COP26 - what can Christians and churches do?
We could make a game-changing contribution by acting together, writes Andy Atkins, CEO of Christian nature conservation organisation A Rocha UK
The UK is about to host and chair one of the most important international conferences ever held: COP26. It has been described as the last best chance to avoid global climate catastrophe. With scientists now saying that the world needs to cut its carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 to have a fighting chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Is there anything churches can do to increase the chances of a good result?
Yes, absolutely, is the answer. More Christians than ever are recognising that caring for creation or stewarding the environment - whatever language we want to use - is an integral part of the mission. Thank God. Because the next decade is critical for restoring nature, cutting carbon and stabilising our climate if we are to head off environmental catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale. Governments and society need to act urgently and boldly and Christians and churches could make a game-changing contribution to that by acting together.
Before a small A Rocha UK team heads off to COP26 in Glasgow, I wanted to fill you in on what we hope to achieve - and to ask for your prayers for us and the whole conference.
Our mission at A Rocha UK is to equip Christians and Churches to protect and restore the environment - for God, nature and all people. And what we know is that human induced climate change is a threat to all of God’s creation - people and the rest of nature - wildlife, habitats etc.
In the light of that, this year’s round of international climate negotiations (COP26) is especially important for us for several reasons:
First, it's a critical opportunity for the world to take stock of global progress in cutting carbon emissions in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Second, for the first time ever, the climate summit will be looking at the contribution nature can make to helping us address climate change - what’s known as ‘Nature based Solutions’. That’s of particular interest to A Rocha UK as a nature conservation organisation.
Thirdly, the summit is in the UK: so there’s a unique opportunity and responsibility for the UK public - including Christians and churches - to call for much more effective government action on climate and nature - on behalf of the whole world.
A Rocha UK partner, Monkton Coombe. Photo credit Regina Ebner
In response to these unique circumstances, we’re sending a small team to Glasgow for COP26. We’ll be focusing our efforts on three aims.
First, to secure governments’ agreement to much bolder greenhouse gas emissions targets and to finally deliver on past promises of aid to help developing countries go green.
Secondly, we’ll be advancing ‘Nature based solutions’ to climate change.
We want governments to agree to stop the destruction of habitats like forests, wetlands, grasslands - which act as ‘carbon sinks’, absorbing greenhouse gases back into the soil - and agree on bold targets for their restoration. A big day for governments decisions on nature will be Saturday 6 November. So do especially pray for that.
Thirdly, we want to encourage you in what you are already doing and help you get ready for what we need to do next, whatever the outcome of COP26.
So we have an A Rocha UK Exhibition at the summit on Monday, 8 November. There we’ll be showcasing what you are already doing through programmes like Eco Church, Wild Christian, Partners in Action.
And each day we’ll update you on progress at COP, and on what you can pray about and do. We’ll do this via our website and by reporting back in the nightly service led by friends in Resound Worship. We are deeply grateful to Resound, who are putting on a tour of the country during COP, playing their wonderful Doxecology album, to help us worship and pray together during this critical fortnight.
You can find details of that on the website too; so do join us for some wonderful musical worship and prayer, and bring a friend, if there is a service within reach of you.
Thank you for what you already do in your home, church and wider community to address the climate and nature crises. Thank you for your support and prayer for A Rocha UK’s work. I and the team will especially value your prayers as we build up to COP26 and engage in it.
It is critical that churches’ action does not end at COP26.
Like so many other sectors of society, if churches accelerate their efforts fast, it could make a critical difference to the UK cutting its carbon emissions steeply by 2030. By joining one of the church greening schemes, such as Eco Church, you can draw on free resources, and mutual support - critical for going further faster.
Now in its sixth year, there are now 4,000 Eco Churches in England and Wales - 10 percent of churches. A Rocha UK, which runs the scheme, is aiming to engage at least 15 percent of churches in on-going action to protect nature by 2025, bringing about a step change in local Churches’ action on the environment.
The Baptist Church has participated in the scheme from the start. There are now more than 200 Baptist churches that have signed up to Eco Church, with one Gold Award winner, High Street Baptist Church in Tring. We are encouraging other Baptist churches who have not yet joined Eco Church to do so; and those that have registered to commit to getting to the next award level - Bronze or Silver say - within a year or so. You can register your church for the scheme here ecochurch.arocha.org.uk.
International negotiations like COP26 can sound very complicated and even abstract. But the effects of climate change are now very tangible. We need to do all we can to put pressure on governments to achieve a strong agreement. This autumn provides a unique opportunity for UK churches to act together on the environment, for maximum collective impact.
Andy Atkins is CEO of Christian nature conservation organisation, A Rocha UK
Top image | A Rocha partner Ashburnham Place |Regina Ebner