CWS President and CEO on Paris Agreement: only the beginning of a long journey?

April 22, 2016

From the Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service:

This morning representatives from the United States, China and up to 130 other countries signed the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations headquarters in New York.  Having attended COP 21 myself and participated in many climate debates, I will celebrate this moment with a mixture of cautious optimism and increasing concern. The Obama Administration has played a pivotal role in getting the global agreement to this stage, in raising climate ambitions domestically, and in negotiating deals with other key carbon emitters. Undoubtedly this will be a momentous event, being appropriately commemorated on Earth Day.

But let us not deceive ourselves about the urgency and seriousness of the challenges that lie ahead, nor allow self-congratulations to lull us into complacency.   As far as the United States is concerned, the Paris Agreement achieved last December was more the outcome of what was politically feasible, and less of what was historically just and fair.  Even if the world has now got a global deal to address climate change, it is a long, long way from achieving commitment to fairness. As President and CEO of a faith based organization whose values are rooted in age-long Christian traditions, I am not willing to lose sight of our vision for climate justice.

Through its development, refugee and disaster response work, Church World Service is increasingly responding to the far reaching consequences of unpredictable climactic patterns and ever more threatening disasters in some of the world’s poorest communities, including the United States.  Even as we thank the Obama administration for increasing American climate ambitions, we must remind them to do much, much more. The Administration must choose in these last few remaining months, to raise the stakes even higher. It must be guided by what is morally just and not only what is pragmatic.  It should take action on fossil fuels, commit greater support for renewables and commit to helping the world’s poorest by publicly acknowledging responsibility for the US’s fair share of current carbon levels.

We in the faith community are used to long journeys and arduous tasks.  We believe in hard work and in hope.  We believe in sustained commitment that leads to justice, restoration and redemption.  Can President Obama lead his administration to call for greater climate justice in these last few months of his presidency?  Yes he can.