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The Right to Hope, COP 21

Advent message from the General Secretary, Rev.Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at COP 21 in Paris, France.

28 November 2015

Advent message on the eve of the climate talks in Paris

We do have new signs of hope on the eve of COP 21 in Paris. We are in this city, recently so brutally attacked by terrorists, where the nation is mourning the lives of innocent people. Still, we are gathered here to see signs of hope in the coming days. A day before the leaders of the nations of the world gather here to discuss what to do to save the future of our one and only common world, there are perspectives of hope to be shared by them and by us who stand alongside representing the peoples of the world. Those who come here hold the potential to make efforts and decisions these days that will prepare a better world. A “green shift” is now more possible than ever. That means that the moral discourse can claim greater focus on how climate justice between generations can be a reality. It is time to do the right things.

At the end of 2015, have we come to a tipping point in the work towards climate justice when we can develop a new narrative? Has the time come to say that there are signs of hope that can and must be reinforced by a new political and economic trajectory? And if so, what then is the parallel narrative of moral behaviour and change?

Sharing hope is not only a matter of mutual psychological and spiritual encouragement. To nurture hope is a fundamental ethical principle in any human relation. It is not a matter of being purely optimistic, or even unrealistic or ignoring risks and problems. It is rather a matter of identifying those realities that are authentic signs of hope. To fail in sustaining one another’s hope in any way, or even to destroy the hope of the other, is to take the meaning out of their work or lives. Who has the right to do that?

In every meeting of leadership or governance I lead in the World Council of Churches, I begin the agenda with “sharing of signs of hope”. We need the signs that cultivate our hope that something is transforming towards what is better, signs that our joint efforts are yielding fruits that are benefiting those who should be helped towards justice and peace through our work. Particularly if we have reasons to be dissatisfied or even pessimistic about the progress of our initiatives and work, we need to share signs of hope.

When I was invited to address the Human Right Council in Geneva this year, in a session discussing the relationships between Human Rights and Climate Change from a perspective of “Faith Based Organizations”, I claimed that all human beings have a right to hope. Faith in God, who desires fullness of life for all of humanity, is a way to relate to the world as it is with the conviction and the commitment that something more and better is possible than what we immediately can observe. This is one contribution to hope. The human rights to have basic needs met - food, clean water and air, health services and more - are limited or violated by climate change already for many people in the world. Who has the right to take away the hope of a future where the next generations can enjoy life in its abundance on this planet?

Moral perspectives in public debate are often framed in terms of what has gone wrong, who ought to be held responsible, defining the bad or even evil acts to be condemned, pointing out the injustices in places of power and certain structures, and identifying the catalysts of violence and conflicts. However, moral perspectives in public debate can and should do more by pointing to what is good, naming the better alternatives, and showing what responsible and sustainable actions are possible.

Some days ago I read a well-informed analysis of the recent developments towards de-carbonization of energy in the realms of politics, business and finance. The most interesting point for me is to note how quickly the changes are coming, the “green shift” actually becoming a reality. Due to several initiatives and a fall in markets for many reasons, increasingly investments are being pulled out of coal mining and in some cases from the oil and gas industry, at least from the most costly projects. Many larger companies understand this development and are making decisions towards ending the use of fossil energy in the next 5 to 15 years, a great shift from the previously projected 30-40 years. The demand and market for renewable energy is growing rapidly. The cost of solar energy is decreasing at a rate much faster than expected. The possibilities to develop local renewable energy production are emerging everywhere. The potential to develop new technologies for energy production, and with them new approaches for transport and production are enormous. The willingness from the business and finance sector to invest in these developments is growing fast. In Norwegian we say: the snowball is rolling, faster every day. Indeed, the momentum towards change has come, and it might be stronger than we understand.

The changes towards drastic reductions in green house gas emissions might come even more quickly and to a wider extent than expected. Are there indications that it is possible to go faster and far beyond the pledges the countries bring with them to Paris? I do see, at least, that not deciding on a ceiling for emissions to which countries share their part at this stage offers some potential. It is possible, maybe even likely, that the reductions of emissions can be even stronger and come more quickly than such a ceiling would promote.

The most important aspiration in this meeting in Paris is perhaps the willingness to have binding and transparent monitoring systems to ensure that the pledges are observed and that the new incentives towards de-carbonization are immediately followed up by legislation and political initiatives. The levels of emissions must also be reduced even more than these pledges are indicating. Why not hope for a healthy competition here in Paris between the countries towards leading the new markets of renewable energy and low energy transport and productions?

We have reasons to believe that these signs of passing the tipping point towards de-carbonization are real signs of hope. What is then the contribution from civil society representatives in this picture? First of all, a reinforcement of the call for collaboration between all actors: politicians, the leaders of the finance and business sectors, the civil society movements, the religious communities, the education systems, the local communities, the individuals. We need to collaborate now to make this green shift a time of enormous momentum, to make it happen fast enough and even faster than the prognosis of a global increase of 2 degrees demands of us. The churches in the Pacific reminded us some weeks ago that even 1,5 degree increase is critical for their (and many others’) future existence. To achieve this goal there must be no reluctance by political leaders to acknowledge that now is the time to make the changes.

It is time for those who shape the moral discourse about sustainable values for the globe and the one humanity to point much more to the possibilities existing presently to do what is right, what has possibility for today and tomorrow, what serves the future of our planet. Furthermore, the moral discourse has to be focused on how to make decisions about the climate grounded in the principles of justice. This is not the time to make the rich countries more sustainable and the poor and undeveloped countries and communities burdened with the problems and the solutions of the past. That is dangerous for the whole world, not only for the most vulnerable. It is time to develop further the fundamental premises of climate justice both in a north-south perspective, but also in an inter-generational perspective. Additionally, there is need for constant re-evaluation according to changing realities of access to cheap renewable energy, and according to the momentum of a green shift that is now coming. To actualize the new future that is possible, the international agreements must provide incentives to investment in poor countries, or in countries that have enormous needs of energy due to the size of their population.

It is time to discern the signs of hope. It is time to share the signs of hope. It is time to create the signs of hope. Together. We can. Are we willing? That is the moral challenge before COP 21, Paris, 2015. Are the leaders of the world willing to give the world this historical sign of hope together?


Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

WCC General Secretary