef, displacement of fish species, more intense storms and increased climate refugees fleeing lost lands.
"Temperatures will continue to increase in the future," he said. "Food insecurity will increase in the future. ... Sea level will continue to rise in the future.
"When I have people who say to me, 'I don't believe in climate change,' I say, 'well it's not a religion, it's science," he added. "I'm worried for my grandchildren."
A former leader of Baptist World Aid Australia, Fussell noted that the impacts of climate change means more work for those involved in relief and development. He explained that during the Paris talks, the push for a warming goal of 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees emerged as "a top priority for vulnerable countries" like low-lying island nations.
The Republic of Fiji became the first nation to formally adopt the Paris Agreement. One week later, Cyclone Winston - the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere - smacked the island nation. With wind speeds of 200 mph and a sea surge of 40 feet, the storm killed dozens of people, destroying tens of thousands of homes, and causing more than $1 billion in damage.
Fine Akosita Ditoka, a Baptist leader in Fiji, spoke about the impact of Winston on her nation and the ongoing relief efforts. She reported two Baptist churches were destroyed in the villages of Vatusekiyasawa and Naboutolu.
The Fiji Baptist Convention (FBC) continues to work in several ways, including training trauma and healing counselors. She shared about efforts to help children process the trauma by telling their stories of the storm through drawing pictures.
Ditoka said the FBC continues to seek "divine purposes of God for the FBC in the bigger picture of God's redemptive purposes for the nation of Fiji." They hope to remain "at the center of rebuilding our beloved Fiji."
"Communities in the Pacific are already made vulnerable because of climate change and as more and more of these tropical cyclones strike our islands, tearing through our homes and turning our lives upside down, there is a strong resilience amongst the people," Ditoka said.
"The challenge is church leaders need to wake up now," she added. "We need more educational awareness."
Fussell called the Paris Agreement "a start" and said national leaders have "become more serious." However, he stressed much more remains needed. He believes Christians must engage in advocacy to push leaders to keep climate commitments agreed to in Paris and to make stronger ones.
"We need to keep the kings accountable," he said. "We need to be the prophets. We need to be a thorn in their shoes."
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @BrianKaylor.
Editor's note: A video interview with Ditoka on Cyclone Winston and the Baptist response can be viewed here. Pictures from the 2016 BWA annual gathering are available on EthicsDaily.com's Facebook page and Pinterest page.