After Paris deal, a time of ‘crisis and opportunity’

An art installation of 11,000 pairs of shoes at the Place de la Republique substitute for an actual march, which was banned by French authorities in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris. It included a pair of black Oxfords from Pope Francis. Photo: Sean Hawkey
An art installation of 11,000 pairs of shoes at the Place de la Republique substitute for an actual march, which was banned by French authorities in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris. It included a pair of black Oxfords from Pope Francis. Photo: Sean Hawkey
Published December 16, 2015

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In the wake of the climate change agreement reached in Paris December 12, Anglican and ecumenical leaders in Canada say they’re looking to the future with new hope—as well as concern that the deal will be translated into action.

While in England to meet Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, took a train to Paris to take part in a special climate change-themed ecumenical service. The occasion gave him the chance to talk with people involved in the Paris conference, he said, and hope was a big theme of these discussions.

“What we were hearing from people who were around the conference…was that there was a spirit of hopefulness—that the leaders had arrived not prepared to argue over whether we had a crisis at hand, but how we’re going to deal with that crisis,” he said.

Indeed, now is undeniably the time to deal with climate change, Hiltz said.

“Those who say, ‘You know, we don’t really need to be talking about climate change,’—they need to open their eyes,” he said, pointing to the impact of climate change on the Arctic, where scientists and residents report that warming is threatening animal species and leading to the disappearance of traditional ways of life for many people.

However, he added, “It’s not going to be easy to implement the agreement—that’s the other thing I hear.”

In Paris on behalf of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) was Joy Kennedy, chair of the CCC’s commission on justice and peace.

“After many years of attending [climate conferences] that resulted in empty promises, dashed hopes and seemingly unanswered prayers, I am greatly encouraged that we finally have an international consensus to move strongly and purposefully on climate change,” Kennedy said.

Among other things, the deal commits countries to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to the point where the increase in the world’s average temperature since the start of the Industrial Revolution will be held to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, and to “pursue efforts” limiting that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Canada, Kennedy said, played a “very constructive” role in the negotiations; Canadian diplomatic work, she said, resulted in the emphasis on the 1.5-degree Celsius limit and the inclusion of a clause protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, among other things.

The Rev. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the CCC, said the level of international consensus shown in Paris was “hopeful beyond hopeful,” but added that how we all now act on the deal is “where our faithfulness and witness has to show itself.”

Members of faith groups, she said, must now play a major role in ensuring the Paris agreement has a lasting effect.

“We live in a world that sometimes errs on the side of the quick fix. What was decided in Paris, what needs to be done going forward, is not in the ‘quick fix’ category. How are we in local communities, local parishes, going to go forward with the long-term solutions?”

Moreover, the agreement is not legally binding, said Henriette Thompson, director, public witness for social and ecological justice at the Anglican Church of Canada, and among some activist groups there is “a sense…that the conference fell short, that it won’t translate into the will that is needed by both governments as well as private sector and civil society.”

In each country, the onus may be on people and organizations to keep up the pressure to make sure their leaders stay on track, Thompson said. It may also require some personal sacrifices, and one important role for the church in the time to come, she said, will be to allay people’s anxiety, “especially as members of our own church in Canada will be suffering directly the economic impact in the form of the loss of jobs” that is likely to follow in this country’s energy sector.

“I think it’s a time of both crisis and opportunity,” Thompson said. “It’s not going to be an easy shift. People do naturally want to look after their own communities and families first, but I think we will have to have a much more expansive outlook.”

The days since the deal was struck have seen some energy stocks fall—especially those of a number of coal companies. Shares in many renewable energy companies have risen, however.

Already climate change is causing far too much suffering, Thompson said, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. She pointed to a Globe and Mail article this week highlighting a drought in Africa, apparently linked to human-caused climate change. The drought now has more than 10 million people in Ethiopia alone in need of humanitarian aid, according to the article—and the situation is forecast by the World Health Organization to continue to worsen in the next eight months.

“We can’t live like that,” Thompson said. “It’s untenable, it’s unconscionable. The church in Canada and all Canadians need to do everything in their power to address this suffering.”

The times now call every Christian, Hiltz said, to be an environmentalist.

“We’ve got a couple of bishops in our church that are known as eco-bishops,” he said. “In my opinion, every bishop has to be an eco-bishop. Every church leader has to be an eco-person. Every baptized Christian in the Anglican tradition now needs to be a person that cares about the environment and is doing their bit…However small or however great that is, we are called to do this.”

Hiltz said he had recently been reading the writings of a young scholar from Africa who speaks of the Earth itself as a kind of sacrament.

“I love it. I just love that image—the Earth itself as sacrament of the glory of God,” he said. “And just as we reverence every other sacrament in the life of the church, there is a real invitation and challenge for us to reverence this Earth, this mystery of the glory of God at work.”

The current climate crisis, Hiltz added, now gives Christians a unique opportunity to collaborate with people from other religions.

“Our care for the Earth—that call is not exclusive to Christian witness,” he said. “It is, in fact, a huge opportunity, I think, for us to join hands with people of all kinds of faith traditions who care as much about the Earth as we do.”

At least one Canadian faith organization was at work doing just that while the Paris conference was still underway. Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a faith-based advocacy group, organized a cross-Canada “prayer chain” that ran the duration of the conference. Some 300 individuals and small groups took part in the event, including numerous Anglicans (Hiltz among them) and at least one Muslim and one Unitarian, said Karri Munn-Venn, senior policy analyst at the CPJ.

“I think we’ve created—I’ve certainly felt—a sense of community across the country, across denominations and even in some instances across faiths,” Munn-Venn said. “It wasn’t limited to the same people we see in our churches on Sunday mornings.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby hailed the Paris deal for “setting a clear and ambitious path toward tackling global climate change.” The commitment to hold the global temperature increase to “well below” this level, he said, was “welcome and courageous progress.”


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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