THE secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, urged religious leaders gathered with their action plans at Windsor Castle on Tuesday to use their unique position in society to help the world deal with the “momentous global challenge” of climate change.
They had come from around the world to the conference “Many Heavens, One Earth: Faith Commitments for a Living Planet”, organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) in conjunction with the United Nations’ Development Programme.
More than 200 leaders of faith groups and secular environmental organisations discussed how they could take a lead.
Protecting the planet was an “ethical and scientific imperative”, said Mr Ban. He emphasised the influence that faith groups could exert: “You are the leaders who can have the largest, widest, and deepest reach.”
Faith groups reached half of all the world’s schools, and could “inspire people to change” by setting “an example for the lifestyles of billions of people, and encourage politicians to act more boldly”.
The “deeds and the teachings of the world’s faith groups are so vitally important”, he said; and he urged the leaders to do all they could, “in your power, in your teaching, through your wisdom”, to galvanise their followers.
Mr Ban said that the forthcoming Copenhagen summit would be “a pivotal moment for our world”, and he expected “equitable and binding” agreements to come out of it. Transformation happened “when governments, civil society, and, particularly, religious communities work together”.
During the conference, the religious leaders presented their own long-term plans for practical action against climate change in their countries.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, representing the Church of England, launched its seven-year “Church and Earth” action plan. Under the plan, the whole Church would reduce its carbon footprint by 40 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050.
He also set out a commitment to making all 4700 C of E schools “eco-schools” by 2016; while every diocese will be encouraged to gain Fairtrade status. Tree-planting on church land will also be promoted, as well as an “eco-twinning” scheme for parishes in the UK and the developing world.
All parishes and dioceses will be expected to produce annual carbon and energy reports under the plan.
The Bishop said delegates to the conference had moved “beyond rhetoric” by producing practical plans, and that faith groups would continue to put pressure on world leaders in order to “enlarge the room for manoeuvre” for politicians.
The Bishop remained “full of hope” for the Copenhagen summit, but said he felt it unlikely that countries such as the United States could enter into binding agreements in view of their current difficulties, such as healthcare reform.
The mechanism of distributing the adaptation fund for climate change was likely to be “one of the big themes of the conference”, he said.
The conference had been a “powerful gathering”, said the Archbishop of Tanzania, Dr Valentino Mokiwa, one of the participants. “For the first time, the UN was creating a space for religious leaders and global policy- makers to come together.
“Climate change is affecting us very heavily in Tanzania: it’s not rained for almost ten months. It’s in the hands of the politicians at Copenhagen now. If politicians stop being politicians and become ‘walkers of the talk’, I believe positive things may happen.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Samuel Kobia, said that the conference showed the “tremendous contribution faith communities have made in creating awareness about the peril of global warming”.
Dr Kobia, who will attend the Copenhagen summit in December, said that world leaders from developing countries needed to adopt a “courageous position” in order for progress to be made, and for there to be justice for them.
The Duke of Edinburgh, founder of the ARC, spoke about the Alliance’s origins, and said that faith groups had a “special concern for the vitality of the earth, and could reach many different regions”.
The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of South India, and the Northern diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania were among other Christian bodies that presented long-term environmental strategies.
Followers of the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, Shinto, Daoist, and Jewish faiths also attended the conference, whose participants were served the first-ever vegan meal at Windsor Castle on Tuesday. It used seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
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