Episcopal delegation steps up church’s advocacy for climate action at COP24 in Poland

December 11, 2018
UN delegation

California Bishop Marc Andrus, center, is leading an Episcopal delegation to the United Nations’ COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland. The delegation also has included Alan Yarborough, left, Office of Government Relations communications officer, and the Rev. Rev. Lester Mackenzie, right of Andrus. Photo: Lynnaia Main

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal delegation in Poland is past the halfway mark of its advocacy on behalf of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the United Nations climate conference known as COP24, including meetings with representatives from member nations to share details of the church’s positions as set by General Convention.

COP24, known officially as the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is following a range of “work streams” related to climate change: loss and damage, mitigation, adaptation, finance and ambition.

“Our hope is to not only learn about these important areas, but to help the church connect with them,” California Bishop Marc Andrus, who is leading the Episcopal delegation, told Episcopal News Service in a written summary of his team’s activities. He added that the Episcopal team members will produce reports on those activities afterward that will be shared with the wider church.

COP24 kicked off Dec. 2 in Katowice, Poland, and runs through Dec. 14, and one of its top goals is to hammer out a framework for implementing the Paris Agreement, which was reached in 2015 at the 21st conference.

The Episcopal Church began attending the conference that year, making this the fourth Episcopal delegation. Joining Andrus for both weeks is Lynnaia Main, the Episcopal Church’s representative to the United Nations, and Andrus’ wife, Sheila Andrus, an ecological entomologist representing the Diocese of California.

The rest of the delegation is split between the conference’s two weeks, with the first week including the Rev. Lester Mackenzie of Laguna Beach, California; Alan Yarborough, Office of Government Relations communications officer, and the Rev. Melanie Mullen, Episcopal Church’s director of reconciliation, evangelism and creation care. For the second week, they have handed off to Andrew Thompson, an environmental ethicist at Sewanee: University of the South, and Jack Cobb, the Office of Government Relations’ domestic and environmental policy adviser.

Each member of the Episcopal delegation is tracking one of the COP24 work streams as the team promotes keeping global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius, a more ambitious target than the Paris Agreement’s 2 degrees Celsius, which scientists predict would be necessary to prevent a spiraling catastrophe of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and related weather extremes.

“We delegates carry in our hearts the many ways that Episcopalians are already suffering from the early effects of climate change and feel the responsibility to represent those most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters,” Andrus said.

In addition to making that case directly to member nations, the Episcopalians at COP24 are participating in panel discussions, conferring with ecumenical partners and joining worship and prayer services.

Andrus on panel

California Bishop Marc Andrus, right, participates in a panel discussion Dec. 7 at the United States Climate Action Center during COP24 in Poland. Photo: Lynnaia Main

On Dec. 7, Andrus served on a panel discussion of the We Are Still In movement. “I was able to talk about our historic commitments around climate and environment at the 79th General Convention, and our movement to reduce the carbon footprint of the Episcopal Church by supporting individual and community sustainability choices,” Andrus said.

Environmental justice is one of the church’s three main priorities, along with racial reconciliation and evangelism. Over the years, General Convention has passed numerous resolutions on the issue, whether supporting federal climate action or pledging to mitigate the church’s own impact on the environment.

We Are Still In brings together the Episcopal Church and many of its faith partners, as well as governments, nongovernmental organizations and companies, in committing to uphold the Paris Agreement despite the Trump administration’s vow to withdraw the United States. One of the Episcopal delegation’s tasks at COP24 has been to draft a response to the U.S. delegation’s effort to block “welcoming” a report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In 2016, the Episcopal Church was granted U.N. observer status, which allows members of the delegation to brief U.N. representatives on the Episcopal Church’s General Convention climate resolutions and to attend meetings in the official zone.

On Dec. 8, the Episcopal delegation participated in a prayer vigil in support of the Gwich’in, indigenous people in Alaska whose traditional way of life faces threats from oil exploration and rising temperatures in the Arctic. The Episcopal Church has rallied behind the cause of the Gwich’in, first through its House of Bishops and then at General Convention in July, when Gwich’in activist Bernadette Demientieff spoke at a joint session on care of creation.

Andrus and his COP24 team also attended an ecumenical worship service on Dec. 9 in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Katowice, and the first week included a reception hosted by the Brahma Kumaris Hindu order and an interfaith Talanoa Dialog, a tradition that originates in Pacific island nations.

The Episcopal delegation’s second-week team has hit the ground running, Andrus said, with plans to host an event Dec. 12 to show video of a sermon that Curry is scheduled to give Dec. 11 at Washington National Cathedral commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 space flight.

“After watching the video, we will be discussing what it means to see the Earth as a whole from outside of itself,” Andrus said. “I feel that those splendid, tender images have changed our minds and souls and contributed to our sense that life is deeply interconnected, and that all of life is mutually responsible.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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