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World faith leaders point at richer nations to solve the climate crisis

04 October 2021


Pope Francis signs the faith leaders’ statement during the Faith and Science meeting at the Apostolic Palace, in the Vatican on Monday. Archbishop Welby is third from left in the photo

Pope Francis signs the faith leaders’ statement during the Faith and Science meeting at the Apostolic Palace, in the Vatican on Monday. Archbishop Wel...

THE Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with faith leaders and scientists from around the world, have called on wealthier nations to cut emissions and provide more climate funding to help vulnerable countries to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Archbishop Welby was among 33 global faith leaders making the call as part of a special meeting at the Vatican on Monday morning. In addition to representatives from different faiths, those attending included the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew; the acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Ioan Sauca; and the secretary general of the Evangelical World Alliance, Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher. The statement was received at the meeting by the COP26 President, Alok Sharma.

Their appeal, formed after several months of dialogue with some of the world’s leading scientists, focuses on richer countries, which have done the most to cause climate change. “We beg those nations with the greatest responsibility and present capacity to provide substantial financial support to vulnerable countries and to agree new targets to enable them to become climate resilient, and to adapt to and to address climate change. The rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities must be given special attention.”

Nations are urged to take greater action at the COP26 climate summit taking place in Glasgow in November: “Future generations will never forgive us if we miss the opportunity to protect our common home. We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children. Scientists have warned us that there might be only one decade left to restore the planet.

“We plead with the international community, gathered at COP26, to take speedy, responsible and shared action to safeguard, restore and heal our wounded humanity and the home entrusted to our stewardship. We appeal to everyone to join us on this common journey.”

Besides calling on action from governments, the faith leaders made a commitment to do more to educate and influence people of faith and actively participate in the public debate on environmental issues.

They said: “The followers of religious traditions have a crucial part to play in addressing the crisis of our common home. We commit to taking much more serious action. Young people are demanding that we listen to the scientific insights and that we, their elders, do much more.”

Responding to the announcement, the chief executive of Cafod, Christine Allen, said: “As the host of this year’s COP, the Prime Minister has a unique responsibility to heed this cry from global faith leaders to safeguard, restore, and heal our wounded humanity and set an example on the international stage. . .

“This is a renewed moral call, joining other voices calling for action, to reset our priorities. They have recognised that the climate crisis crosses all parts of life and society; it’s time our politicians did the same.”

The faith leaders’ intervention puts pressure on the UK Government, which is leading the Glasgow talks, to ensure that the summit delivers more progress than previous meetings have, especially on reducing emissions and delivering climate finance to poorer nations.

Receiving the documents, Mr Sharma said: “I am honoured to receive this historic joint appeal as we press for progress towards limiting global temperature rises to 1.5ºC at COP26 in just a few weeks’ time. We must all hear the voices of those most affected by climate change and I hope people of faith will continue to be a key part of this dialogue as we work together to drive forward climate action.”

Coinciding with the call from the Vatican, a new initiative was launched on Monday which will mean that faith groups will commit themselves publicly to using their assets, investments, and influence to mitigate climate change and create a better world.

The programme Faith Plans for People and Planet has been organised by the charity FaithInvest, and WWF’s beliefs-and-values programme.

The chief executive of FaithInvest, Dr Martin Palmer, said: “Faiths are key stakeholders in the planet. Globally, faiths run two-thirds of schools, provide significant health services — the Catholic Church alone runs a quarter of the world’s health care — and manage eight per cent of the habitable land surface of the planet, including five per cent of commercial forests.

“Faith communities are already playing a crucial role in inspiring and undertaking change within and beyond their communities to help ensure a stable future for all. And now those communities, which represent all of the world’s major faith traditions, are committing to scale up their efforts and take practical, yet bold environmental steps for change.

“Given the size of their assets and influence, faiths alone, through their actions, could make the crucial difference to the world’s efforts to halt irreversible climate change and reverse environmental destruction.”

Some of the proposed actions from faith groups include divesting from fossil fuels; establishing community forests; planting millions of trees; improving the energy efficiency of buildings; adopting renewable energies; and encouraging their members to adopt greener lifestyles, including greener transport for pilgrimages.

Mr Sharma has also been written to by young Methodists from around the world. The campaign Climate Justice for All released an open letter calling for bold and ambitious action from the COP26 president.

The letter says: “Young people have been pioneers in the climate movement, and as a Church we have been led by their prophetic voice as we have responded to the climate crisis. Our young people have continually expressed their fears for the planet, and have called on those in power to do more to protect their future. We urge you to hold these fears close to your heart as you lead COP26.

“We ask that you test the impact of the resolutions you make on generations to come. To neglect to do so would be a betrayal of the young people whose voices have been so active in driving the climate movement, and who risk bearing the heaviest consequences of our actions in years to come.”

Earlier this year, the Methodist Church disinvested from fossil fuels by selling its £21-million holdings in Shell (News, 21 May).

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