From tragedy to hope

Crucial climate talks in Paris next week could see the city become a centre of hope for the world. In the first of a series of blogs that we will be featuring on this site, Paul Cook, Tearfund’s Advocacy Director highlights his hopes for the COP21 meeting and raises reasons for this hope and for why he will be present at COP21 and keen to raise not only his voice, but also the voices of our global neighbours.

Like most people I was shocked to wake up last Saturday to news of the horrific attacks in Paris. I have been praying for all those who have been affected and lost loved ones ever since. Paris became a city of tragedy in November, but in December it has the potential to become a centre of hope for the whole world. The French are pressing ahead with critical UN climate change talks involving all the world’s major leaders, and this year they have the potential to deliver a real breakthrough. In a few days I will be going with a small group of colleagues from Tearfund along with a group who are on a Pilgrimage to Paris to add our voices to help get a really good deal.

So how likely is that? Well in the run up to the conference over 160 countries, including all the major developed nations, representing more than 90 per cent of the world’s population have submitted their own national plans setting out what they will do to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. The UN have added these up and if they are all implemented they would together reduce the total global average temperature rise by the end of the century from the currently projected three to four degrees to around 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial norms. This doesn’t sound like much, but the science tells us that in order to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change the world needs to keep global average temperature rise to below two degrees, and ideally below 1.5 degrees. These agreements then aren’t anywhere near enough, but they would be a big step in the right direction.

We need to see these national commitments incorporated into a legally binding global deal in Paris. This deal also needs to contain within it the capacity to urgently review and ratchet up these commitments, even before they come into force in 2020, so they can be strengthened until they really are sufficient to keep us below two and even 1.5 degrees. Critically the agreement also needs a long-term goal of effectively getting all of our energy from renewable sources by 2050, so it is clear what all these short-term targets are ultimately heading towards. Finally we need progress from the world’s rich nations in providing at least $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations make this shift, and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate that they are already experiencing.

Image by Marcus Perkins for Tearfund

Image by Marcus Perkins for Tearfund

This is why these talks are so important to me and to Tearfund. In recent years I have sat with communities in Bangladesh whose homes were going underwater as a result of rising sea levels; villagers in the Philippines whose homes had been torn apart by tropical storms far more intense than anything they had previously experienced; farmers in parts of Zimbabwe whose crops now only get three months of rain a year when they used to get five; as well as many others.  For the world’s poorest people who have done the least to cause it, climate change is not an abstract thing that might be happening in the future. It is very real, it is happening now and it can be the difference between life and death. For them getting a good deal in Paris is critical!


Momena (yellow and orange dress) has moved six times due to rising tides and because of cyclone Aila, she is one of many landless families living in the village of Kamarkhola. A climate refugee, Momena fears for her 19 year old daughter Shahana, rising tides and frequent cyclones means more than just moving and loss of livelihoods. Now, because so many communities are living in such close proximity to each other, sexual harassment is becoming more common. Image by Peter Caton for Tearfund.

We can all play our part in helping make that happen. You can pray with your friends and churches using these resources. You can also join tens of thousands of people around the world in taking to the streets. We will be at demonstrations in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London on 28 and 29 November and would love for you to join us there. If the nations of the world can step up in the next few weeks and agree a deal which makes a good start in tackling global climate change, then the news from Paris will begin to truly turn from tragedy to hope for the world’s poorest and for all of us.

Main image by Asian Development Bank via Flickr/Creative Commons.


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