The Climate Witness Project (CWP) is a campaign of the Office of Social Justice and World Renew that grows out of several convictions of the Christian Reformed Church. The first is that there is scientific consensus that climate change is damaging our world. Human-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are changing the weather, melting polar ice caps, enabling diseases and viruses that have existed only in warm regions to move to more temperate zones, destroying species of animals and plants, and raising sea levels. In addition, there have recently been more prolonged and extreme droughts, more torrential flooding, readings that indicate warmer and more acidic ocean water, and consequent large-scale migrations of peoples and increases in food insecurity around the world.
There is also a growing moral consensus, as well as increasing agreement among the world’s nations, that this problem must be addressed immediately. The Paris Agreement (see below) and the pope’s encyclical on climate change are only the most recent examples of a groundswell of support for an immediate response that has developed in religious communities and among the nations of the world. The popular agreement and moral momentum are catching up with the scientific consensus, and the tide is changing.
2012 Synodical Statement on Climate Change
In 2010, the synod of the CRC instructed that a task force be formed to study and present a Reformed perspective of creation stewardship, including the issue of climate change. In 2012, the Creation Stewardship Task Force presented its findings in the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report (read the summary here). Synod 2012 responded by affirming its findings and adopting its recommendations, thereby becoming one of the first evangelical denominations in the United States to affirm the scientific consensus on climate change, calling it a "moral, religious, and social justice issue," and calling its denominational bodies, congregations, and individual members to private and public action.
Below is Synod 2012's statement, along with its recommendations to the denomination, churches, and its members:
Approved by Synod on June 13 and 14, 2012
- It is the current near-consensus of the international scientific community that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity
- Human-induced climate change is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue
- Such climate change poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable
- Such climate change poses a significant challenge to us all
- We are called to “commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God” (Contemporary Testimony, par. 51)
- Therefore, even when scientific uncertainties are taken into account, the precautionary principle (e.g., Overture 60, Agenda for Synod 2012, p. 594) compels us to take private and public actions to address climate change.
Recommendations to Churches
Call to Action
- That synod call upon the churches, members, and denominational bodies to be voices for justice and public examples in the effort to live sustainably within our God-given resources, to promote stewardship in our own communities and our nations, and to seek justice for the poor and vulnerable among us and for future generations.
- That synod call upon the churches and their members to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions to the atmosphere. We should examine energy choices in our homes, lives, businesses, farms, and institutions from a perspective of stewardship, challenging ourselves to use less energy and to use it more wisely.
- That synod call upon the churches and their members to consider and advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions and move us toward very low or zero net emissions.
- That synod call upon the churches, their members, and appropriate denominational agencies and institutions to respond with generosity and compassion to people and places negatively affected by climate change, as well as to make efforts to mitigate it. This includes advocating with our governments to take the necessary actions in an effective global framework to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change while being the least able to cope.
- That synod direct the BOT to ensure that educational resources and programs are identified and made widely available to congregations, schools, and other groups in order to promote participation in the urgent global conversation concerning care for the creation.
- That synod request the BOT to review the operational practices of major CRC agencies and institutions in the light of this report’s conclusion concerning the need to exercise robust leadership in caring for the creation and addressing a changing climate, including the need to reduce our denominational carbon emissions.
- That synod request the BOT to encourage several appropriate creation care organizations to apply for placement on the list of accredited nondenominational agencies recommended for financial support submitted for approval to Synod 2013.
- That synod accept this report as fulfilling the mandate of the Creation Stewardship Task Force and thank them for their work.
- That synod request that members of the task force make themselves available for approximately twelve months for forums, discussions, and educational sessions around the denomination.
- That synod commend the Creation Stewardship Task Force report to the churches as a guide for prayer and discussion, and for direct action and advocacy when and where appropriate.
Additional Synodical Statements
Synod has taken significant action on creation care four times over the past two decades. First, in response to various overtures the early 1990s, the Synodical Task Force on CRC Publications and the Environment examined the use of resources at the denominational level, and Synod commissioned CRC Publications to produce study guides on the ethical framework of environmental stewardship.
Second, the 1997 Synod alerted churches to the Reformed Ecumenical Council's report, "The Just Stewardship of Land and Creation," which includes guidelines and recommendations that can be used by churches, classes, and institutions.
