As 2018 came to a close, representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society gathered in Katowice, Poland, at the Conference of Parties (COP24) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Whilst State Parties were negotiating the rulebook that will guide the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement, religious actors at the COP24 engaged in determined advocacy for a more sustainable global climate policy.
In an increasingly difficult atmosphere for effective multilateral climate governance, which goes along with a shrinking space for civil society, it is important that civil society organizations, including faith-based actors, make their voices heard vis-à-vis representatives of states and international organizations. Indeed, religious organizations are often those who are closest to the people suffering most from natural disasters and environmental changes induced by climate change. As Tomás Insua, Executive Director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, stated, “The urgency couldn’t be greater. Pope Francis, the Catholic Church, and other faiths are reminding us with really strong warnings that we have to rally behind the scientists. The science is crystal clear, we’re heading towards a cliff and emissions still continue to rise”. Similarly, a letter by the Parliament of World Religions to the COP24 reiterated the faith parliament’s resolute appeal “to all of humanity to take bold and decisive action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.
Numerous faith groups followed their call as advocates for the protection of creation during the COP24. Representatives from different faith traditions, among them Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, spoke up for climate justice. They called on policy-makers to work towards an ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement. Many of them engaged in different kinds of advocacy and mobilization initiatives: They hosted official side events, drafted joint statements, organized an interfaith gathering, prayed together, and participated in a climate march. The Catholic Church of Poland organized a COP24 National Prayer Campaign, an initiative unprecedented in the history of the Polish Catholic Church.
In a presidency event, His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, stated that we are living in a crucial time to unite to save Mother Earth instead of creating further divisions through debates and fights. Prior to the COP24, Islamic Relief hosted climate dialogues in various countries, such as Pakistan, Niger, Mali, Somalia, Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Bangladesh. Results of these dialogues entered the COP24 by means of written submissions. Moreover, an interfaith coalition submitted a paper titled “Respecting Mother Earth and caring for ecological systems, the most vulnerable communities and all future generations“. These examples reflect the fact that most, if not all, religious traditions view creation as a sacred gift and feel that they have a critical role to play in calling for climate justice.
The importance of faith-based actors in fighting climate change was recognized by the Talanoa Call for Action, a statement issued by the Presidencies of COP24 and COP23, Michał Kurtyka from Poland and H.E. Frank Bainimarama from Fiji. Their imploring call for rapid mobilization explicitly addresses religious actors: “We call on spiritual leaders to unlock spiritual pathways for addressing climate change. We call on them to help their followers reconnect with the wonders of nature and creation, nurture love for the planet and foster compassion and reconciliation”.
Indeed, religious leaders are in the ideal position to be agents of change: they have the moral authority to mobilize their communities to preserve nature and engage in the fight against climate change. They can display a sustainable lifestyle, serving as role models for their followers and the public. They can educate local communities about the effects of climate change. By being part of and knowing local communities most affected by climate-induced risks and disasters, they have the credibility and knowledge to provide much needed help and guidance.
After all, as the Catholic nun Joan Chittister said, “we need to understand that we are here to complete the work of creation rather than consume it.”
This article is the cover story of the latest Faith in Development Monitor (issue 01/2019):
Cover Story – Spiritual Pathways for Addressing Climate Change
Religious Literacy Academy – Sufism – Islamic Mysticism
Featured Actor – The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development
Events – Faith and Development in the next 60 days
Publications – Insights and Perspectives