World Council of Churches
Uppsala, Sweden
2-8 November 2018
Doc. No. 03.2


Statement on COP 24 and Just Transition to Sustainable Economy

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Climate change is altering the Earth more rapidly than previously predicted. The latest research published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals that global warming is likely to cross the 1.5°C threshold already between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

The IPCC report indicates that a half-degree rise from 1.5°C to 2°C – the upper ceiling governments agreed to in Paris in 2015 – will likely cause an extra 10 cm rise in sea levels and heighten the risk of glacial melt and multi-metre sea-level rise, inundating small low-lying islands and coastal cities. Risks of widespread hunger, massive displacement, conflicts and species extinction will be amplified. Those people and communities living in situations of poverty, deprivation and disadvantage are already feeling and will continue to bear the brunt of climate change.

While the world is finally beginning to act to address climate change and also to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, the challenge is one of scale and speed. Current government commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris Agreement are vastly insufficient to limit warming to the more ambitious target of 1.5°C. Several studies have indicated that none of the major industrialized nations are meeting their pledged emission reduction targets, and that even if they had, the sum of all member pledges would not keep global temperature rise "well below 2°C". According to UNEP estimates in late 2016, emission reduction targets would result in temperature rise of 3°C above preindustrial levels, far above the 2°C upper limit of the Paris Agreement. Since the time of those estimates, the outlook has unfortunately deteriorated, in light of the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The latest IPCC report stresses that only with “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in the world economy, on a scale and at a rate without historical precedent, can the 1.5°C limit be achieved. This entails “more planning, coordination and disruptive innovation across actors and scales of governance than the spontaneous or coincidental changes observed in the past”. It is estimated that the necessary economic and social transformations must take place within a rapidly disappearing window of opportunity, perhaps within as little as a decade, if we are to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change.

In facing this existential challenge, hope lies in realising that sustainability and justice are two sides of the same coin. Carbon-neutral and climate-resilient development pathways have the potential to meet the key goals of sustainable development, including the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequalities.

Signs of such hope are to be found in the actions of some governments (national and especially sub-national), businesses and investors, as well as the determined and passionate commitment of churches and civil society networks for climate justice. We lift up, among other signs of hope, the ecumenical pilgrimage from Bonn to Katowice which is currently underway, the international ecological symposium, “Toward a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People” organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in June 2018, and the international conference on the 3rd anniversary of Laudato Si’: “Saving Our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth” organized by the Vatican Dicastery on Promoting Integral Human Development in July 2018.

All these initiatives, discussions and reflections underscore the message that today the world stands in front of a great transition.  If we are to build a future of wellbeing for coming generations, the profound understanding of being one humanity on one Earth created by a loving and faithful God so that “they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), must be internalised at all levels of society, from individuals to the global community. The biblical teaching, “the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1), must be reaffirmed in this time of climate change.

Meeting in Uppsala, Sweden, on 2-8 November 2018, the WCC Executive Committee:

Stresses that there is no more time to waste in short-term self-interestedness. Urgent adaptation and mitigation measures, transformation of economic systems, deep behavioural change, and supportive national and global policies and institutional arrangements are needed now to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change. Amidst all these shifts, our Christian faith calls us to ensure that “the least among us” are not made to pay the price for a global ecological problem to which they contributed the least.

Commends all those engaged in the ecumenical pilgrimage from Bonn to Katowice, and urges the 24th Conference of Parties (COP 24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Katowice, Poland, 2-15 December 2018, to deliver the Paris Rulebook based on climate justice principles and to work towards a just transition to sustainable economy now, entailing:

  • Increasing nationally determined contributions to ensure global warming does not exceed the safer limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels;
  • Ensuring the transfer of adequate technological and financial resources to poor, vulnerable countries for mitigation, adaptation and resilience-building (amounting to USD 100 billion per year from 2020 as pledged at COP 15 in Copenhagen); and
  • Delivering   concrete   action   on   loss   and   damage   by   further   developing the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

Appeals to WCC member churches and ecumenical partners urgently to intensify their advocacy and action for climate justice and transition to sustainable economy in local, national and international arenas, as well as to promote the necessary lifestyle changes including by:

  • Fostering a spirituality of transformation – a spirituality of “enough” – through thoughtful theological education, the development of new liturgical resources, pilgrimages, prayers and fasting for climate justice together with ecumenical and interfaith partners and in solidarity with the victims of climate change;
  • Divesting from fossil fuels and undertaking faith-consistent impact investments in renewable energies, agro-ecology, reforestation, and other activities that add to ecological health and community wellbeing; and
  • Opening up spaces to discuss and contribute to the Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice, the interfaith Living the Change campaign, Interfaith Rainforest Initiative and other similar initiatives.