A Christmas reflection on climate change

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:1-3)

Amongst those who “came into being” are the familiar faces of the Christmas story. They faithfully lived the life they were given. There is significance in this for us, in our being here now. The life they were given was very different from the life they had probably planned.

Joseph, after he learned Mary was pregnant. No quiet life for him thereafter, as a carpenter in Nazareth.

In Madrid early for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25), I sat for an hour in the Prado Gallery just looking at Fra Angelico’s painting of Mary’s Annunciation.

The shepherds, the Magi too. 

Elaborating, in the context of climate change, what is the life we are now given?

First, the story. On the Friday of St Nicholas of Myra Feast, 6 December, starting outside the Prado in beautiful evening light, thousands rallied to encourage good outcomes at COP25. The mood was buoyant and resolved.

The resolution I carried to Madrid was symbolised by a photo on my heart of our three grandchildren under five.

My barely contained angst towards some political leaders is focused thus: “You want to continue doing exactly what you know is causing global temperatures to rise, endangering many lives and destroying many species, FOR WHAT?”

There were many banners at the march. I carried from Genesis: “God saw everything that God had made and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis1:31).


“Creation-Not for Sale.” 
“Climate Justice is Intergenerational Justice.”
“Don’t wait until it is too late.”
“Get finance out of fossil fuels and into renewables.”
“Denial is suicide.”
“We can’t drink money.”

You do not need many words to make the point about this climate emergency and why, in the motto of COP 25, this is the “Time for Action” - a motto now mocked by the minimal outcomes from COP 25.

So, with this in mind, a reflection on two critical questions, as we gather for Christmas, 2019 years since the birth of Jesus.

First, in the context of climate change what does “living the life we are now given,” mean for personal lifestyle? Second, what does all this mean for our advocacy in 2020?

We can all contribute to a dynamic movement towards us being a human family which is a more benign and loving presence on this planet. Suggestions include: a more plant-based diet; ramping up renewables; capping our flying; choosing non-carbon-based modes of transport like electric cars; changing consumption habits (during the latest Black Friday, ‘Fair Trade UK’ shut all their shops for the day); and attending to modes of building, heating and air conditioning.

A person from GreenFaith told me she once named her daughter “Hope” because she wanted her to be ever hopeful. She said: “Now I would call her ‘Courage’ because that is what is needed if we are to make the lifestyle changes in this life we are now given.”

A German scientist gave a riveting presentation on various delusional, so called “geo-engineering” solutions to climate change. At best, these ideas are decades away from implementation. That will be too late. Moreover, a number of them may have unacceptable downside, both ethical and pragmatic.

We cannot allow any distraction from the nature-based solutions which we know will prevent a continuing rise in global temperatures.

At some stage, in the more leisurely days of the Christmas season, perhaps with loved ones, a discussion and review of our “lifestyle” amidst climate change, may be possible for those of us in “the lucky country.”

Perhaps such discussions might lead to some robust New Year resolutions.

We will not last unless serious changes are made very quickly. Specifically, carbon consumption and emissions must be reduced if we are to keep global warming to within 1.5% above pre-industrial levels.

The framework for achieving this is present in the Paris Agreement.

Scaled up “Nationally Determined Contributions” are due by August 2020, before COP26 in Glasgow, next November. These are to be contributions, which in the principle of ‘subsidiarity,’ nations volunteer freely for the common good.

It is a consensus model, based on mutually trusting that each nation will do their best. It assumes nature-based solutions, such as a shift away from coal to renewable energy sources.

The fact is that our world is doomed unless big emitters step up their Nationally Determined Contributions and bring them to COP26, as required by the Paris Agreement. Every nation must do the best it can.

Instead of Australia being viewed as “selfish,” as I heard repeatedly at COP25, after a National Summit, perhaps jointly convened by our prime minister and the leader of the opposition, Australia can offer a generous and uplifting Nationally Determined Contribution to COP26, whilst still taking account of domestic realities.

Advocating for such a National Summit seems a good idea. It would also include, as an aspect of being good neighbours, attention to how we can better assist those such as Pacific nations who are already suffering “loss and damage” from climate change: people displaced by rising sea levels, and the aftermaths of more extreme and more frequent weather events, like cyclones.

Joseph, Mary and all involved in the nativity, responded faithfully to the life they were given. It was very different to what they may have planned. But they knew God was with them - Emmanuel - in that humble scene of Jesus’s birth.

Likewise, as promised, in love for the whole of creation, God is with us now as we make this crucial journey.

It is a story for another day, of how I experienced God’s accompanying on the way to and through COP25. What I am left with is this high sense of both opportunity and responsibility, as I offer this Christmas reflection.

About the author :

Bishop Philip Huggins is president of the National Council of Churches in Australia and director of the Centre for Ecumenical Studies at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. He went to COP25 as part of the World Council of Churches delegation. Though many years in ordained ministry and the last 25 years as an Anglican bishop, in times past he taught and worked as an economist.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.