Climate Change as a Matter of Faith and Justice

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Charity Spotlight: This blog post is part of our charity spotlight series and was provided by Karri Munn-Venn, Senior Policy Analyst at Citizens for Public Justice as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.

I recently heard the story – as told by the Anglican National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald – of a Lakota elder, who, upon hearing a proposal to develop a list of “green” scripture passages, replied, “But isn’t the whole Bible about caring for creation?”

This perspective, one that sees environmentalism at the heart of Christian action, is deeply held by our work at Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ).

A national organization of members inspired by faith to act for justice in Canadian public policy, CPJ has worked for over 50 years, to offer a progressive Christian voice in the public square.

We meet with Members of Parliament to share ideas about how energy workers and the environment can both benefit from a well-managed transition away from oil and gas. We have conversations with “people in the pews” about how they can engage politically as part of their Christian practice. And, we carefully explore the social, economic, and environmental landscapes, and develop policy proposals that reflect God’s call for love, justice, and the flourishing of creation.

What’s most interesting though is where these activities overlap. Every conversation, every presentation, and every campaign is currently focused on Canada’s efforts to meet the Paris climate agreement.

Right now, Canada’s actions won’t be enough.

Climate change is complex. Still, there are a few fundamental truths.

For starters, Canada’s climate target is incompatible with the Paris Agreement. The House of Commons ratified the Paris Agreement in October 2016. It aims to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.” The goal is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels,”[1] aspiring to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

Canada’s established target, however, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Scientist agree that this target is consistent with a global temperature rise of at least 3°C, which is 1°C higher than the goal outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Secondly, we can’t let emissions continue to rise. The Paris Agreement commits signatories to “reach peak levels of GHG emissions” – that is, the highest ever level of emissions, after which they will decline.

Alberta has set an absolute cap of 100 megatonnes (Mt) a year on emissions from the oil sands sector. The move has been hailed by both Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Notley as a critical piece of Canada’s efforts to address climate change. What they fail to mention, however, is that under this cap, oil sands emissions are allowed to rise by 30 Mt per year over 2014 levels.

Capping emissions is a good thing. But setting the cap so far above actual emissions runs counter to Canada’s international pledge to peak emissions soon.

Finally, building pipelines without consent is an assault on Indigenous rights. There are two contradictory messages coming out of Ottawa these days. The first is that the federal government is committed to reconciliation. They claim that they’ll uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and establish “nation-to-nation relationships” with First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Article 32 of the declaration says that “states shall … obtain free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting [Indigenous] lands or territories and other resources.”

The second is that Canada’s climate framework is only moving ahead on condition of pipeline approvals. This includes Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain, which has been actively opposed by local Indigenous communities.

This contradiction certainly impedes Canada’s climate efforts. What’s more, many now question whether the government is a trustworthy a partner to first peoples.

So is the whole Bible about caring for creation?

Yes, we think it is.

Throughout scripture we read of repentance, community, and loving compassion: from the Genesis call “to work and take care of [the Earth],” through to the Psalmist’s celebration of “God’s handiwork” and the rejoicing too of the trees, to the prophets’ devastation at the destruction of the land, and the New Testament message of renewal and life eternal.

For many Christians, climate change reaches to the core of who we are and how we are to live in God’s world. At CPJ, our profound concern about the quality of Canadian climate policy flows from our understanding that we have a responsibility protect the Earth and all of creation.

To learn more about Citizens for Public Justice, or to make a donation, visit their Charity Profile Page.

[1] Limiting an increase in average global surface temperature to less than 2°C since industrialization would maintain a window of “safe operating space” for humanity. Beyond this range we risk triggering abrupt and irreversible changes in physical or ecosystems like strong sea level rise and the collapse of marine ecosystems.

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