No action too small, say faith leaders at UN climate summit

By Ecumenical News International
December 14, 2009

At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the question, when it comes to the world of faith, is not, "Who is in the Danish capital for 11 critical days in December?" but "Who is not here?" - writes Peter Kenny

On the streets of Copenhagen, the world's faith leaders and many hundreds of organisations linked to them are all blasting out their messages on what needs to be done about climate change. Alongside them is a polar bear made out of ice, which is melting like much of the ice in Greenland.

The atmosphere in Copenhagen is frenetic and, like many such international gatherings, government representatives are at one location and civil society in another corner, while thousands of people converge on the city during an event that is expected to help define the 21st century.

Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a non-governmental organization that campaigns for climate change, described the 7 to 18 December 2009 United Nations conference as, "this year's biggest global event", where people from around the world are trying to mobilise coordinated actions from leaders, particularly those from the rich nations.

Khor said, "What started as mainly an environmental topic has become a complex set of economic, financial and political issues. The developed countries stress the need for a target for a global emission cut, with all countries to play their part."

Lister Cheung, an environmentalist from Hong Kong, spoke to a group of young people in a delegation from the YMCA, a Christian organisation, at the University of Malmo near Copenhagen as the UN gathering, called the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), was beginning.

Cheung's message was simple: "If we want COP 15 to be a success, all of us need to act. No action is too small; it could be one of these small actions that triggers a major change."

The Rev Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, echoed the Hong Kong environmentalist's words. He told Ecumenical News International that he had sent a message to WARC members inviting them to make choices that would impact on the causes of climate change: "We call on all our member churches to engage in prayer and actions that will have an impact on the outcome of this summit. We ask that our member churches commit to encouraging lifestyle changes that will reverse this trend [of climate change]."

The Copenhagen talks are already caught in controversy, with Christian and Islamic web sites reporting that developing countries are furious with one text for the behind-closed-doors official negotiations. The critics describe this document as an attempt by developing countries to hijack the discussions, while sidelining the developing world.

The Zimbabwean-born General Secretary of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, has called on states participating at Copenhagen to reach a fair, equitable and legally binding agreement to achieve the target of a 40 per cent reduction of developed country CO2 emissions by 2020. Noko made his comments in a letter to the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, and his minister of climate and energy, Connie Hedegaard.

Noko's letter noted that it was, "the poor and vulnerable whose livelihoods and lives are most immediately threatened by changing environmental conditions exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions."

Delegations from 192 countries at the Copenhagen summit have the task of elaborating an agreement to follow the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, a UN brokered agreement aimed at limiting emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. The protocol expires at the end of 2012.

Also in Copenhagen are faith-based organisations such as the LWF (Lutheran World Federation), Caritas Internationalis and CIDSE, which is an international alliance of Roman Catholic development agencies. Others present include the World Council of Churches, the US based Global Peace Initiative of Women, and a United Methodist Women's delegation from the United States.

Operation Noah (, a British-based agency that calls itself, a "science-informed, faith-motivated and a hope-driven ecumenical group," is handing out church action starter packs. These include, "Between the Flood and the Rainbow", a book with steps on climate change and faith reflections, a copy of a "God is Green" DVD, and "theological teachings for the clergy".

Mark Dowd, communications head of Operation Noah, grants daily interviews to the media and others about theology, social mobilisation and political aspects of climate change.

While many people are looking to mobilise the politicians, the Venerable Bhikku Bodhi of the Buddhist Global Relief told Dowd in an interview, "Who are the people that the people listen to? The pop music stars and the movie stars. Those are the people we have to mobilise."

Two Catholics from the Jesuit order's European office in Brussels, José Ignacio Garcia and Jacques Haers, are in Copenhagen as NGO observers, and part of a team of Catholics blogging daily in English and Spanish at

On 10 December, which is UN Human Rights Day, the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden held an interfaith ceremony at the Swedish Gustav Church in Copenhagen. There, Swedish Archbishop Anders Wejryd; Mustafa Ceric, who is the grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Rev. Grace Chung Lee, a Korean from Won Buddhist International and Lutheran Bishop Sofie Petersen of Greenland, took part. There was Hindu dancing, Jewish chanting, a Sufi flute and other actions for people who had signed the Uppsala Manifesto on climate change a year earlier.

A highlight of the faith drive to keep climate change actions on the global agenda took place on 13 December. Then, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and church leaders from the regions most affected by climate change, spoke from a faith perspective at a service in Copenhagen Cathedral. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, gave a sermon.

At the same time, church bells tolled 350 times around the world to symbolise the 350 parts per million that many scientists say mark the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

Tutu, the former leader of South Africa's Anglicans, spoke to the media along with Greenland's Bishop Petersen, whose country is seeing its ice melt at an alarming rate, and the Rev Tofiga Falani, president of the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, an island that faces the spectre of being submerged by rising waters.

Archbishop Tutu has now handed over half a million signatures ( calling for climate justice to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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