by Catherine Woodiwiss
Just before Monday’s opening of the 17th UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, Pope Benedict XVI issued a plea for solidarity among international leaders to reach a responsible deal in Durban and account for the needs of the poorest communities and future generations. From the Vatican, Pope Benedict – dubbed the “Green Pope” for his commitment to environmental concerns – urged conference delegates to “reach agreement on a responsible, credible response” to the “complex” and “disturbing” effects of climate change.
His charge came the same day as a letter published by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, which affirmed the “general consensus that human activities make [climate change] happen much faster” and underscored the threat of climate change to “our beloved world and the entire creation that God has given us.” This letter launched the Bishops’ appeal to the government of South Africa to support resolutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, require countries with higher levels of emissions to fund programs aimed at helping developing countries to lower their emissions, and commit to the production of renewable energy.
Faith groups from around the world have registered their concerns over the disastrous effects of climate change and the rising risk to the world’s most vulnerable people. The African group “We Have Faith – Act Now for Climate Justice” organized a highly-publicized pre-summit rally in Durban on Sunday, with religious leaders, musical guests, and celebrities in attendance. Nearly 2,000 rally attendees presented a global petition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who accepted the document on behalf of the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) with tears in her eyes. “We have heard your voice and your prayers,” Figueres said of the petition, which calls for “neighbours to treat the earth with respect, resist disorder, (and) live in peace with each other including embracing a legally binding climate change treaty.”
More than 40,948 people signed the “We Have Faith” petition – almost four times the number of registered conference attendees. And faith groups are planning a Global Day of Action march and a multi-faith prayer service for early December, to keep the religious pressure on global leaders to deliver a vision and strategy for dealing with climate change.
At Sunday’s rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu likened climate change to the battle against apartheid. “Now we are facing another huge, huge enemy, and no one nation can face this particular enemy on its own,” he said. Like apartheid, he added, climate change “cannot be defeated in isolation.”
Other religious leaders sent their support from abroad. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams shared a video of support, saying, “It’s no time for despair – but it’s certainly no time for complacency either. The moral crisis is as real as ever. And we need as never before real moral leadership from the international community. We need to know that governments will fulfill the pledges that have been given by the richer countries, to provide $100bn by 2020.”
American ecumenical organizations including Church World Service and the National Council of Churches of Christ have sent letters to President Obama, urging him to do all he can towards commiting to a concrete source of climate finance, supporting progress on a second Kyoto Protocol, and reaching “a fair, ambitious and binding agreement that sets forth a truly moral response to climate change.” The NCC is also sending Methodist, Epsicopal, and Presbyterian representatives to participate in the faith actions in Durban.
Though not present at this year’s summit, Pope Benedict has regularly expressed his concern for environmental stewardship and responsible leadership on climate change. His charge on Sunday, and the ongoing interfaith engagement in Durban, further indicates a shift across religious traditions towards greater concern—and action—in order to protect God’s creation.
— Catherine Woodiwiss is a Special Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress
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