This piece is co-authored by Dr. Guillermo Kerber, the World Council of Churches Programme Executive for Care for Creation and Climate Justice.
At the beginning of a recent meeting in the global South on climate change with church leaders in a region severely affected by climate change, everyone took turns to introduce themselves. One participant said that he had come to this meeting because he had no choice in the matter. For him, climate change was not a priority. He argued, "Some said that the rise of sea level will make communities relocate. But I don't agree. God told Noah after the flood, that there would be no other floods and he gave him the rainbow as sign of this covenant. So, I don't think this will be a problem."
This incident is just one example of the many challenges that the World Council of Churches faces when addressing climate change. This particular church leader is representative of a number of church leaders and laity who do not yet consider climate change as 'real' and therefore do not feel it should be addressed by the churches.
This failure to recognize the reality of climate change can be due to one's views on the Bible and faith. It can be because of climate skepticism that is culturally conditioned. Others believe that it is not the role of the church to address climate change, feeling that it is not religion's job to engage political issues.
People question, why should churches address environment or climate change issues? Why should Protestants join Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals in caring for creation initiatives? Why should Christians look to join interfaith work with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other faith traditions? Why should they advocate for climate justice and peace with the earth? These are just some of the questions that the WCC is facing while addressing climate change.
In light of these challenges, the WCC is addressing climate change for two specific reasons. First, churches in various parts of the world are recognizing how climate change consequences are affecting the lives and livelihoods of their communities. In an effort to respond to these challenges, churches are helping develop resilient communities, which are equipped to adapt to climate change. These churches benefit by learning from the work of other faith communities from around the world. The WCC has a unique ability to build networks and relationships between churches around the globe, and enhance their work in solidarity with all the churches of the world.
Second, at the community level, churches of different denominations are coming together to respond to the impacts of climate change and to advocate at local and national levels policies that respond to the needs and rights of vulnerable populations. The WCC receives a growing number of requests for advice, theological reflection, worship materials and a holistic approach to these global concerns.
Many members of the WCC Climate Change working group are also engaged in various work to fight for climate justice. A few examples demonstrate the breadth and diversity of these efforts. Fletcher Harper who is the executive director at GreenFaith describes:
In anticipation of the UN Climate Summit in New York this September, GreenFaith, a U.S.-based interfaith environmental organization, will be hosting a day-long public event in NYC in September to rally religious support for a strong UN climate treaty. GreenFaith will also collaborate with Union Theological Seminary to organize Religions for the Earth, a two-day event for 200 religious leaders from around the world immediately preceding the UN Summit. And, in addition to continuing its efforts to promote fossil fuel divestment and clean energy reinvestment among faith communities, GreenFaith will also be launching an interfaith, international campaign following the September UN Summit, offering faith communities around the world the opportunity to call for a strong climate treaty.
Julia Edwards who is the Climate Change and Relocation Researcher at The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) believes that:
The rights and dignity of people displaced by climate change need to be protected and upheld. The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) offers hope through accompaniment during these uncertain times. The Nansen Initiative, a state led global project will support PCC to hold a Pacific civil-society workshop to raise awareness of the climate-change displacement issue.
There were a few young people within the WCC Climate Change working group who are active workers in climate justice. Pawel Pustelnik, who is a member of the Campaign Coordination Team at the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe (EYCE) shared:
The EYCE is an ecumenical umbrella organization consisting of national ecumenical youth councils, denominational youth councils or bodies or international Christian youth organizations. Our recent work has been focused on the Campaign to Promote Ecological Justice. Given the growing concern related to climate change and need to encourage initiatives regarding ecological justice we decided to launch a campaign to raise ecological awareness, empower youth to advocate for greener Churches and greener Europe as well as to explore the relation between ecology, economy, politics and numerous conflicts. We led several international training courses, study visits and a "Be Eco Heroes" project to make our network more sustainable and ecologically aware.
Climate change is affecting the most vulnerable in our society. Climate change is intertwined with issues of land, food, work, devastation and human flourishing. The most vulnerable are losing their land and are forced to live in other areas which have not yet been devastated by climate change. The poor are losing their means and ways of preserving the land. These threats to humanity and to the earth as a whole will only get worse.
Religious leaders and church organizations must embrace the climate change challenge rigorously and with upmost priority. This is the focus of the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change to be held in New York on September 23, 2014. We must work towards influencing policy and actions to prevent Earth's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Unlimited carbon pollution must be stopped. Advocacy for the earth must become a priority.
Climate change skeptics must join in the journey for the protection and sustainability of the earth. We all need to gain hope in joining the task of climate justice. As the WCC continues to engage in the work towards protecting the integrity of creation, all must come together in this task to contribute to sustainability and advocacy for the earth.