Episcopal delegation to COP23 encouraged by talk of taking action on climate change

By David Paulsen
Posted Nov 21, 2017
Episcopal booth in Bonn

Episcopalians representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry welcome visitors to their booth in the public zone of the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany. Photo courtesy of Marc Andrus

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians have returned home after spending two weeks in Bonn, Germany, representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and contributing voices of faith in support of environmental stewardship during the U.N. climate change summit held there.

The Nov. 6-17 conference, officially known as the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP23, was an annual intergovernmental meeting to focus on global dialogue and action. The Episcopal Church, granted observer status, sent about a dozen Episcopalians to continue the church’s advocacy that began at the previous two conferences.

“The Episcopal Church, through the presiding bishop’s delegation, is taking a very strong presence in the life of these climate summits,” Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus told Episcopal News Service after returning from COP23. “We’re making strong networks in the faith communities.”

Andrus and his wife, Sheila Andrus, spent the full two weeks in Bonn, while two groups of Episcopalians alternated in participating in the first week and then the second week. They led daily worship services, maintained a booth with information on the church’s environmental advocacy and, on a more limited basis, were able as observers to enter the U.N. zone where the intergovernmental negotiations were occurring.

Andrus in Bonn for COP23

Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus helps lead an opening chant at an interfaith prayer service in Bonn, Germany, before delivering a statement titled “Walk Gently on the Earth” to the COP23 leadership. Photo courtesy of Marc Andrus

“I’m very, very grateful to Presiding Bishop [Michael] Curry for trusting us, this delegation, with this work that I consider so vital, and it’s a great honor to serve,” Andrus said. “Our church is responding in an important and beautiful way.”

The Episcopal Church has made environmental justice one of its three priorities, in addition to racial reconciliation and evangelism, and General Convention has passed numerous resolutions on the issue, whether supporting federal climate action or pledging to mitigating the church’s own impact on the environment. A 2015 resolution created the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation to support “ecologically responsible stewardship of church-related properties and buildings.”

Through its Office of Governmental Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network, the church has advocated for government policies in line with General Convention stances on climate change, and the House of Bishops made environmental justice one of the themes of its September meeting in Alaska.

An Episcopal group was in Paris, France, in December 2015 to make a spiritual case for climate action during COP21. At that conference, member countries, including the United States, reached a landmark agreement to set voluntary goals aimed at keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists think would be necessary to prevent a spiraling catastrophe of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and related weather extremes.

The COP23 summit was intended to build on the Paris agreement, but the agreement’s effectiveness was thrown into doubt this year when President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the accord rather than hold the U.S. to its pledge to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“We remain open to the possibility of rejoining at a later date under terms more favorable to the American people,” U.S. diplomat Judith Garber said last week at COP23.

The Trump administration’s noncommittal stance loomed over COP23, where negotiators began drafting the rules for how the member countries will be expected to report their emissions reductions. Final approval of that framework could come when the next U.N. conference is held in Poland.

“If the United States does not keep its commitment, that’s a very poor predictor of the success of the Paris agreement,” Andrus said.

He and the rest of the Episcopal delegation were encouraged by the presence in Bonn of what has been called the “We’re Still In” movement. While the Trump administration participated in the U.N.’s intergovernmental negotiations, an alternate, unofficial American delegation in Bonn included U.S. lawmakers and leaders of states and cities, as well as business and faith leaders. They vowed to live up to the United States’ Paris agreement commitments – thus the label “We’re Still In” – even if the federal government won’t.

“The end result of this COP23 is being seen as a rather positive and fruitful outcome, all things considered,” Lynnaia Main, the Episcopal Church’s representative to the U.N., said in an email to ENS after attending part of the conference. “Member states demonstrated unparalleled commitment to the Paris agreement, although there is an urgent need to increase their level of ambition.”

The plight of various Pacific island nations was a recurring theme at COP23, due to the direct effect that rising ocean levels will have on their ability to survive. Main said the prime minister of Tuvalu had warned that his country would be submerged by 2030 if nothing is done to limit or reverse climate change.

Those low-lying countries’ request for an increase in financial assistance, however, was not approved, Andrus said. The result could be dire.

