Office of Government Relations

The Paris Agreement and 1.5 Degrees Celsius

April 1, 2021
Office of Government Relations

EPPN Creation Care Series 2021 Part 1

In the very first chapter of Genesis, God appoints humankind to be stewards and caretakers of God’s creation. Humans shape our natural environment and planetary systems in ways no other species can, and climate change is a direct result of this power. This Creation Care series will focus specifically on the far-reaching impacts of climate change and offer resources to help empower you as a climate action advocate. If you are signed up for the EPPN emails you will automatically receive the forthcoming newsletters in this series.

Defining a Target of 1.5 Degrees Celsius

For the past 150 years, human activities have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, trapping extra heat and raising the average global temperature. Rising global temperatures don’t impact all areas in the same way, but scientists have documented several consistent patterns. For example, climate change increases the intensity of storms but also makes them occur less regularly, so cycles of flood and drought become more common.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body charged by the United Nations to assess climate change science for policymakers, recommended a goal to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. A 1.5°C world still negatively impacts a range of human and natural systems—we are already witnessing storms, droughts, and other natural disasters exacerbated by climate change today. However, small changes in global temperature matter. For example, by keeping temperature increases to just 1.5°C instead of 2°C, scientists estimate:   

  • 65 million fewer people will be exposed to extreme heat-related crises
  • 50 million fewer people will be exposed to coastal flooding, saving the United States alone 0.3–5.0% of its gross domestic product (GDP)
  • Coral reefs ecosystems will avoid complete collapse
  • Crop yields remain more stable (particularly in the tropics), protecting communities from food insecurity

The people most impacted by climate change are the ones least responsible for it: the developing world will suffer most egregiously. Additionally, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color will face more pronounced environmental threats as well as food insecurity, higher levels of poverty, poorer health outcomes, and a lack of resources to invest in climate resiliency, making them much less able to recover from disasters.

The Episcopal Church believes we have an obligation to care for the most vulnerable, provide food to the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and care for the forgotten (Matthew 25:37-40). Loving our neighbor as ourselves means centering these obligations in our advocacy and seeking effective and immediate climate change solutions that invest in communities who suffer from environmental racism and injustice.  

Taken from the most recent IPCC report, this graphic illustrates the need for ambitious action to successfully limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.

International Efforts to Address Climate Change

In 2015, 197 countries ratified the Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C and to target the more ambitious goal of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. “Nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) outline a country’s emission reduction goals and how they will achieve that reduction. NDCs are voluntary, unenforceable, and right now far below the commitment needed to achieve global temperature targets. However, they are also updated every five years, which offers frequent opportunities to push for more ambitious action. Through our role as Observers at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, The Episcopal Church advocates for ambitious emission reduction targets and for policy that ensures a just and equitable energy transition.

NDCs are being updated this year, making it a critical time for citizens to communicate the importance of addressing climate change to their elected leaders. The Biden Administration will release an updated NDC on Earth Day and then begin a six-month process of stakeholder engagement to strengthen and finalize U.S. commitments.

In anticipation of Biden’s announcement of the new U.S. NDC, this series will delve into more details of climate impacts and climate action, including land use, migration, the energy transition, and federal policy. We invite you to join us to learn about how Episcopalians can address climate change and build a more just and sustainable world. 

Further Resources 

 Episcopal Church Resolutions

  • 2018-A018: Adopt Bishops’ Pastoral Teaching and Commit to Paris Climate Accord
  • 2018-A011: Affirm Commitment to Address Environmental Racism
  • 2018-B026: Endorse the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the Basis for Policy and Action
  • 2012-B023: Seek Environmental Justice

Prayer for the Conservation of Natural Resources
 Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth,
 you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom
 and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one
 may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet
 to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through
 Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

See the rest of the series plus the 2019 EPPN Creation Care Series here.

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