COP15: Church World Service executive urging firm funding agreements

As world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark, plunge into the United Nations meeting on climate change (December 7-18), humanitarian agency Church World Service is voicing strong support for President Barack Obama's decision to attend the summit's final, pivotal negotiation days.

Woman collecting water
A woman harvests water adjacent to a CWS-supported sand dam in the West Pokot region of Kenya.  CWS projects are empowering poor people in various parts of the world to implement sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.
Photo: Henry Coates/CWS

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NEW YORK, NY--As world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark, plunge into the United Nations meeting on climate change (December 7-18), humanitarian agency Church World Service is voicing strong support for President Barack Obama's decision to attend the summit's final, pivotal negotiation days. CWS also is urging the U.S. and leading countries to seal firm commitments for cutting carbon emissions and adequate funding to help poorer nations pay the costs for clean development, adapt to climate change, and reduce their own emissions.

The New York-headquartered development and relief agency applauded yesterday's Environmental Protection Agency ruling that carbon dioxide constitutes a public health hazard, opening the way under the U.S. Clean Air Act for new regulations of emissions from such sources as cars, trucks, factories and power plants. That decision gives President Obama new regulatory powers. Its timing gives him a solid entry to the COP15 talks.

Concurrently, CWS is turning to U.S. and international businesses and consumers, pressing them to do their parts and shift now to "sustainable consumption."

The Reverend John McCullough, executive director and CEO of New York-headquartered Church World Service, will attend the summit. "President Obama's decision to attend the conference's critical, final negotiation days lends greater credibility to the U.S.'s stated intentions to fight global warming," said McCullough, "at a moment when Americans are registering a greater skepticism about climate change."

The latest poll from Harris Interactive Inc. found that Americans' belief that climate change is real and caused by fossil fuel emissions has fallen to 51 percent, down from 71 percent two years ago. By contrast, a December 2 poll by the European Commission found 90 percent of Europeans view climate change as a problem and 63 percent see it as a "very serious problem," ranked second behind concerns about world poverty and starvation.*

"Regardless of where individuals, organizations or groups of people stand in their views on climate change, it is a fact that our skies and water are polluted. That is an irrefutable reality that we must all address," McCullough contends.

McCullough says, "Climate change isn't just an environmental issue. It's a justice issue—an issue of fairness to the poorest people in the world."

From that perspective, McCullough says "Faith-based organizations like CWS who are also humanitarian agencies can bring a unique and needed dual voice to the debate and help amplify the messages of poor communities whose voices otherwise would not be heard clearly.

“It's vital for President Obama to seize the moment for the U.S. to become a leader in helping all of us on the planet achieve a secure and livable future," he said. The poorest nations – those with little industry and little responsibility for polluting the air with carbon emissions and even less ability to bear the full cost of changes necessary to adjust to climate change -- already are suffering the worst effects of the manmade crisis. 

Climate refugees already include Pacific islanders, Louisiana Native American tribe

McCullough says, “We must listen to the President of Liberia when she says they’re concerned about the effects of climate change already experienced in their own region.  We must listen to the leaders of Pacific Island nations who have already relocated 9,000 people and to Native Americans whose Gulf Coast lands are disappearing daily."

At a June 2009 climate change conference in Monrovia, Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson said, “While Liberia has not contributed in any significant degree to global warming, it is, nevertheless, a victim of the phenomenon of climate change. As a result of rising sea level and beach erosion, we are losing territory all along our coastline. Monrovia, our capital, is almost below sea level. … A rising sea level will pollute our water resources." That means a diminishing supply of food from the sea -- the most affordable source of protein for most Liberians.

In the besieged South Pacific, then-Marshall Islands President Litokwa Tomegin said in a May 2009 statement, “Our agriculture and food production are, in some cases, near crisis level as a result of sea-level rise and underwater intrusion.  We know the culprit is climate change.”

CWS's McCullough also urged Americans to listen to the voices of their own citizens, including the small Native American Biloxi-Chitimacha tribe -- whom ABC News referred to on Sunday as America's "first climate refugees" -- now losing their shrinking island home off the coast of Louisiana. According to ABC, "About a football field worth of land in the region is lost every half-hour to erosion, storms and to rising seas -- a relentless process that is expected to worsen with climate change."**

'Sustainable Consumption'

Said McCullough, “Justice demands that we treat with fairness the victims of our degradation of the environment; that we adopt policies and lifestyles of sustainable consumption; and that we also use some of our wealth to help poorer countries develop clean energy technology and other changes that will help them adapt to climate change.” 

Church World Service projects worldwide are aimed at empowering poor people to develop and implement sustainable solutions to persistent hunger, malnutrition and poverty, problems expected to escalate in the face of unchecked warming.

One example of CWS climate change-related projects is in the West Pokot region of Kenya in East Africa where women walk up to 12 miles to fetch water to use for hygiene, cooking, cattle and farming because of water shortages caused by scant rainfall.  Land there is rapidly turning into desert soil that will not support abundant crops.  The result is increased hunger, malnutrition, starvation and death. 

To alleviate the present suffering and head off future disaster, CWS assists in building shallow wells, cattle troughs, tanks, and sub-surface sand dams to create a sustainable supply of clean water for humans and for livestock. 

‘Another layer of misery for poor people’

The world's leading scientists recommend limiting the rise in global temperature to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Failing to do so -- by drastically cutting down on carbon emissions -- could result in acute water shortages for 1 to 3 billion people, 30 million more people going hungry, 40 to 60 million more Africans exposed to malaria, and an increase in heat-related deaths in the United States.

The predicted decrease in food production and an increase in global food prices foretell certain devastation for poor communities already struggling with hunger, malnutrition, starvation and deepening poverty.

“Climate change is just another layer of misery for poor people,” McCullough says.

Church World Service is taking steps to reduce its own contribution to environmental pollution with a full-scale assessment of carbon emissions from agency activities.  The ultimate goal is to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the agency’s organizational activities puts in -- from activities as common as using computers and driving cars.

Expectations for a final binding agreement on climate change at the Copenhagen meetings are low, but CWS says it will remain relentless following the conference, in pressing the U.S. administration and Congress to finalize pending climate legislation.

"However," CWS's McCullough reminded individuals around the world, "When it comes down to it, it's up to us as sustainable consumers to drive the market to climate responsibility.

"If we don't buy what's threatening life as we know it, business won't sell it anymore," he said.

Sources:

* http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/09/1858&type=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

** http://www.abcnews.go.com/US/isle-de-jean-charles-louisiana-threatened-sea-floodwaters/story?id=9263544

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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