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By 
Jim Stump
 on December 01, 2023

BioLogos Bearing Witness at COP28

BioLogos is committed to faith-based climate action. At COP28, we will advocate for faith-based messaging and bear witness to God's love for our planet and its people.

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Unless you’ve been on a media fast, you’ve no doubt seen the news that a big event begins this week: COP28 in Dubai. I’ll be heading there myself next week as part of the Christian Climate Observers Program. We’ll advocate for faith-based messaging and responsible action for the planet and its people. Based on my conversations with a wide range of people over the last few weeks, it seems that a primer would be helpful. Here, I briefly explain what a COP is, and why Christians should be involved.

What’s a COP?

A COP exists under the auspices of the United Nations, and like the workings of all big organizations, there are a lot of acronyms to learn. COP stands for Conference of the Parties. That sounds like it could be a festive occasion! But here, “party” means an individual or group of individuals with some common purpose. For example, a party of four might be dining together.

In this case, there were 154 parties representing different nations at the Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio. They signed a document called the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). By signing it, the parties pledged to start addressing the influence that humans are having on climate change. The UN addresses issues like this by hosting a conference. So the first Conference of the Parties was held in 1995 in Berlin and called COP1.

Almost every year since then there has been another COP, and they have been numbered sequentially. Official representatives from nations come together to hear updates on what climate scientists have learned about the situation and to negotiate with each other about what should be done about it.

One of the interesting things about COPs is that decisions are made by consensus rather than voting. That means there is a lot of negotiating and compromise to get everyone on the same page, and that means the progress is usually slow and there are not often big, headline-grabbing results. Even so, there have been some important outcomes from these meetings.

In 1997 at COP3 in Kyoto Japan, parties adopted the Kyoto Protocol. Its aim is to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the most developed countries. In 2015 at COP21 in Paris, 196 parties came to consensus on the Paris Agreement. Its goal is to keep the rise in the average global temperature below 2°C and preferably below 1.5° C. To achieve these targets, each party made NDCs (nationally determined commitments). At COP28 this year, there will be a global stocktaking to assess how well the parties are doing at living up to their NDCs.

Last year at COP27 in Egypt significant progress was made by establishing a Loss and Damage fund. There is no reasonable doubt now that the greenhouse gas emissions from the wealthiest countries are primarily responsible for climate changes that will primarily affect the poorest countries. Wealthier countries should contribute money to offset the loss and damage incurred in poorer countries because of climate change. This is a straightforward matter of justice, but in a time of increased nationalism, it is difficult to enforce justice across borders. This is where the role of observers becomes crucial to the process.

Besides the parties from each country, observers are also admitted to COPs. These are from both governmental organizations and NGOs that have been officially recognized by the UN. Observers attend meetings within the “blue zone” of the COP where only credentialed attendees are allowed. They also have opportunities for meaningful dialogue with the decision makers. Furthermore and most importantly, observers can act as an accountability mechanism for the process by making known the decisions that are made and the consequences of them.

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BioLogos is committed to the hope that the Spirit of God will stir and empower the Church to love our neighbors around the world by caring for those in greatest need and working for climate solutions that will enable all of creation to flourish as God intended.

Jim Stump

Christian Observers

All observers come to learn about the status of climate change, network and advocate with others, and communicate the activities of the COP to their constituents. Beyond these, the Christian Climate Observers Program aims for something more: we will bear witness from an explicitly faith-based perspective. We Christians—of all people—should be most concerned about caring for the planet God has given us. Our motivations are not simply utilitarian or practical; we believe that the created order is good in and of itself—not only for what it can do for us. This theological perspective needs to be heard and taken seriously.

Sadly, Christians have been among the least likely to support meaningful climate action. We have been far too willing to accept the narrative that denies the reality of climate change or that claims it is not our fault. But climate change is no longer an abstract possibility. It is a present reality for much of the world’s population. And it is actually good news that we are responsible for this, according to President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network Jessica Moerman: that means we can do something about it.

At COP28 I will join with other Christians to advocate for justice and for responsible action by individuals, governments, and corporations. With other Christian organizations like EEN and A Rocha, BioLogos is committed to the hope that the Spirit of God will stir and empower the Church to love our neighbors around the world by caring for those in greatest need and working for climate solutions that will enable all of creation to flourish as God intended. We hope you will join in that work too.

Our motivations are not simply utilitarian or practical; we believe that the created order is good in and of itself—not only for what it can do for us.

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About the author

Jim Stump

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Vice President of Programs at BioLogos. He oversees the editorial team, participates in strategic planning, and hosts the podcast, Language of God. Jim also writes and speaks on behalf of BioLogos. He has a PhD in philosophy and was formerly a professor and academic administrator. His earlier books include, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design; Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues; and How I Changed My Mind about Evolution. Most recently he has published, The Sacred Chain: How Understanding Evolutions Leads to Deeper Faith (HarperOne, 2024). You can email Jim Stump at james.stump@biologos.org or follow him on Substack.