Canadian climate action: What would Jesus do?

“Canada is back!” These were the words of Prime Minister Trudeau at the opening of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, proclaiming to the world that Canada was taking climate change – and the work needed to be done to address it – seriously.

Canada stood with other influential nations and took a global leadership role in the climate change negotiations. This resulted in the historic Paris Agreement, which was ratified in October, less than a year after it was formed.

For the Paris agreement to become binding, it needed 55% of parties representing 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to ratify it. On October 5, 2016, Canada helped tip the scales of the 55/55 threshold with it’s official ratification of the Agreement.

Now it is time for real action at home. We saw the first step of this on a national level with the announcement of a nation-wide price on carbon by 2018.

But more is needed. If Canada is going to be a leader in curbing climate change and its impacts, we need all governments, institutions, and citizens working together. The federal government can ensure that its climate plan reduces GHG emissions across all sectors. It can also plan for the development of a low-carbon economy and put policy and funding in place for mitigation, adaptation, and a just transition.

A Christian response to climate change

Last year, Christians across the country offered prayers for the Paris climate talks that ultimately led to the Paris Agreement. Now we need to pray for our own governments and communities that there will be climate justice leadership at home as well.

But as Christians, our efforts towards climate action must go beyond prayer. We have a much bigger role to play for climate justice in Canada. Most of us are familiar with the biblical imperative to “tend and keep” the Earth (Genesis 2:15). We also know that we are called to “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and “love our neighbour” (Matthew 22:39).

But how we live out these commandments is not as widely discussed. What are we as Christians called to do to bring about climate justice in our world? I am drawn back to a reflection question often asked in my youth group days, What Would Jesus Do?

What would Jesus do?

Although prayer was a cornerstone of Jesus’ life, his example of leadership through word and action takes us further. Jesus spoke publicly about the injustices he saw in society: he called out political and religious leaders for upholding corrupt systems and unjust practices, and not guiding the people in justice and mercy (Matt. 23).

His example is important for Canadian Christians and our current context as we face the challenges of climate change. We are called to be leaders by word and action to protect Creation and all people who depend on it.

In word, we can speak up. Over the summer Christians Canada-wide raised their voices to ask for a strong climate plan. Although formal consultations have ended, contacting our political representatives at all levels of government lets them know we are still engaged and contributes to social and political change.

Or, we may start simply by speaking about climate justice in our churches and communities. Understanding and awareness are important, and the more voices joined together the stronger the call. So, let’s share the stories of climate change impacts and how they connect all people. And, let’s learn about the ways we as Canadians contribute to the problem and can be part of the solution.

In action, we can lead by example. Church or home ‘greening’ is a good first step. The Green Church Network has suggestions for how to start and encouraging success stories of churches across Canada that have ‘gone green.’ Many of these suggestions are small, easy changes like reducing waste or improving energy efficiency.

But we can – and should – also make bigger changes. Bringing clean energy into homes and churches and divesting from climate-damaging industries are ways that faith communities and individuals have taken effective action to reduce emissions.

By demonstrating in our communities that these kinds of changes are important and possible, and speaking out for change on the government level, we become leaders in change for climate justice.

In the coming months as the next stage of Canada’s climate efforts take form, I will pray for unity and love to guide us as we work to care for Creation and our global community. But I will also speak out and take action to make it a reality in the world. I invite you to do the same.

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About the author

Asha Kerr-Wilson is a policy intern at Citizens for Public Justice, a faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa.