Ecumenical News International

Why should religions engage on climate? Faith summit discusses

December 1, 2008

Peter Kenny

Uppsala (ENI). Why should the environmental movement be involved with religion? That is a question Martin Palmer, secretary general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, often gets asked, and he sought to answer it in this historic Swedish university city north of Stockholm.

Margot Wallström, first vice-president of the European Commission, also addressed the question at the 28 to 29 November Uppsala Interfaith Climate Summit attended by 1000 people from many religions.

"Faith communities can play an important role on the issue of climate change," Wallström told Ecumenical News International. Although religion should be separated from politics, noted Wallström, who is a Swede, she stressed that political and religious institutions must cooperate over climate issues. "Religions influence a lot of perspectives and people," she said.

The gathering, which met at the invitation of (Lutheran) Church of Sweden Archbishop Anders Wejryd, hammered out a manifesto calling for an extensive and speedy reduction of carbon dioxide emission in the wealthy parts of the world.

The manifesto, signed by 30 religious leaders and scholars from different faiths, targets the world's political and religious leaders. Archbishop Wejryd and the World Council of Churches will present the document to a United Nations global meeting on climate change, which began in Poznan, Poland on 1 December.

"We are planning to present the manifesto when the WCC addresses the Poznan conference," said Guillermo Kerber Mas, who heads the WCC's human rights and climate change programme. "We need to bring the ethical and spiritual dimensions to the discussion because they will affect us all in the near feature. We need to act fast, and need to act now."

Still, why should the environmental movement and religions be joining hands, and why the tie up with international organizations?

The Alliance of Religions and Conservation's Palmer, who addressed the Uppsala summit, noted that his organization, known by its acronym ARC, was a secular foundation and a sister organization of the WWF, the global conservation group.

"When we say we are a secular organization established solely to work with religions," Palmer said, "many in the environmental movement still look at us and reply, 'Why bother with the religions?'" Palmer believes the answer lies in a number of factors.

"First and foremost, we look at the sheer amount of land that is owned by the 11 major religious traditions we work with," said Palmer. "These range from Bahais and Buddhists through to Shinto and Zoroastrianism, and take in every major faith . Within those we are working with there are 25 or 26 forms of Buddhism, about 30 different forms of Islam and . more than 50 forms of Christianity."

Palmer explained that the 11 religions with whom ARC works, "own about 8 percent of the habitable surface of the planet, and that figure is growing the whole time". ARC has been helping Cambodian Buddhists in their attempt to recover the 28 percent of Cambodia that they lost under communist rule. "And, of course, as communism has fallen or transmogrified, a great deal of land has been given back to faiths," said Palmer. "So we [religions] own a lot of the land."

Palmer also points out that religions are the third largest investing group in the world. In 2001, ARC began a major process of working with major faiths on social investment and ecological principles. Religions also own 5 percent of the forests of the world, and are heavily involved in education.

"Religions either founded, set up, still contribute to, run or own over 50 percent of all schools worldwide," said Palmer, who also explains that media belonging to religious organizations produce more magazines in the expanded E.U. than any other group.

"So," Palmer says, "the question is, 'Why on earth wouldn't you work with religions?'" He adds, "Most people thought role of religion was to tell you what not to do. Now, they are learning they can be proactive."



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