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Statement ahead of COP17 in Durban 2011

Ahead of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, 28 November - 10 December 2011 (UNFCCC COP17), the WCC general secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse-Tveit, reiterates the WCC call for climate justice.

23 November 2011

A new UN Conference on Climate Change will take place in Durban in 28 November– 10 December. Though because of the global financial crisis climate change is not on the headlines as it used to be some years ago, we cannot forget the climate change crisis the world is living in which is especially affecting vulnerable communities.

Since the early 70s the WCC has been advocating for building sustainable communities. This has become even more relevant today when it has become imperative to build a low-carbon future. This is a must to improve the living conditions for all through sustainable energy means. Some countries in the North and in the South, in the East and in the West, have already started to develop ambitious programmes in this regard.

Mobilization around climate change has shown that many people are ready and enthusiastic about making the necessary changes.

Through my visits to member churches in different parts of the world I have been able to witness how communities are able to mitigate, adapt and be creative in responding to the climate change challenges. For instance, when I attended the 50th anniversary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, celebrated in September 2011, in Samoa, it became clear that this part of the world is under threat by rising ocean waters that accompany global climate change and churches in the region are already responding to this challenge. Some weeks ago, the WCC member church in Tuvalu expressed the critical situation they are living with the lack of fresh water.

At the international level, it is clear that an international law or laws are needed to effectively tackle climate change. Together with communities’ resilience and individual government actions a fair, ambitious and binding climate regime is needed to guarantee sufficient climate action at scale.

Although many of us were impressed by the churches’ and civil society’s mobilization in Copenhagen at COP15, where I had the opportunity to be present, the Conference failed to adequately respond to the climate challenges. Last year, in COP 16 in Cancun, governments came to an agreement that brought back the possibility of international negotiations on the climate regime. But this was not enough.

Durban might be the last opportunity for the international community to be responsible in addressing climate change.

To do this, Durban must adopt:

  1. A Second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (the only legally binding instrument we have up to now setting clear targets for greenhouse gas emissions).
  2. A clear mandate to conclude negotiations on a legally binding instrument or instruments by 2015. Under the Long term Cooperative Action steps must be made to ensure that a binding legal regime where the UNFCCC principles, especially of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities, future generations, and sustainable developments prevail.
  3. A set of measures to operationalize the Green Climate Fund, realizing the promise of the Cancun Agreements in order that it can become an effective tool for adaptation in the most vulnerable regions.

This time in Durban, religious communities, especially from Africa, have come together in various ways to express that climate change is also a moral and spiritual crisis. We proclaim together: “We have faith. Act now for climate justice”.

Churches and religious communities witness in their congregations how climate change is affecting lives and livelihoods of entire societies as well as the earth created by God. Peoples’ rights are threatened, environments are destroyed, the whole creation is groaning.

The earth and its inhabitants cannot wait any longer. We call WCC member churches, the whole ecumenical movement and other religions to continue praying and speaking out, voicing the cries of the poor and the earth at these crucial times.

I join you in your prayers and as churches, and I affirm together with you: We have faith! It is time for climate justice!