Faith and Climate Change Conference held in London

Earth Charter UK Affiliate Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and Michael Slaby, Earth Charter Coordinator of the Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values, participated in the Faith and Climate Change Conference hosted by the Faith Regen Foundation and the Commonwealth Foundation. The two-day conference brought together over 100 representatives of different faith communities in the UK and abroad to discuss and exchange about their responses to climate change. The event started on Tuesday, 27 of October with a House of Lord’s reception hosted by Lord Sheikh, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum.

In his speech, Lord Sheikh highlighted UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 that makes the UK the first country in the world to have a legally binding long-term framework to cut carbon emissions. It sets the target of at least an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and at least a 34 percent reduction by 2020. Both these targets are against a 1990 baseline.

The first day of the conference started with a joint opening plenary with the Young Commonwealth Youth Summit where several Commonwealth officials, including Ransford Smith, Deputy-Secretary General of the Commonwealth welcomed the participants. A strong address was given by Dr. Farah Faizal, High Commissioner of the Maldives, who shared her experiences of being at the front-line in the struggle against climate change. Since 80 percent of its 1,200 islands are no more than 1m above sea level, the Maldives could become uninhabitable within the next 100 years.

During the afternoon session, the findings of global focus group discussions were presented that were held in eight different countries and involved the circulation of survey questions among religious leaders about their knowledge and engagement on climate change. These surveys brought to light a need for further education and training for religious leaders on this crucial challenge. In Malaysia, the focus group discussions were led by Shareen Iqbal who launched the first Earth Day Celebrations in her country and raised awareness about the Earth Charter in this context.

The first day ended with a special Dinner where UK Minister for Energy and Climate Change Ed Milibrand gave the keynote speech. His remarks centered on the important contributions religious communities can make by raising awareness about the special role of humanity as a species on this planet, our global interdependence, and the deep questions of justice that are brought up by global warming. After his address, Jeffrey Newman presented to him a copy of the Earth Charter and received his card to follow up on this important contact.

On the second day, Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation shared with the participants an overview about ARC’s exciting project of helping nine of the world’s major religious communities (Baha’ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism and Sikhism) to develop long-term action plans to save the environment. These 5, 7 or 9 year plans will be launched and presented in a festive ceremony in Windsor Castle from November 2 – 4 with attendance of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Following Palmer, Michael Slaby was invited as final speaker to discuss the Earth Charter’s relevance for engaging religious institutions on climate change. In his remarks, Slaby focussed on three major task for bringing this engagement to the next level, namely to intensify efforts to bring good practice examples of religious actions against climate change into the religious mainstream; to build better bridges between faith communities and environmental organizations, government agencies and the sciences; and providing education and training for religious leaders so that religious responses will be commensurate with the problems we are facing.

He then presented the Earth Charter as an integrated ethical framework that could help religious leaders and communities to frame systemic responses that address the interrelated environmental, social, economic, political, and, on a deeper level, also spiritual challenges posed by climate change.

After his presentation, he distributed copies of the Earth Charter Guide to Religion and Climate Change of which an updated version will be made available shortly.
The conference brought to light that many participants of different faiths seemed to agree on some very basic values, such as respect, reverence, repentance, humility, and the wish to leave a healthy world for their children and grand-children. As Shareen Iqbal from Malaysia summed it up beautifully: “The answer is love.”