By Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu
We are in uncharted territory. Never before have representatives of the entire human family had the opportunity to sit down together and collectively change the trajectory of our species and our earth.
Leaders of the world’s nations gathered for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference this week will (for the first time in 21 years of United Nations climate negotiations) seek to achieve a universal, legally binding and enforceable agreement on climate change. Their goal is to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Should global warming exceed 2°C, many leading scientists and economists concur, mitigating the impacts will become unaffordable. Low-lying nations will disappear under rising seas, there will be more extreme droughts and storms, and up to 30% of species could disappear. We are already halfway to 2°C, and are already seeing the impacts in changing weather patterns and the first wave of climate refugees.
The closest we have come to achieving global consensus on anything in the past was the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that opened for signature in 1968 and has been ratified by 191 of 195 recognised states.
But it is surely much simpler to agree not to fire nukes at each other than it is to agree to alter deeply entrenched behaviour patterns, reign in consumptiveness, threaten personal wealth and undermine powerful business interests. Which is exactly what we have to do.
COP21 is therefore clearly about much more than the weather. It is about us. For thousands of years we have drifted apart, accumulating wealth at the expense of each other (the only family we have) and our only earth. Here we have a unique opportunity to see beyond our own noses and bank balances and rediscover our common humanity.
It is an opportunity to address inequality; for powerful people and nations to acknowledge that their environmental wellbeing, their security and sustainability, is dependent on the wellbeing, security and sustainability of others. To acknowledge our inter-dependence, and the strengths and vulnerabilities we share.
If we “carry on as usual”, there may not be another opportunity.
The days of not understanding the disastrous human and environmental consequences of rampant consumerism and greed are gone. Our leaders can no longer claim not to know. If they don’t take action they will be saying very clearly that they don’t care.
Should they grasp the opportunity, and develop a legally binding treaty to mitigate climate change, it will signal the end of the age of reckless consumption, exploitation and greed.
But failing to grasp the nettle will send a direct message of contempt to poorer nations and people, who cannot afford the costs of mitigating the impacts of increasing temperatures. It will trigger unprecedented economic and refugee crises, and dramatically deepen global insecurity.
It’s a simple equation, really. Agree on mechanisms to enforce adherence to environmental justice, or consciously embrace injustice and add fuel to the fire of human division and pain.
We know that the only answer is to reduce carbon emissions, and the only way we can do that is by reducing our dependency on carbon fuels.
And that is why we support the campaign to divest from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable technologies. Continuing to spend Trillions of Dollars searching for new oil, gas and coal reserves we will never be able to use is a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
That is why we say: Global warming is the human rights challenge of our time. If we do not address it, collectively, it can only mean we have decided that the rights of some members of the human family are more important than others.
A narrow window of opportunity opens in Paris next week. No longer must our future be directed and dictated by financial interests.
Anything less than a legally enforceable treaty on carbon emissions will be to condemn our children to inheriting a disfigured world and a blighted family.
We know that God has given us new ways of generating electricity from the sun and the wind and the oceans. Let us follow the God that makes all things new. When we do that, we are filled with hope.