We are called to “explore ways of love and justice in respecting God’s creation and in seeking its responsible use for the common good” (Living Faith 2.4.2). The church has a long and ongoing history of ecological justice work that focuses on respecting the inherent value of creation and the limits natural systems place on human interactions with creation.

Climate crisis

Church statements span several decades and include theological principles that emphasize the integrity of creation and humankind’s responsibilities toward limiting our impact on the natural world as a part of an ecological justice ethic. The church acknowledges that the climate crisis is the result of global warming caused by human activities. (A&P 2010, pp. 390-405, 17, 39) The church commends the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and advocates for measures that will keep global warming below 2 degrees C.

Principles that General Assembly has endorsed:
  • Human stewardship is not defined as mastery, but it is about unequivocal love for this world, exercised with respect for the integrity of natural systems and for the limits that nature places on economic growth and material consumption. (A&P 1984, pp. 363-6, 26)
  • Global warming represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security and stability of human life and natural ecosystems. (A&P 1990, pp. 415-6, 62)
  • The church supports the principles of a “just transition” which refer to actions and policies to lower carbon emissions and counter climate change while also taking significant steps to support workers and families in the industries and communities affected (through such means as financial aid, job training and help to find employment). (A&P 2021, pp. 408-411, 38)
  • Our climate is a public good and all humanity is responsible for taking care of it, especially those who live in countries that produce a disproportionate share of greenhouse gases. The ethics of climate change confer a responsibility on wealthy countries to support countries that are least able to adapt to climate change—particularly those in the Global South. (A&P 2010, pp. 390-405, 17, 39)
Select Actions of the Church

2022: General Assembly advocated the Government of Canada to reduce carbon emissions and increase funding for climate crisis impacts and adaptation. Presbyterians were encouraged to do the same and to contact federally elected representatives about the need for cooperation among all elected officials to meet Canada’s carbon reduction targets. Congregations were encouraged to participate in local climate justice initiatives. (A&P 2022, pp. 175-6, 22 & pp. 145-6, 45)

2021: General Assembly approved that the moderator write to federal, provincial and territorial governments urging that they meet or surpass the Paris Agreement (an international agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius) targets and asking that the government implement “just transition” and “just recovery” programs (referring to actions and policies to lower carbon emissions and counter climate change while also taking significant steps to support workers and families in the industries and communities affected through such means as financial aid, job training and help to find employment). Many people also use these two phrases to emphasize the need to support communities—especially Indigenous communities and communities in the global south—who are already disproportionately affected by a changing climate and have been even further disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Presbyterians were also encouraged to write their elected officials. (A&P 2021, pp. 408-411, 38)

General Assembly also approved that the moderator write to the Government of Canada:

  • on its progress towards meeting its Convention on Biodiversity goals. (A&P 2021, pp. 339-344, 40)
  • highlighting the need for sustained, comprehensive collection and analysis of regional data, including on weather, flooding and droughts, to understand how changing climate is affecting agriculture and how best to pursue programs that will help farmers adapt to climate change. (A&P 2021, pp. 408-411, 38)
  • encouraging efforts to support people who are displaced because of the impacts of climate change, and encouraging other countries to do the same. (A&P 2021, pp. 339-344, 40)

Presbyterians and courts of the church were encouraged to learn about:

  • the World Communion of Reformed Churches’ “Declaration of Climate Emergency”
  • issues facing the watershed in their communities. (A&P 2021, pp. 408-411, 38)
  • fostering biodiversity on their properties, as well as in their homes and communities. (A&P 2021, pp. 339-344, 40)

Courts of the church were encouraged to create policies for environmentally sustainable use of churches, buildings and properties and that these policies be applied to rental groups. (A&P 2021, pp. 339-344, 40) Every national committee of the church was encouraged to review when, how and where it meets, as a means of finding ways to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and report this back to the General Assembly. General Assembly endorsed recommendations to seek to eliminate single use non-biodegradable plastics and Styrofoam at their meetings and engage all church groups to do the same. (A&P 2021, pp. 408-411, 38)

