As the United Nations’ 2015 Paris Climate conference gets underway on November 30, the Christian Reformed Church in North America will be represented by a delegation of five people sent by the denomination. The delegation is part of the CRC’s Climate Witness Project.
Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, creation care coordinator for the CRC’s Office of Social Justice, is one of those traveling to Paris. “Three of us will be present at the official negotiations every weekday,” he said. “We will be writing about what we observe at the negotiations and communicating this back to the larger CRC through several channels. We will also host a live teleconference event to give firsthand accounts of our time there, to field questions, and to discuss next steps after Paris We will also be doing some lobbying with the U.S. and Canadian delegations when possible during the negotiations.”
Meyaard-Schaap said they will also attend workshops, prayer services, and vigils that happen alongside the official event. “Through all of it, our very presence will be a powerful witness that the CRC cares deeply about the effects of a changing climate,” he said, noting Synod 2012’s statement on climate change. “Synod 2012 said loud and clear that climate change is occurring, it is likely human-induced, and that we have a moral, ethical, and religious responsibility to do something about it,” he said. “The Climate Witness Project is a direct response. We are seeking to provide individuals and congregations with the tools to engage faithfully and knowledgeably with the issue of climate change.”
The cost for the whole project is $48,000, according to Meyaard-Schaap, and includes stipends for 10 regional organizers along with airfare, lodging, and other costs for the delegation in Paris. He said the costs have been covered by private donations.
On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Climate Witness Project involved recruiting at least 100 CRC members in at least 30 congregations across the U.S. and Canada to participate by viewing a video series; receiving daily emails from the delegation in Paris; participating in the live teleconference with the delegation from Paris; meeting with their Member of Parliament or congressional representative after the summit; writing an op/ed article about their experience for their local paper; and committing to determining ways that their congregations can take more steps to stay engaged in the climate change discussion moving forward.
Meyaard-Schaap said that those targets have been exceeded: more that 200 CRC members in 35 congregations have signed up to be climate witness partners. “We would consider the biggest success to be that these churches turn their experience with [the conference] in Paris into long-term, sustained conversation and action on the issue of creation and climate care.”
How will the delegation measure the success of the Paris trip? Rev. Richard Kilmer, co-coordinator of the Climate Witness Project, said they are looking for agreement from participating nations that the temperature rise at the end of the century is no more than two degrees Celsius, agreement by the nations to phase out the use of fossil fuels and substitute renewable energy, and agreement by richer nations to help poorer nations adapt to the changes that climate change will bring.
Will the CRC’s delegation make a difference? “God is going to make a big difference,” said Kilmer. “I hope we can help. There will be many religious delegations from all over the world. We will all be assertive in raising the religious and moral issues. The value we bring is in our religious witness.”
Michelle Nieviedomy, assistant director and youth coordinator of the CRC’s Edmonton Native Healing Centre and Joe Myohan Oh, church relations associate for World Renew, will also be part of the CRC delegation.
Peter Vander Meulen, coordinator for the Office of Social Justice, added, “We think this direct line from the talks in Paris will give us important educational and motivational results with our climate witness partners that we can get no other way,” he said. “One measure of success will be how accurate and active the climate witness partners are after the event in advocating for and talking about the things governments and other institutions need to do in order to implement the decisions made.”