Third, in 2008, an overture requested clear guidelines for CRC institutions, agencies, and congregations to implement practices that respect God's creation. In response, Synod approved Article 38 which states that the denomination has "...[No need for] further analysis regarding the extent and often uncritical use of the finite resources provided by God through the earth," affirming that, "…it is clear that we are only beginning to understand the consequences of maintaining the increasing consumption of finite resources and our waste disposal." Synod then instructed the BOT to establish and maintain a webpage with up-to-date eco-justice resources, which can be found on the Office of Social Justice's Creation Care resources page.
Finally, in 2010, Overture 7 asked for the identification of the CRC’s position on anthropogenic global warming. Synod 2010 responded by reaffirming the significant contribution that humans make to environmental problems worldwide, accepting the Micah Declaration the Micah Network Declaration on creation stewardship and climate change (see below), and establishing a task force to report on Reformed creation stewardship and climate change at Synod 2012.
Synod 2008 approved an updated version of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony in 2008, which identifies climate change as a creation care issue of importance for the church:
51. We lament that our abuse of creation
has brought lasting damage
to the world we have been given:
polluting streams and soil,
poisoning the air,
altering the climate,
and damaging the earth.
We commit ourselves
to honor all God’s creatures
and to protect them from abuse and extinction,
for our world belongs to God.
In 2006, Peter Borgdorff - then the Executive Director of the CRCNA - and Andy Ryskamp, the Director of CRWRC (now World Renew), both signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative statement, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action. The statement declares that "human-induced climate change is real," and it calls on the U.S. government to pass legislation establishing limits on carbon dioxide emissions. "Christians must care about climate change, because we love God the Creator and Jesus our Lord, through whom and for whom the creation was made. This is God's world, and any damage that we do to God's world is an offense against God himself."
In July 2009, the Office of Social Justice and CRWRC both signed on to a Micah Network Declaration on creation stewardship and climate change, calling on world leaders to address climate change and environmental degradation.
In February 2010, the CRCNA Board of Trustees endorsed the Declaration on behalf of the denomination, and Synod 2010 accepted the Declaration “as speaking to its concern for and responsibility toward creation” (Acts of Synod 2010, p. 871).
The CRCNA Board of Trustees endorsed the Declaration on behalf of the denomination in February 2010.
The Micah Network Declaration states that in the beginning God made a creation characterized by just relationships. However, we have often failed in our calling to be faithful stewards of God's creation, which has produced the current environmental crisis and led to climate change. The declaration affirms that "rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing the average global temperature to rise, with devastating impacts already being experienced, especially by the poorest and most marginalized groups."
Therefore, we commit to follow God's calling to participate in the renewal of all creation. "We join with others to call on local, national, and global leaders to meet their responsibility to address climate change and environmental degradation through the agreed intergovernmental mechanisms and conventions, and to provide the necessary resources to ensure sustainable development...[and] to protect the lives and livelihoods of those most vulnerable to the impact of environmental degradation and climate change."
In response to Overture 7 requesting the CRC’s position on anthropogenic global warming, Synod 2010 instructed the establishment of a task force that would present a Reformed perspective of creation stewardship, including the issue of climate change, to Synod 2012.
Why do so many members of the CRCNA care about climate change?
This question leads us to the second conviction driving the Climate Witness Project: our faith. As we look at the harm caused by climate change, two matters of faith in particular drive us: caring for creation and caring about people in poverty. Genesis 2:15 reminds us that we are to care for creation. Elsewhere the Bible says we are to be stewards of all that God has given us. We don’t own the earth; we are called to take care of it for the Lord (Matt. 25:14-30).
The people who are first and most harmed by climate change are those who are poor—in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. We advocate for a vigorous response to climate change because we know that if we do not respond, people in poverty will continue to suffer the consequences. Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that we are always to respond compassionately to people who are seen as “the least of these” (Isa. 1:17; Zech. 7:9-10; Matt. 25:31-40).
In addition, Synod 2012 of the CRCNA affirmed the reality of human-caused climate change and asked the members and congregations of the denomination to work hard to end the harm caused by a changing climate. Synod adopted a historic report on creation care and climate change that challenged the church to increased action to address the damage caused by climate change by reducing our own energy use and advocating for effective public policies.