“They are losing their lives. Samoa, for instance, has been inhabited for about 3,000 years, and this is their home and it’s deeply threatened by rising water levels,” he said. “This is not distant future or even near future. This is happening.”

What could a small group of Episcopalians hope to contribute in a place like Bonn? At COP23, Andrus said the church and other faith communities were welcomed by participants and visitors who were eager to ground their activism in shared values.

People of faith are climate activists, Andrus said. “Our spiritual values are the basis from which we act.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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Comments (5)

  1. Mary Barrett says:

    I have read through the resolutions. Does the Church read the current news of how even Germany cannot meet its goals because of coal? Your resolutions may make some Episcopalians feel better, but it really dismays me. A proposal put forward in 2015 called for skipping ALL fossil fuels and just move to renewables. Wow, you need some knowledge about energy amounts used and future projections. Read the non-partisan Energy Information agency website for statistics. Pray that we can even get this world to move away from coal by natural gas usage on way to a renewable usage that we do not even have the technology for yet. Gosh, God gave us brains to study data to create a better future. Really, as a scientist and a fairly new Episcopalian. I was stunned at such work.

  2. David Paulsen says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mary, but could you clarify what dismays you about the Episcopal Church’s resolutions? It sounds like they are generally in line with what you are suggesting is necessary.

  3. Mary Barrett says:

    2009-DO31 called for U.S. to lower atmospheric carbon as CO2 by 25 % by 2020. Someone find any scientific study from that timeframe showing how that was possible without hard economic impacts to all classes of society.

    2009-CO12 urges scientific integrity in environmental policy.

    2009-CO70 concerning the church’s facilities: made public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 % within 10 years. Did anyone have a plan for such an impossible goal for almost every facility?

    2012-BO23 Read this, as it is long and I will only capture what I read. It resolves to work for the just transformation away from all fossil fuels, then lumps them all together “including all forms of oil, coal, and natural gas.” It is this vast statement that lumps all fossil fuels together, yet environmental impacts vary tremendously. And then we are to resist the development of what is termed “unconventional” and probably natural gas is in there for writers of this. Well, I wish Germany had the natural gas resources to fully substitute for coal.

    Of course the resolutions had draft histories which get at author’s intents, and that is useful.

    I know people work hard and mean for good, but it reads as easy words with a lot of duality, the evil fossil fuels and the companies pushing them.

    This administration is a wash for finding the middle ground. But an article came out the other day in an engineering magazine about 4 major oil companies still pursuing plans to decrease methane leakage in facilities. But not all, Chevron was notably absent. So who talks to them, embarrassing them for not keeping up with their peers? Regulations will never be enough and actually failed miserably in the history of oilfield wastes.

  4. Mary Barrett says:

    Today’s New York Times had a review of another great book by Jeff Goodell entitled “The Water Will Come.” I so agree with one of his points that we are doing very little to prepare for what we know is going to happen, continued rising sea levels. Meanwhile, we bog down and burn out as we attack the Other on issues of controlling climate change. In my own way, that is what I try to do, be fully integrated in ways to add to the funds that have to go to coastal Louisiana to modify what we can in the next 25 years.

  5. Mary Barrett says:

    Is it possible to be part of the Divine Dance when the climate-change reality brings up a lot of raw emotions in working for a better future? Since climate change has moved into the world of litigation, oil industry responses are driven to a large extent by sophisticated law firms. Even the way that some sign on to a public declaration of reducing natural-gas leakage vs those that do not, is driven by different attorney teams. Chevron and Ecuador has seared into their legal culture how to respond to charges about oilfield waste impacts that will lead to litigation (and do not judge that case and people until fully studying both sides). So consider the patterns of what major defense firms do, and use that. The “Ropel Proposal” related to the tobacco industry laid out a familiar strategy when trying to control “negative” outcomes to a particular industry: “litigation, politics and public opinion” (thank you Robert Proctor).
    This is reality, and if I (or you) burn out in righteous indignation or poor action choices based on my ego-driven duality, I will not accomplish the things that I believe God has willed for me (or you or the Church). I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is present and knows the way through this. May we listen.

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