protesters hold signs during a march for climate justice in New York, 2019

In the NDC it is projected in what time different targets will be met—perhaps in 2025, 2030 or 2050. But even if there is not a full picture and some NDCs have been coming in after the end of 2020, it is still painfully clear that what is being pledged by different parties is not in line with what must be achieved to avoid a global average temperature rise by 1.5/2 degree Celsius.

The reports says: “…the estimated reductions… fall far short of what is required, demonstrating the need for Parties to further strengthen their mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

This is not new. We have seen it before. The slowness of acting on mitigations on greenhouse gases is huge. This is probably because the world is still very much relying on a fossil fuel-based economy and on unsustainable production and consumption patterns. To challenge these powers is not easy work. But when we are in an emergency when climate disruption is threatening the Earth, our home, with great social and economic impact on people, there is no excuse for being passive.

Over the last year, we have learned that changes can occur fast. If there is a hopeful lesson learned from the tragic pandemic it is that there is capacity to make big change in a short time. The big threat in a small virus showed that we can transform our societies in a very short time. To meet the climate emergency, we need to act in the same way with even more profound changes.

At the same time, there are warnings about the way to meet an emergent threat—such as COVID-19—that relate to our response to climate change.

It seems that some of the responses to COVID-19 are based on the rich elites’ interests. Lockdowns have been to a larger extent hitting the poor people over the world and favoring rich people. People with uncertain incomes based on physical presence lost their incomes to a greater extent than more affluent people with social security or work that can be done online. For poor people, lockdowns also entailed no medical treatment and, as a result, more sickness and fatalities.

And, on top of that, we see that the vaccines are mostly distributed in rich countries and we also witnessing a “vaccine-grabbing” among rich countries to please domestic political interests. There are some reports that show that about just as many that have died from COVID-19 have died by effects of closing societies. And a large part of those lives lost from the effects of lockdowns happened in poor countries. And the opposite is true in rich or middle-income countries.

Now, what do this have to do with CO2 emissions and climate emergency? A lot, I would say.

We learned that, standing in front of an emergency, the world is able and has resources to swiftly change and find solutions. COVID-19 threatened the economies of the rich world and suddenly there was money to rescue those who were threatened. In a super short time, science could come up with vaccines. No one expected it to happen in such a short time.

This could also be true for fighting climate change. We know what to do; the science is clear and there are financial resources to make a swift transition to safeguard the climate. But the report says that between 2020 and 2030 we will lower emissions with just one percent!

Climate justice is built on our differentiated but shared contributions due to our common but differentiated responsibilities. We cannot have a world where those with financial means and capacity to transform the societies will just look to their own interests. There will be no real transformation.

The hopeful lesson learned is that there are possibilities to transform our world in a very short time span. There are financial resources for a transformation and there is a readiness to change habits and lifestyles if there is a true awareness of what is at stake.

As a start, we need to go to every parliament of the world and urge them to come with higher ambitions in revised NDCs and to bring the financial means for adaptation and for loss and damages for those most affected. This can only be done if we as humanity understand the existential threat we are facing and, with a spiritual narrative taken from all faith traditions, be moved to transform the world.

About the author :

Rev. Henrik Grape is officer for sustainable development in the Church of Sweden, and coordinator of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change.
He also blogs in Swedish at


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.