Just Peace through Climate Action

Display at India's COP Pavilion

Display at India’s COP Pavilion

This year, the COP demonstrated the priority of climate justice by recognizing the first official Climate Justice Day on the UNFCCC Programme. The celebration of Climate Justice Day explored the social dimensions of climate action while elevating the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that led to the Paris Agreement. In fact, COP 22 highlights the unusual global alliance between governments, corporations, universities, NGO’s and faith inspired communities, all fighting against the effects of climate change. Along side the delegate pavilions and green technology entrepreneurs, stand a wide array of associations such as Mediators Without Borders, the Planetary Security Initiative, the Indigenous People’s Pavilion, and Green Faith. Yesterday’s reflective side event sponsored by the  Quaker United Nations Office underscored the importance of such a broad alliance: multi-level problems require multi-level solutions.

Entitled, “Trust and Peacebuilding Approaches for Ambitious Climate Action,” Friday’s QUNO panel focused on climate change as a humanitarian and spiritual crisis, as well as an environmental one, emphasizing the complex nature of the climate change problem. The discussion centered around fighting climate change as a personal moral imperative, the importance of personal equilibrium as well as environmental equilibrium, empowering climate change solutions on a personal level, unity through prayer, climate justice, and above all, love. Panelists included Sonja Klinsky, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Lindsey Fielder Cook, Representative for Climate Change, Quaker United Nations Office Ambassador, Jayanti Kirpalani, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Henrik Grape, Church of Sweden and Joy Kennedy, World Council of Churches.  Emphasizing individual impact, the presentation was empowering because it reminded listeners that they could make a difference by taking small personal steps while waiting for larger national policies to take shape. Their message was one of unity, courage and hope.

Entrance to COP 22 Pavilions

Entrance to COP 22 Pavilions

Later that evening, the closing COP 22/CMA 1 meeting managed to maintain this momentum of unity, courage and hope to successfully adopt their meeting Decision FCCC/PA/CMA/2016/1. In doing so, the COP of Action moved ahead and sent a clear message to the world. To quote U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, in his closing remarks at this final COP 22 meeting, “Momentum for the Paris Agreement cannot be stopped.” In the continued spirit of unity, and showing their personal appreciation for each other, the entire plenary of hundreds of COP 22 delegates paused during a break in the negotiations to sing happy birthday to the delegate from Mali. Hopefully, this spirit of unity carries through to next year when COP 23 is held in Bonn, Germany.

On a personal reflective note, I continue to draw inspiration from the wide range of groups here at the COP, all fighting the effects of climate change.  This COP 22 experience has been particularly meaningful due to the opportunity our Vermont Law School class had to work with a Service Learning Partner Country.  Being able to serve a purpose at COP 22, to provide direct delegation support to a Least Developed Country, became my small way of making a difference in the fight against climate change.  The remarkable people I have met here continue to inspire me with their dedication to Just Peace, through Climate Action.

Religion & Climate Change: How the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change Affects COP Negotiations

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger [of] ending life as we know it on our planet.” Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

Islamic Declaration Photo

On August, 18th, 2015, a group of Muslim scholars, leaders, scientists, and clergy members made a call to action in the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. This call to action urged the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and all nations across the globe to actively combat climate change by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and by committing to a 100% renewable energy strategy. The declaration specifically calls upon the Conference of Parties (COP) to “bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion” at the December 2015, meeting of the Parties in Paris.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change is part of a movement by many faiths and denominations who are all calling on governments to take action at COP21 in Paris. In June, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter declaring climate change a moral issue that must be addressed. Additionally, over 300 rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption. With over 84% of the world’s population religiously affiliated global support by faith groups for effective climate action has the potential to reach large audiences.

In response to the Islamic Declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said:

A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other. Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.

Global responses to the Islamic Declaration have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomed the declaration “with great joy, and in a spirit of solidarity.” He pledged that the Catholic Church would work with the declaration’s authors to protect their common earthly home. Additionally, NGO’s such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund have commended the declaration as a positive display of climate leadership.

So far the actual effect of the Islamic Declaration is unclear. While the majority of country Parties with high Muslim populations have filed INDCs, the quality of pledges has greatly varied. For example, Climate Action Tracker rated Morocco’s INDC as sufficient based on the country’s target reduction goals. A sufficient rating is encouraging because it means that Morocco’s targets are ambitious and that Morocco is pledging to its “fair share” of global efforts to keep warming below 2°C.  Conversely, Climate Action Tracker rated both Turkey’s INDC and Indonesia’s INDC as inadequate.

