If approved by the 225th General Assembly, the Presbyterian Tree Fund will support global efforts to combat climate change

The proposed Presbyterian Tree Fund will help offset the effects of the carbon emissions that result from travel. (Photo by Chad Peltola via Unsplash)

(PNS) — Climate change will become a focus of the Matthew 25 invitation in 2022 and in support, global partners and ministry areas in the Presbyterian Mission Agency have created the Presbyterian Tree Fund to receive carbon offset donations that’ll be used for grants that support tree planting and other climate- friendly projects.

The fund will be administered by Compassion, Peace & JusticePresbyterian World Mission and the Peru Mission Network. Here’s the proposed formula: for every flight taken by PMA personnel, a specific dollar amount will be taken from the travel budget of the staff person´s work area and transferred to the Presbyterian Tree Fund.

An overture to create the Presbyterian Tree Fund was first passed by the Presbytery of Scioto Valley with concurrence by Presbytery of New Covenant and the Presbytery de Cristo as well as Monmouth Presbytery, now Presbytery of the Coastlands. It was to go before the 224th General Assembly, held online in 2020, but was referred to the 225th General Assembly, to be held at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville both in-person and online from June 18 through July 9.

Presbyterians throughout the church, including but not limited to General Assembly commissioners, Ecumenical Advocacy Days participants, Presbyterians traveling to mission network meetings, and participants at Presbyterian-sponsored conferences will be invited to voluntarily contribute to the fund to offset the carbon emissions related to their own air travel.

In support of the program, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterians for Earth Care are offering the option of contributing to the Restoring Creation for Ecology & Justice fund. As new trees grow, they help slow climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the trees and soil and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

PHP will offer grants to global partners already doing important tree-planting, carbon sequestration, and climate-friendly projects that are helping curb the impacts of climate change in places like Peru, Madagascar, Ghana and Cameroon.

“Presbyterians have long supported carbon offsets for our greenhouse gas emissions at General Assemblies, conferences such as Presbyterians for Earth Care, and in personal life,” said the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Now, there is a lot of excitement surrounding this newer idea that we could be financially contributing to positive climate-friendly sustainable development projects connected to our own denomination and communities in more direct relationship to our PC(USA) staff, partners, and mission co-workers. While all well-vetted carbon offset organizations are making important and positive change, and while this Presbyterian effort won’t be calculating exact mathematical and scientific numbers related to carbon sequestration, this will be a great option for Presbyterians who want to be more closely connected to and able to learn about the specific projects and communities that are thriving because of Presbyterian generosity.”

The Rev. Jed Koball, a mission co-worker serving in Peru, was instrumental in developing the idea. He was inspired by  a small group of seniors who call themselves the Conservation Committee of Villa El Sol, who over the past 20 years have planted trees to restore life in one of the most contaminated places on the planet, La Oroya, Peru.

Poisoned by the emissions of a U.S.-owned metals smelter, nearly 1,000 miles of surrounding land is contaminated as much as four inches deep with lead, cadmium and arsenic. Despite the fact the smelter has not operated at full capacity for over a decade, more than half of La Oroya’s children have extreme levels of lead in their blood.

Because of its immense biodiversity, economic inequality and decaying infrastructure, Peru is considered one of the three countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change. Having responded to massive flooding, mudslides and displacement due to unprecedented rains near the coast of Peru, Red Uniendo Manos Peru (Joining Hands Peru) knew that the long-term struggle against climate change in Peru must focus on retaining water in the mountains.

PHP, through its Joining Hands initiative, has long supported the organizing work in the community. Much of it has focused on calling for an environmental health policy to address the contamination in La Oroya. Through years of advocating for specialized health care, the enforcement of environmental policy and the remediation of lands poisoned from decades of mining activity, it became clear that the community would have to take on some of the work itself. This led to the idea of bio-remediating the land. Bioremediation is the use of deliberately introduced microorganisms to consume and break down environmental pollutants.

“Over the years members of the Peru Mission Network have traveled thousands of miles many times to Peru to support the work of global partners in places like La Oroyo. Yet in doing so they were effectively adding to the problem of climate change being faced by the communities they partner with due to the carbon emissions they produced by flying there,” said Koball. With help from global partners, the Peru Mission Network became more conscious of its impact and drafted the idea of the Presbyterian Tree Fund, which it then brought it to the respective presbyteries of its members.

“While jet travel only accounts for about 2% of carbon emissions contributing to global warming, it is an act of faithful stewardship to offset our emissions as we continue to support efforts of global partners to adapt to climate change and as we work more collectively and globally to advocate for broader systemic change in mitigating global warming,” Koball said. “It is a small but significant step in our living together more equitably in this one common home we share.”

To donate for tree-planting and other carbon-friendly projects, click here.

by Kathy Melvin, Presbyterian News Service