As the UN’s crunch climate summit approaches, I’m seeing several trends that give me hope for COP21. Many climate activists are still traumatised by the colossal failure of the Copenhagen summit in 2009. While I’m not certain we will go into 2016 with the legally binding scientifically credible and socially just global deal that we need, I am certain it will at least be much better than Copenhagen. There’s several trends that are giving me hope for the Paris 2015 summit, and one of them is the way religious leaders have recently been queueing up to call for climate action, and climate justice.
In June, Pope Francis published his impassioned encyclical “LAUDATO SI’: On Care of Our Common Home” which describes the Earth as our mother and sister, that we have been abusing with our unwise and short-sighted mismanagement of the environment. He calls on not only Catholics but on “all men and women of good will” to act to protect the Earth and the poor who are most affected by climate change despite doing the least to cause it. He has since been waxing lyrical about climate justice to everyone who will listen, and when you’re the Pope, that’s a lot of people. In September he went on tour around the USA where he spoke to tens of thousands of people about this.
In August, an impressive 60 Muslim leaders published their “International Islamic Climate Change Symposium” in which they warn that humanity’s short-sighted overuse of the Earth’s endowments has put our species – and all others – under threat. They call on Muslims around the world (and especially those in positions of power) to fight for a strong global deal to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Lastly, they implore us “do not strut arrogantly on the Earth” – a small gem from the Qur’an that perfectly sums up what we have been doing for the last 200 years!
Not to be outdone, the end of October saw 12 Buddhist leaders (including the Dalai Lama) publish their “Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders 2015″ which calls on heads of state to make a strong climate deal at COP21. Like the statements from the Pope and the 60 Muslim leaders, it calls for the phasing out of fossil fuels and the transition to a green economy. It also calls for the ramping up of climate finance to the poor countries who most need to adapt to what’s already locked in. Like the Muslim declaration, it states that 1.5C should really be the target, as 2C is too risky for many vulnerable countries. Like the Catholic encyclical, it calls the Earth our ”Mother”. The dozen leaders of Buddhism praise and support declarations from other religions, and as well as the two above they also mention the “upcoming Hindu declaration”. I had a look and I could only find this one from 2009, so I guess the Hindus are still working on their 2015 edition.
These three statements have all had a bit of fanfare about them, but this website states that almost every religion has published some kind of call to action on climate change. How detailed and genuine they all are remains to be seen, but the fact that they have all said something on the matter is hopeful.
This flurry of religious attention on the climate seems like a really positive sign to me. It’s something I haven’t seen before, at least not in this magnitude. And whatever your personal thoughts on organised religion (I don’t identify with any of these three), you’ve got to admit that religion is a massive source of power in our world. Catholics (1.2 billion), Muslims (1.6 billion) and Buddhists (0.5 billion)together number 3.3 billion people – half the world’s population. That’s huge.
Of course not every believer is going to listen to these leaders, change their whole lifestyle and become a climate activist.
But if these religious leaders continue to push the climate agenda with the gusto they’re capable of, then they should be able to inspire millions of people to act in some way. Even better, they will likely be able to influence people that would never listen to, say, Greenpeace.
All eyes on Paris.