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Signs of hope from the Paris Climate Conference

While world leaders gathered in Paris to negotiate international action on climate change, Christians across Canada lifted up those meetings in prayer. Throughout this UN Conference of the Parties (COP21), Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) organized a Canada-wide prayer chain. Whether it was one person in his bedroom, a family in their living room, a congregation in a sanctuary or a group of friends going for a walk, people of faith in Canada were holding up climate justice in prayer around the clock from November 29 to December 11.

The prayer chain launched on November 29th, the day before leaders assembled for COP21 and the first Sunday of Advent, with an interfaith prayer gathering for climate justice in Ottawa. This was hosted by CPJ, the United Church of Canada, Development and Peace, ClimateFast and KAIROS. People of many different faiths, including First Nations, Bahai, Muslims, Jews and Christians, gathered together in solidarity at the Canadian Human Rights Monument.

At this gathering, faithful citizens declared with one voice through ritual, song and prayer, that climate change demands immediate and bold action from political leaders. They also reiterated the call from leaders of Canadian faith communities for the federal government action to end poverty and fight climate change.​

Immediately after this gathering, participants walked together in Ottawa’s “100% Possible: March for Climate Solutions and Justice.” They joined over 700,000 people in more than 2,000 communities all over the planet who mobilized before COP21. In Ottawa, 25,000 concerned citizens marched to Parliament Hill to tell our new government that a 100 percent clean economy by 2050 is both necessary and possible.

Why all the fuss about COP21?
Our faith calls us to pursue justice on behalf of the marginalized: globally, the poor bear the brunt of the negative effects of climate change. A greater than 1.5°C increase in global average surface temperatures would threaten small island nations. Current warming has already begun to threaten food and water security in the Global South.

As a nation that developed on fossil fuels, Canada has a responsibility to act. As followers of Christ, we are called to respond.

At the COP21 international negotiating table, world leaders have crafted a nearly universal agreement that will guide domestic action on climate change all around the globe. The Paris Climate Agreement evidences remarkable international cooperation: together, 195 nations have agreed to hold warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” The agreement also encourages developed nations to pledge further climate financing, and it requires both developed and developing nations to regularly review national greenhouse gas reduction targets. The agreement, however, still falls short of the level of ambition called for by small island nations, and current national reduction pledges will fail to keep warming below 2°C.

For its part, Canada came to the table with refreshing initiative and ambition, declaring support for a long-term goal that limits warming to 1.5°C since industrialization. Our government announced $2.65 billion in adaptation and mitigation funding for developing nations by 2020. It also endorsed the need for the inclusion of indigenous and human rights language in the agreement.

However, ambitious Canadian intentions on the world stage are only as good as the domestic policies that follow them. Prime Minister Trudeau has repeatedly promised to meet with First Ministers within 90 days of COP21. This meeting needs to result in concrete, bold economic and environmental policy.

The meetings in Paris have concluded, but the hard work of translating promise into policy and policy into action remains ahead for Canadian policy makers. As Canadians of faith, we too must continue to pray and act in hope for the economic, ecological and moral change that is increasingly possible to imagine.

CRC’s Climate Witness Project a success

Julia Prins Vanderveen

How has the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) been involved with COP21? Through the Climate Witness Project, launched in July by the Office of Social Justice and led by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap and Rev. Richard Killmer, the CRC has been very active in adding its voice and effort to the important work of climate justice.

First of all, four members of the CRC were sent as a delegation to the COP21 Conference in Paris. They gave regular reports to more than 200 members who signed up to be Climate Witness Partners, representing 35 congregations across North America.

The delegates, including Meyaard-Schaap,  Joe Oh, Michelle Nieviadomy and Killmer, state that the Paris Agreement is a “terrific victory” but that there is “still much to do.” They are enthusiastic about the achievement of the Agreement as it will open doors for governments, businesses, investors, organizations and religious communities to take further action toward caring for the earth. However, they state that the Agreement is “the starting gun, not the finish line.”

Secondly, 10 regional organizers for the CWP urged the 35 participating congregations to engage in dialogue about climate justice and to watch four short but powerful videos prepared by the Office of Social Justice for the purpose of educating and informing North American Christians about the impact of climate change on developing countries such as Kenya. A discussion guide accompanying the videos prompted viewers to interact with the prophetic call to recognize how consumptive behavior in North America, as well as in other developing nations, adversely impacts those who are more vulnerable to becoming impoverished, particularly as climate change alters their ability to manage physical resources. 

‘An issue of faith’
The Climate Witness Project (CWP) follows up on the work of Synod 2012, which adopted a statement on climate change. It urged all members of the denomination to work toward solutions to the risks associated with climate change. The underlying conviction of those who presented and adopted the statement is that it is our task as people made in God’s image to care for, act on behalf of and live responsibly with the land, its resources and all creatures. It is also the conviction of those who are participants in this project that climate change is no longer only subject matter for scientists and policy makers but is also an issue of faith.

As Regional Organizers for the CWP in B.C., Lindsay VanderHoek and I found that there were many concerned individuals who were relieved and encouraged to know that the CRC has taken these steps. Not only that, many members are already actively working toward responsible stewardship.

The CWP will conclude in January as Climate Witness Partners meet with their local MPs to discuss outcomes and possible actions that reflect ongoing compassion and justice for the earth and its inhabitants.

Julia Prins Vanderveen is a part-time pastor along with her husband Trevor at the First CRC in Vancouver, B.C.


  • Miriam Mahaffy is the climate policy intern at Citizens for Public Justice, in Ottawa, Ont.

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