2019: Congregations were encouraged to reduce their use of plastics, share the creative ways they have already reduced their use of plastics, and promote congregational awareness about reducing the impact of climate change and plastics in oceans. Presbyterians were encouraged to raise the issue of plastic recycling and reduction to their municipal governments. (A&P 2019, pp. 30, 282-284)

2017: The Moderator wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs encouraging the government to meet its financial commitments to assist countries in the Global South to mitigate and adapt to climate change and affirmed Canada’s pledge to meet its commitments in the Paris Agreement. (A&P 2017, 36, 379-82)

2015: General Assembly recommended that Presbyterians advocate with their Members of Parliament. The Moderator wrote to the Minister of the Environment prior to the Conference of Parties 21 – a UN forum for global discussions on mitigating climate change – meeting in December 2015 to express their support for the development of an internationally negotiated and binding agreement that sets reductions targets in greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the increase in the globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature to two degrees Celsius. (A&P 2015, pp. 391-3, 18)

2012: The General Assembly encouraged the Government of Canada to develop policies and initiatives to promote more responsible stewardship and care of natural resources. It urged the GOC to maintain or increase funding of scientific projects that help Canadians understand the realities of climate change.

2010: General Assembly expressed to the Government of Canada concern with Canada’s lack of progress to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, urged for increased funding under the Copenhagen Agreement, requested information on policies and financial commitments for projects dealing directly with climate change mitigation, and to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, encouraging all necessary steps toward transparency and openness. Presbyterians were invited to study climate change and consider how they could reduce carbon emissions. (A&P 2010, pp. 390-405, 17, 39)

2008: General Assembly wrote to the Government of Canada encouraging it to recommit to meeting Canada’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. (A&P 2008, pp. 324, 41)

2005: The 131st GA urged the GOC to ban the commercial export of water and to make sure water services for domestic use did not come under the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services. (A&P 2005, pp. 294-307, 14-15)

2003: General Assembly also encouraged Presbyterians to encourage local and provincial governments to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol targets (for reducing carbon emissions). (A&P 2003, pp. 301-302, 308, 15)

1992: General Assembly urged the Government of Canada to re-examine its foreign policy and to reverse any policies that contribute to environmental degradation in developing countries. (A&P 1992, pp. 331-341, 41)

1991: The 117th GA asked boards and agencies to participate in networks addressing the greenhouse effect. It urged the GOC to participate in negotiations on an international convention on world climate. (A&P 1991, pp. 329-331, 57)

1990: General Assembly adopted a statement on the environment and endorsed the Tokyo Declaration of the World Commission on Environment and Development and asked the Government of Canada to reach international agreements for the reduction of greenhouse gases and the promotion of reforestation. (A&P 1990, pp. 415-416, 62)

Energy and Resource Use

Church statements span several decades and include theological principles to guide energy policy decisions, the responsible use of nuclear energy, limiting fossil fuel emissions, the need for assessment of the environmental and human impact of resource development, and for just transitions for businesses and people as energy sources change.

Principles that General Assembly has endorsed:
  • Natural resources should be recognized as “capital” to be sustained for future generations and the full environmental cost of doing business should be incorporated into the pricing system in both the public and private sector. (A&P 1994, pp. 301-313, 36-38, 67-68)
  • Any denial of access to water represents lack of respect for God’s creation and lack of concern for our neighbour. (A&P 2005, pp. 294-307, 14-15)
  • Energy policy should be guided by the values of justice, participation and sustainability. (A&P 1982, pp. 316-317, 58, 85)
  • Congregations are encouraged to conserve energy through improved energy efficiency in church buildings. (A&P 1981, pp. 305, 79)
    Development of policies that embody the environmental and social costs of energy production should become the norm. (A&P 1991, pp. 286-289, 50)
  • Canada should reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to limit emissions that contribute to global warming. (A&P 1991, pp. 286-289, 50)
  • Funding for research and development of renewable energy sources should be increased by redirecting funds from the development of conventional fossil fuels and nuclear energy. (A&P 1991, pp. 286-289, 50)
  • Purchasing carbon offsets should never replace attempts to reduce overall carbon emissions. (A&P 2010, pp.440-6, 36)
Select Actions of the Church

2023: General Assembly received a report on environmental racism, which refers to the influences of systemic racism and colonization that make racialized and Indigenous communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, environmental degradation and environmental toxins from human activities. General Assembly approved that the Moderator write to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change expressing support for the development of a strategy to examine the links between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk and address environmental racism in Canada. Presbyteries, congregations and individuals were invited to write their local member of parliament for the same purpose.

