Before leaving home for the COP17 climate talks, my climate advisor, environmental journalist Alanna Mitchell declared, “It will be like going into the epicentre of an earthquake before it happens, knowing that you might be able to do something to prevent it.”
These words haunt me. Every day there is growing evidence – in science and story – that Alanna is right about the looming ‘earthquake’ known as the inevitable effects of global warming. Climate change has already taken countless lives and is now threatening millions more in Africa and Asia, not to mention those of sinking island states and others.
Thousands of Africans with whom I marched on Saturday have already seen lives lost. It seems that the world, including Christians, can be as generous as possible when we give aid in response to the devastation from an earthquake, but unless we help prevent the catastrophe that’s brewing on this continent, there is no way we’ll be able to meet the needs or prevent unimaginable suffering and death. Even our own capacity will increasingly be affected by the impact of climate change on our own economy.
As African countries said in a news conference in Durban today, “Africa will be hit first and hardest by global climate change according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The continent has contributed the least to climate change, and is among the least equipped to adapt to its adverse effects. More than one billion people in Africa and millions of others living on small islands, least developed and other vulnerable countries will bear the potentially catastrophic effects of land loss, food and water shortage, crop reduction and flooding.”
Shawn McCarthy offers a related analysis in the Globe and Mail of the reasons why Africa is angry at Canada.: www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/african-countries-press-developed-world-to-come-to-climate-deal/article2259029/
Africans have always known Canadians to be compassionate, well educated, globally minded planetary citizens and friends, but they have begun to wonder about us. Bewilderment – and growing despair – over Canada’s seeming lack of commitment to the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol are particularly upsetting to them. They understand Canada’s position that other developing nations also need to reduce emissions. But their worst fear is that Canada will ultimately betray them and contribute to a result that is weaker rather than stronger.
Before I was born Canada turned away boat loads of war refugees whose lives were clearly at risk, something that Canadians are still deeply ashamed of. During my life time I have not seen my nation undertake such a betrayal of humanity – and I pray that it won’t happen this week. Most observers say that these talks are our last hope to avoid disaster, our last chance to help prevent an off-the-scales climate change earthquake that will affect billions.
The President of COP17, Her Excellency Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane asked the South African Council of Churches to arrange a special prayer service for the talks yesterday. She asked for prayers to help her get all governments to prevent a 2C degree rise in temperatures, building on the Kyoto Protocol. She also said that clear progress is being made in creating institutions that will help nations adapt to the worst of climate change. In other words, she asked us to pray for both the prevention of the earthquake and for help for those who are already suffering as a result of early tremors.
I don’t recall Jesus turning anyone away. May we turn no one away.