Climate change

The latest IPCC Climate Change report: 6 things you (and your church) need to know

Posted by Clark Buys on August 27, 2021

Earlier this month, the IPCC released its latest report on climate change. Boris Johnson was right in saying that it makes for ‘sobering reading’. Most people won’t have the time to study these long scientific documents. So, here’s a TLDR (‘too long, didn’t read’) summary of some key points: 

1 – The IPCC report is trustworthy and credible

We live in a world where it can be difficult at times to sort the ‘fake news’ from the credible, trustworthy material. So, can we trust this report and its findings?

This report was compiled by 234 scientists from all over the world, drawing on 14,000 research papers. The summary version has been approved by 195 governments around the world. 

This is not some ‘fringe’ Mickey Mouse report. This is a landmark scientific report, summarising the most solid science on climate developments, and has been featured widely in the media. 

2 – Human activities have contributed to climate change

In some contexts, there has been some question over whether human activity has had any effect on climate change.

The report answers these questions in no uncertain terms: 

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”

Not only have human activities contributed to climate change, but we have been the main cause of recent heatwaves, ocean warming and acidification, sea level rises, tropical cyclones, unprecedented retreat of glaciers, more frequent and more intense rainfall patterns and extreme heat and extended fire seasons. 

While this has been well understood for some time now, this report puts the nail in the coffin of any doubts or debate around our role in causing climate change. 

3 – We are approaching the tipping point of irreversible and dangerous changes to the climate. 

The warmer the average climate temperatures get, the worse things get in terms of the dangerous impacts for the world: 

The previous IPCC report showed that we should set a goal of limiting climate warming to 1.5°C (to be clear, 1.5°C still has bad ramifications, but much less bad than 2°C or more) 

Right now, the track we’re on is heading for around 3°C and we’re going to overshoot the 1.5°C goal even earlier than expected or hoped. It now seems likely we’ll hit that by 2040. 

4 – We’re fighting for survival

For those of us in the Global North, much of the effects of climate change can seem distant or only future realities.

But the IPCC report highlights the ways in which climate change is already affecting people around the world today. 

Dr Ruth Valerio, Director of Advocacy and Influencing at Tearfund, had this to say about the report: 

“The IPCC report makes it painfully clear that we are in a fight for survival… It’s time for politicians to stop dragging their feet and do what needs to be done to secure a safer world for us all. Anything less is accepting a death sentence for people.”

This warning affects us all, wherever we live in the world. But it is also evident that those who have done the least to cause climate change are often those most affected. 

Charles Bakolo, a Tearfund partner in Malawi gives a sense of the impact today:

“15 years ago my home village was food secure; now the crops wither and hunger is an everyday reality. I and thousands of Malawians are playing our part to tackle this unfolding climate disaster; we need world leaders to get the job done at the Glasgow climate talks.” 

5 – The good news is that we know what we need to do.

There are two types of problems in life: those we don’t know how to fix, and those we do. Fortunately, while it is not easy or simple, we do know how to solve this problem. 

We need to drastically reduce global emissions of greenhouse gasses (like carbon dioxide and methane). Deep emissions reduction now can lead to rapid and sustained effects to limit global warming. 

If we act urgently with deep and sustained emissions cuts, the 1.5°C overshoot could be temporary. The test for humanity is whether we can reduce emissions fast; the alternative is hurtling past 2°C by the end of the century.

6 – The church must act now. 

God’s wonderful world is wounded. 

The Bible clearly instructs all followers of Jesus to love our neighbours near and far, and to tend to and care for God’s good world. 

There is so much that the church can and should do in these significant times, from lamenting, to praying, to changing our lifestyles (particularly in the Global North), to putting pressure on world leaders to get us back on track. 

We’ll be discussing all this and more at the upcoming Climate of Injustice series of events in September 2021. You can find out more and register for free here

Written by Clark Buys

Clark Buys is the Senior Development Manager for The Justice Conference. He also works as a theology researcher at Tearfund, grappling with all sorts of theological issues that relate to Tearfund's work of international development, poverty alleviation and justice. He has previously co-led and pastored at Kingsgate Church in South West London. and is a trained Spiritual Director offering spiritual accompaniment to Jesus-followers. Clark blogs at www.everythingeden.org.