Released on 20 March, the synthesis of the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) serves as both an urgent plea – and roadmap  – for action. This decade is crucial. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all,” the report underlines. “Rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems are necessary.” Moreover, our choices and actions (or inaction) in the next few years “will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”

From the IPCC’s latest report, we take three further messages.

The climate emergency demands integrated and coordinated efforts. The report clearly shows that climate change is not merely an environmental phenomenon but one with profound implications on economies, societies, and the health and livelihoods of people especially those living in poverty. This means that our response to the climate emergency must take an integrated and coordinated approach, understanding that mitigation and adaptation efforts are two sides of the same coin, comprehending the necessity of institutional, economic and social transformation, and recognizing the need for global collaboration to unite and amplify our efforts.  Indeed, our Christian faith teaches us that every part of creation is interconnected: if one part suffers, all parts suffer with it (1 Corinthians 12:26). Such an understanding calls for holistic and concerted actions that include all dimensions of human life, including faith. 

Equity is the path to sustainability. The report reveals that the way forward is a climate- resilient development that integrates actions to curb emissions with measures to adapt to climate change in ways that enhance people’s health and livelihoods while at the same time reducing hunger, poverty, and inequality and delivering clean energy, water, and air for all.  In a world where 10% of the wealthiest households contributed up to 45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, “we need to share both benefits and burdens of creating a climate resilient future” and “recogni(ze) that some can do more than others.” This will also help to build the trust that is needed among people of the world to be able to act rapidly. 

As a community of churches called to stand for the vulnerable and “least among us,” we must continue to hold to account wealthy nations, corporations, and segments of society who have benefited most from fossil fuel-driven growth. In line with Luke 12:48, those who have generated more pollution (historically and absolutely) and possess more resources have the greater responsibility for radically reducing emissions as well as for sharing technology and providing timely and sufficient finance for adaptation and loss and damage.

Climate solutions exist; political commitment is needed. The report emphasizes that the Paris goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius is still within reach if emissions are halved within the next seven years. It brings together a range of tried and tested policy options to help achieve deep cuts in emissions and build climate resilient communities. For instance, halting investments in so-called “carbon bombs” and redirecting finance towards agro-ecology and clean and renewable energy systems would contribute towards achieving global climate goals. Solutions are available. What is missing is political will.

But political will is not enough. Political will has to be joined with the moral courage to say “enough” to the greed that undergirds continued fossil fuel exploitation and consumption. The pursuit of short-term financial gains through aggressive land use and wanton resource extraction has wrought immeasurable costs to life and all creation and will impose a heavy  burden on our children for millennia, imperiling their very future. As Christians we believe that life-in-creation is a sacred gift from God. In response to the latest IPCC report, we must choose life over profit (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay
World Council of Churches general secretary