What religious/faith groups say or
do not say about climate change, and how they address climate change through
their worship and rituals matters a great deal. Read on to find out why…
Do religious groups
have the potential to take the fight against climate change to the mainstream?
That’s the question Olav Kjørven, Assistant
Secretary General and Director of Development Policy at the UN Development
Programme asked, after his recent visit to China, where he participated in a
meeting of Taoist master from all over the country met to agree on a seven-year
plan for climate change action. He said the overall strength and sustainability
of all religions was immediately apparent to him. ‘Ancient religious symbols
and wisdom combined with modern scientific understanding proved to be a potent
mixture inspiring and energizing masters and lay believers alike to rake
unprecedented action’ said Olav.
According to Olav the reach of religious and
faith-based groups is unparalleled. The world’s major faiths between them own
at least 7% of the habitable surface of the planet; they have founded, run or
contribute to 54% of all schools; are the third largest category of investors
in the world; produce more weekly magazines and newspapers than the whole of
the secular press in the EU; and print over a billion books a year. And perhaps
most importantly, for a large proportion of the world’s people, religions serve
as core custodians of values and cultural traditions.
So what religions do or do not do, what they say or do not say about climate
change, and how they address climate change through their worship and rituals
matters a great deal.
Olav explained that to date, most faiths haven’t said much on climate change
and their deeds have largely escaped their own moral or theological scrutiny
when it comes to climate impact. However, all of that is about to change. Over
the coming years, the Taoists will implement a wide range of climate change
actions, joining similar activities across a dozen or so other religions.
Building on this momentum, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and
the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a UK-based NGO, have come
together to launch a new project, which has already witnessed an exciting surge
of commitment across the spectrum of major faiths for ambitious actions to
fight climate change. Each of the world’s major religions is tasked with
developing a comprehensive, seven-year plan in which they address seven key
areas where they could have a significant influence, including: carrying out
sustainable investments; greening the management of assets such as land,
forests and hospitals; introducing green curriculum into faith-run schools;
helping vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change through pastoral
care; and using faith-based media and advocacy networks to lobby governments to
be more sustainable.
The Catholic Church in the US,
for example, recently adopted a Catholic Climate Covenant and is embarking on
their comprehensive seven-year plan, which encourages Catholics to tread
lightly and act boldly. The Jesuit Order is adopting a similar approach
worldwide. There is also an emerging view of the Amazon rainforest as a central
cause from a Catholic theological and moral perspective given that the entire
basin is within a largely Catholic region.
Olav added that this project is not only far-reaching – it is most timely. In
anticipation of the Copenhagen climate conference in December, people from across the globe will gather at
sacred sites this November to commit to their faith’s seven year plans. At the
same time, the world’s religious leaders will meet along with others at Windsor Castle in the UK,
in an event supported by UNDP, where the commitments of the various faiths to
tackling climate change will be celebrated and transmitted to the world’s
political leaders. This event, to be broadcast live on-air by BBC and
online by Google, will be one for the history books.
And in answer to the title question, Olav said