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4 Lessons After Paris’ Climate Change Conference

If, like most of us, you prefer your issues cut and dried, goodies and baddies, then climate change is just the kind of thing to avoid.

For every opinion, you’ll find an opposite opinion; for every believer, in spite of scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, you’ll find a skeptic.

So sitting on the fence is understandable but, I’m sorry, it’s also indefensible. Every person should take an interest in this, forming our own opinions and taking a stand accordingly. This is a responsibility none of us can pass up.

OK, so what are we to make of COP21, the climate change conference hosted in Paris during December 2015? Here is my take on four key areas:

Lesson 1: Key leaders and mass movements are both needed.

Compared to the disaster that was COP15 (Copenhagen, 2009), this time there is much for which to be thankful.

There was a clear determination to avoid another debacle, with leaders aware that a further lost opportunity could have real repercussions for themselves as politicians, and more importantly for the planet.

President Obama was no longer the rookie he was in 2009, and he sees this as a legacy matter, alongside “Obamacare.”

China’s President Xi knows that the smog of Beijing is a mounting concern to the middle classes.

And Pope Francis led the thinking of 1.2 billion Catholics with the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si’, reminding us to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Alongside them, pressure groups, nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups (mostly Christian) agitated from below. As a result, there was both political and popular momentum – and it delivered.

Lesson 2: Draw a deep breath, but this is for the long haul.

Paris was a milestone, no doubt about it, but certainly not the end of the game. Indeed, the amount of change needed to enable the key goal to be met (“holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”) is a huge task.

We’re already at 1 degree, and even if every commitment made in Paris was kept, we would still exceed the 2-degree benchmark by 2045.

To pile on the misery, carbon outputs will continue to rise until 2030 and will then have to drop like a stone to reach the 2-degree target, let alone 1.5 degrees.

Further, the really audacious goal is to “pursue efforts” to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.

In the words of 350.org’s Christian founder Bill McKibben, Paris “didn’t save the planet, but it saved the chance to save the planet.”

Lesson 3: Follow the money.

Keep an eye on China and the U.S. Between them, China (26.4 percent) and the U.S. (17.3 percent) put out nearly half the world’s CO2 emissions. By comparison, the United Kingdom emits 1.6 percent.

For this to change, there has to be a dramatic reduction in carbon outputs, and some have claimed that Paris is the beginning of the end for old-style industries. Actually, that process was underway pre-Paris.

In the last two to three years, we’ve seen a dramatic disinvestment away from carbon-based industries like mining and oil (check out gofossilfree.org) and into more ethically appropriate and often financially better investments.

A Reuters report proclaimed the Paris agreement as “setting the course for a historic transformation of the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy.”

A quick Internet search will show the billions in investments, especially from pension funds looking for beneficial long-term portfolios, which are being diverted away from fossil fuel-based industries.

Lesson 4: This is part of the mission of the church.

As Christians, we have an obligation to care for our world, knowing that the damage we’re beginning to see now will adversely affect millions, primarily the most marginalized, in decades ahead. That alone is enough to get started.

Christians are at our best when we leverage the influence we have and exercise both pressure and support.

The pressure is rooted in our conviction that God created the world and made us stewards of it and, frankly, our burgeoning wealth in the Western world has been, in part, achieved by ravaging the very planet we depend upon for our survival.

But there is support there, too. Support that delights in the beauty, intricacy and bounty of a world that God himself believed was worth saving.

This support can be practical as we recognize and build on what has been achieved and see hope in the trajectory that’s been set.

And it can be prayerful, rooted in our desire to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Our elected leaders need our support and involvement to hold them to account and to celebrate each effective stand for climate justice.

David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. A version of this article first appeared in Worth Saving – a monthly e-newsletter from BMS World Mission providing climate change and creation care resources. You can follow Kerrigan on Twitter @DavidKerrigan3.

Editor’s note: Pictures and video interviews shot by EthicsDaily.com contributing editor Brian Kaylor can be viewed here. Additional articles related to COP21 are available here.