Driven by our convictions that the scientific, moral, and political consensus was building and that our faith calls us to be involved, the Climate Witness Project prepared to attend the COP 21 (21st Conference of the Parties) climate talks in Paris from November 30 through December 12, 2015. The nations of the world have been meeting annually since 1995 to discuss what they need to do to mitigate the effects of climate change. For various reasons, at Paris in 2015 the nations of the world were expected to create a historic, binding agreement about planned steps they would take to address the damage caused by climate change.
Because of the strong biblical mandate and the recommendations of Synod 2012, the CRCNA planned a vigorous witness in preparation for and during the Paris Talks in 2015. This included sending a delegation of four people to Paris for two purposes: to be able to report to the CRCNA on the results of the meeting and to witness to others at the event that climate change, though it is also a scientific and policy issue, is fundamentally a religious and moral issue.
The plan also included recruiting regional organizers in ten strategic regions of the denomination in the U.S. and Canada. The regional organizers accomplished the following:
- Recruited more than 200 Climate Witness Partners, who gave leadership to the CWP in 35 congregations.
- Showed the video series Climate Conversations: Kenya in all 35 congregations.
- Arranged for the Climate Witness Partners to receive daily newsletters and to participate in a teleconference from the CRCNA delegation in Paris.
- Recruited 13 CRCNA members to write op-eds for either news outlets (including the Huffington Post, Des Moines Register, Newark Star Ledger, Grand Rapids Press, Holland Sentinel, Hamilton Spectator, and Albuquerque Journal) or CRCNA blogs about the importance of the Paris Agreement.
- Arranged for 12 visits with Members of Parliament and Members of Congress.
What happened at the Paris Talks?
The 196 nations present at COP 21 signed the Paris Agreement, a powerful statement that commits them to several key steps to work together to address the challenges of climate change. This is the first time that all the nations of the world have agreed to common strategies to reduce the harm caused by climate change.
The nations of the world had previously agreed to ensure that there would be no more than a 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperature by 2100 over 1880 levels. The Paris Agreement affirms this goal and goes even further by committing the nations to keep the “global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels.” This new goal is ambitious and will require significant emission reductions and a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy.
Before coming to the Paris Talks, every country was asked to submit a pledge of the amount of greenhouse gases they were willing to cut in order to reach the original long-term goal of not more than 2 degrees C of warming by 2100. With the current pledges, the temperature rise by 2100 would likely be 2.7 degrees C.
So there is much work to do in the coming years to increase these pledges to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C over the pre-1880 average global temperature. The Paris Agreement does include a robust mechanism for the world’s nations to reassess their commitments at least every five years. By so doing, the nations will be able to increase their pledges to reach a temperature increase of no more than 1.5 degrees C.
Several funds, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF), were created at previous meetings of the world’s nations to provide a mechanism through which richer nations, as well as corporations and individuals, can contribute money to poorer countries to pay for their reduction of the use of fossil fuels and to repair damage already caused by a changing climate. The goal is that $100 billion will be raised by 2020—and $100 billion every year after 2020—for this purpose. These figures include monies for the GCF as well as other funds. The United States has pledged $3 billion by 2020; Canada has pledged $2.65 billion.
How is the Climate Witness Project following up on the Paris Agreement?
The Climate Witness Project is continuing to build on its success and hopes to have at least 70 congregations by mid-2017 learning more about climate change, writing op-eds and visiting with their Members of Parliament and Congress, and becoming better stewards of their natural and financial resources.
How you can join the effort:
If you want your church to join dozens of others in working toward climate justice, please email our coordinator Steve Mulder at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to become a Climate Witness Partner, please fill out the form here. As a partner, you:
- Endorse the 2012 CRC Synod’s Creation Stewardship Task Forces Report. Full text of the report here. 3-age summary of the report here.
- Agree to receive electronic communications from the Climate Witness Project, including newsletters, action alerts, updates on what CWP congregations are doing, and more.
- Intend to do something to address climate change. We don’t presume to tell you what you need to do. Instead, we are creating a network of congregations and individual Christians who share ideas and experiences around: 1) Energy Stewardship, 2) Worship, 3) Education, 4)Advocacy.