Faith & Environment seminar hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Last Thursday (29 October 2009) I was at: Lambeth Palace

Lambeth Palace (the London residency of the Archbishop of Canterbury) to represent the UK Baha’i community at a seminar on Faith & the Environment.

This seminar, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, was attended by 24 representatives of UK faith communities, 4 from CofE Diocesans, 15 from NGOs, 2 from the government, 5 from the British Council, and 5 from Lambeth Palace.  Women clearly in the minority (what did I expect?). The seminar was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a short BBC documentary on climate change.

The documentary was followed with a short address by the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) who focused on our role as custodians of the planet, the interdependence between countries, and the concept of justice (developed countries should accept their responsibility and provide financial support for other countries). The Archbishop of Westminster (Most Rev Vincent Nichols) emphasized ecological conversion and integrity in our dealing with the issue. Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks reminded participants that in Hebrew the word for ‘humanity’ is the same as the word for ‘earth’. He emphasized that this global crisis offered opportunities to translate big ideas into daily/weekly rituals. ‘If everybody on earth observed the Sabbath (e.g. not using electricity or travelling), we probably wouldn’t be in this mess’. He also emphasized that science and religion must work together.

Short presentations of current activities in the UK and abroad were made by:

1) Faith4Change from Liverpool (by Sandra Cobbin from Clarity Development): which has been training volunteers to do sustainability audits (looking at energy and water use, waste management, land use, and purchases) on buildings owned by faith communities. Volunteers are NVQ trained and take their knowledge back into their communities.

2) Transition Network (by Ben Brangwyn): UK transition town network is a social experiment and it is still unclear if it will work, but we can learn.

3) Progressio (by Tim Aldred): natural resource management projects in South America.

4) A Rocha (by Dave Bookless): climate stewards project (www.climatestewards.net)

5) Islamic Foundation for Ecology & Environmental Sciences (IFEES, http://www.ifees.org.uk) (by Harfiyah Haleem): traffic reduction scheme around Croydon Mosque and co-publisher of the Muslim green guide to reduce climate change.

6) Al Khoei Foundation (by Yousif al-Khoei): emphasized the need to look more at the Holy Scriptures to engage more people.

7) CofE (David Shreeve – Archbishop’s Council, Martyn Goss – Diocese of Exeter, Brian Cuthbertson – London Diocesan Fund): CofE is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% in 2050 and launced the Shrinking-the-footprint project for its members in 2006. The 7-year plan in collaboration with the Alliance for Religions & Conservation was outlined.

8 British Council (by Martin Davidson): focus on dialogue with youth to increase global understanding of climate change, increase support for international agreements, and strengthen networks.

A joint statement was released:

Statement by Faith Leaders and participants in the Faith and the Environment Seminar hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace , 29 October 2009

As leaders and representatives of faith communities and faith-based organisations in the UK we wish to highlight the very real threat to the world’s poor, and to our fragile creation, from the threat of catastrophic climate change. The developed world is primarily responsible for the already visible effects of global heating. Justice requires that we now take responsibility for slowing the rise in global temperature. We call upon UK negotiators at Copenhagen, and the other nations of the G20 in particular, to fight for a deal which speedily ends unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels and puts in place urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that an increase in global temperature may be kept within two degrees centigrade.

We recognise unequivocally that there is a moral imperative to tackle the causes of global warming. This is reinforced by the reality that it is the poor and vulnerable who are most profoundly affected by the environmental impact of climate change – especially drought, floods, water shortages and rise in sea levels. Faith communities have a crucial role to play in pressing for changes in behaviour at every level of society and in every economic sector. We all have a responsibility to learn how to live and develop sustainably in a world of finite resources.

This responsibility comes into sharp relief today with less than 40 days before representatives of governments from across the world meet to agree a deal on climate change.

Building on the examples of local and international action to live and to work together sustainably which have been highlighted in our meeting today we pledge to:

  • Reach out to our communities, both in the UK and internationally, in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the real potential for catastrophic climate change and to increase public support for an ambitious, fair and effective deal at Copenhagen ;
  • Continue to share best practice and redouble our efforts to reduce emissions that result from our institutional and individual activities;
  • Work with our partners, our sister churches and communities internationally to mitigate the effects of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the developing world; and to press governments to support that effort.

To help to achieve these ends we agree to use today’s meeting as the first step in an ongoing process of collaboration. We believe our communities can be key agents of change and urge the Government wherever possible to support our efforts to build capacity and commitment to reduce carbon emissions, raise awareness and promote sustainable practice.

——–

I found it heartwarming to hear the different faith communities emphasizing the same issues (justice, shared responsibility, science & religion working together, seeing this crisis as an opportunity for global cooperation).

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