Even though INDC’s for Muslim countries do not definitively support the Islamic Declaration, many news sources still view the declaration as a step in the right direction because it “turns up the heat” for government officials by signaling an ongoing shift in the zeitgeist, or spirit of our time. In the words of Bill McKibben, “[t]he real effect of documents like these, though, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. Most of us identify with one or several groups—Islam or Christendom, our alma mater or our union. As these begin to emphasize an issue, it becomes easier to make it part of our mental furniture.”

Pope Francis adds his voice to religious leaders calling for climate change action

When Pope Francis gave a speech last month about the importance of collective action on climate change, it was heralded as an important step in moving the 196 UNFCCC parties from COP20’s “call to action” in Lima to inking COP21’s new agreement in Paris. Stressing that climate change’s disproportional impacts on the world’s poor present “a serious ethical and moral responsibility” and that “we can find solutions only if we act together and agree,” the Pope declared an urgent ethical imperative to act collectively. In doing so, he pointed out the key missing ingredients for taking effective globalpope francis action: overcoming mistrust and promoting a culture of solidarity.

With an eye toward promoting solidarity, Pope Francis has committed the Catholic Church to three concrete steps. (For a more insider’s perspective on the Pope’s strategic actions for influencing the outcome of COP21 in Paris, the NYT’s Andrew Revkin recommends carefully reading this November 2014 speech by Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who is Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and a close friend of Pope Francis.)

First, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, along with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, held a workshop last May called Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.  It produced this concluding declaration signed by over 50 international and interdisciplinary experts (including US professors Edith Brown Weiss, Naomi Oreskes, and Dan Kammen). This collective statement sets out the arguments for directly tackling the dangers of our Anthropocene Age – namely, the “inequality, unfairness, and corruption” that undermines “our ethical values, personal dignity and human rights” – and lists straight forward strategies for doing so.  Among these are:

  • targeted investments in sustainable energy access, education, health, housing, sociPASS reportal infrastructure and livelihoods for the poor;
  • making energy systems more efficient and less dependent on coal, petrol and natural gas
  • focusing on human rights, the rule of law, participatory democracy, and universal access to public services; and
  • improved effectiveness of fiscal and social policies, ethical finance reform, large scale “decent work” policies, integration of the informal and popular economic sectors, and national and international collaboration to eradicate forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Next, in March the Pope will visit Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2012, and publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will then distribute it to parishioners. Finally, at next September’s annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly, Pope Francis will address world political leaders while also convening a climate change summit of religious leaders.

Since December, a lot of media attention has been paid to Pope Francis’ climate change campaign.   Much of it has focused on pushback by conservative Catholics (like U.S. politicians John Boehner and Rick Santorum, and Vatican treasurer Cardinal Pell) and U.S. Evangelical Christians.  It is true that the Pope’s climate change initiative could have a decided impact on moving people to act on their moral beliefs, even when they’ve shown reticence to act politically on climate change:  as the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, he had a 60% global approval rating of Catholics and non-Catholics in this recent ppope francis pew grapholl, with the highest concentrations in Europe (84%), U.S. (78%), and Latin America (72%).  Given that COP20’s activities in Peru (and the social pre-COP, held in nearby Venezuela) focused attention on this region’s increased climate change policymaking and actions, that Europeans have engaged in serious climate change mitigation and adaptation commitments since the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and that the U.S. has stepped up its international climate change engagement under the Obama Administration, the Pope’s popularity bodes well for COP21’s odds of success.

green lantern

Christiana Figueres’s assistant bringing the green lantern into the COP20 venue for the first time.

But a missing piece of this story is that the faith-based community is already well at work influencing the UNFCCC negotiations as they progress toward Paris.  In Lima, the World Council of Churches  participated at the COP as an NGO Observer Delegation and participated in COP20 side events and at the nearby People’s Summit.  Its work, based on the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change held last September in New York, produced a final statement of the Interfaith Summit that was officially presented to the UNFCCC on December 11th. On the day before – singled out as the U.N.’s Human Rights Day – a panel hosted by several faith-based organizations (the WCC, Religions for Peace, Quaker United Nations Office) featured Reverend Henrik Grape of the Church of Sweden. Starting it all off, the green lantern that we witnessed arriving at the venue on November 30 marked the end of fasting by religious and environmental groups in Fast for the Climate.  So the Catholic Church’s full-court press from Lima to Paris presents an additional and potentially high impact strategy that will add to an already experienced ecumenical climate change team and playbook.