The Paris Agreement: A Faith Perspective

The moral guidance in the Bible is quite clear when it instructs us to "love God and love our neighbors. If Christians take instruction from our scripture seriously we would see that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and being good stewards of the earth is our duty. In simple terns we are called to look after the least among us. That instruction is not unique to the Bible. All mainstream religious teach these moral principles. Today, this translates, with concrete certainty, into acting on climate change.

Last week in Paris, the nations of the world answered God's call to care for the poor and to protect creation. I was there to observe as diplomats from more than 180 countries convened and agreed on a plan to address climate change. For the first time, nearly all the nations of the world have agreed to do their fair share to limit dangerous carbon pollution. This is a moral triumph. The Paris agreement charts the course to a safe and sustainable future with transparency and flexibility worked in, too. It will help provide for the health and safety of the most vulnerable (the least) among us -- children, the elderly and the very poor.

By burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and goal, we are dumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas, driving up temperatures and distorting the climate -- 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 2015 is on track to be even hotter. As a result of reliance on dirty fuels, we are incurring a debt to future generations that will be paid in human lives lost to punishing heat waves, severe drought and devastating storms.

The Paris Agreement is a first step to rein in our debt. We know that no country can act alone on climate change and that no country will be spared from its impacts. Through trust and cooperation, nations forged a pact that brought the biggest polluters to the table, including China, the U.S., India and the European Union. This agreement will prove essential to protecting our children and grandchildren from unchecked climate change.

In the United States we must do our part to ensure the success of this agreement. We must enact strong policies, like the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, that will encourage the development of clean energy. The Clean Power Plan puts the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide from power plants, the largest source of U.S. emissions. By curbing air pollution, the initiative will save thousands of lives and many trips to the hospital each year.

The faith community can support smart policy by continuing to advocate on climate change. Life is a precious gift from God, and we have a moral obligation to protect it. This is the message I preach, and it is a message I hear again and again from ministers of the 18,000 congregations nationwide who have committed to acting on climate change. That's why, this week in Paris, we unveiled the Paris Pledge (www.parispledge.org) in which thousands of Americans of faith pledged to dramatically shrink their carbon footprint. When confronted with human suffering, the faithful must answer with urgency and compassion.

And the good news is, it is happening. Pope Francis delivered the first papal encyclical dedicated wholly to environment. In it, he called all people of good will "to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale." Shortly thereafter, Islamic leaders called on the world's Muslims to stem climate change, because we "have the responsibility to establish good and avert evil in every way we can."

As a Christian, I find wisdom in the story of Genesis. God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden with instructions to till and to keep it. Like Adam, we must tend our garden, to care for the Earth and preserve it for our children. Last week, thanks to the agreement in Paris, we agreed to be better stewards of creation, but our work is far from over. Just as the faithful advocated for the abolition of slavery, for women's suffrage and civil rights, we must continue to advocate for greater peace, justice and an end to fossil fuels.