2018: General Assembly set a creation care levy of $20 per metric tonne based on the carbon emissions of ground and air travel for General Assembly participants, to take effect at the 2019 General Assembly. The levy will be averaged (per GA participant) and presbyteries will cover the cost of their commissioners, and Presbyterians Sharing will cover the cost of staff and resource people through the budget of the committee or agency that sends them to General Assembly. The levy is pledged to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s Climate Fund. (A&P 2018, pp. 363-368, 13-4)

2017: General Assembly recommended that the Moderator, in consultation with Justice Ministries and the Trustees, write to companies in which the church had investments affirming their participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project (now called CDP), a voluntary survey in which companies share information about how they are responding to climate change, and requesting information regarding how their company plans to meet emissions reduction targets set by the Government of Canada to meet Paris Agreement targets (global climate change agreement); their plans to introduce or increase investments in renewable energy in their operations and/or holdings; and to include the risks and opportunities posed by climate change as one of the required competencies for their boards of directors. (A&P 2017, 36, 379-82)

2010: General Assembly decided that those attending the next General Assembly would record their air and automobile mileage in order to measure the General Assembly’s carbon footprint. It was also decided that consideration of future General Assembly sites would include inquiries related to venue policies regarding energy efficiency and the environment. (A&P 2010, pp. 440-6, 36)

1992: General Assembly urged federal and provincial governments to institute a moratorium on hydro megaprojects until full environmental assessments were completed and to adhere to the principle that exporting power should not adversely affect the local ecosystem. It also suggested that groups displaced by hydro megaprojects be adequately compensated. (A&P 1992, pp. 298-303, 45)

1991: General Assembly asked the federal and provincial governments to develop a comprehensive energy policy in response to the environmental crisis. It suggested all governments consider ethanol as a sustainable fuel option. General Assembly asked the Government of Canada to amend its plan to reducing carbon dioxide emissions so that it would meet the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment. (A&P 1991, pp. 286-289, 50)

1983: General Assembly adopted a statement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which called for a moratorium on the development of nuclear energy until certain safety issues were resolved and the Government of Canada developed a sustainable energy policy for the nation. (A&P 1983, pp. 326-329, 29)

1982: General Assembly adopted a statement on the responsible and creative use of nuclear technology in Canada. (A&P 1982, pp. 316-317, 58, 85)

1976: General Assembly called for a moratorium on the development of non-renewable resources in northern Canada until the Government had settled Aboriginal land claims and had adopted policies for environmental protection (also known as the Berger Commission). (A&P 1976, p. 78)

Land Use & Farming

The church has made statements on the responsibility of governments to set national environmental standards, land use, including farming and food supply.

Principles that General Assembly has endorsed:
  • The federal government must have the power to enact minimum national environmental standards. (A&P 1982, pp. 316-317, 58, 85)
  • Provincial governments should be permitted to enact stronger legislation than federal minimal standards. (A&P 1992, pp. 298-303, 45)
  • Farmers should not be forced by economic constraints to engage in farming practices that harm the land. (A&P 1987, pp. 327, 51)
  • Policy should be developed and implemented that will move Canada toward self-reliance in food supply. (A&P 1988, pp. 339-344, 29-30)
Select Actions of the Church

1988: General Assembly recognized that the current state of food production and distribution constituted a national crisis and asked the Government of Canada to rescind sections of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that made competition with American exports nearly impossible. It also asked the Government of Canada to develop a comprehensive policy that would move the nation toward self-reliance in food supply. General Assembly asked lending institutions to write down farm debt. Churches were encouraged to care for farmers to rethink their attitudes toward food production and distribution. (A&P 1988, pp. 339-344, 29-30)

1987: General Assembly asked the federal and provincial governments to study sound ecological farm practices and to provide incentives to encourage the preservation of wetlands. (A&P 1987, pp. 327, 51)

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