Churches raise ethical dimensions in climate change debate

By staff writers
28 Sep 2011

Climate change is impacting human life and nature in severe ways, yet it is the vulnerable who suffer most, say world church eco-advocates.

“Faith based organisations articulate concerns of the marginalised communities and bring their issues to mainstream forums. It is obligatory therefore to address climate change and its impact on human rights, as faith traditions signify care for the environment,” commented Nafisa D’Souza, a climate justice advocate from India.

D’Souza was speaking at an event on climate change and human rights titled “Bridging the Gap: Faith and Ethics Perspectives” organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights, in collaboration with the German Human Rights Forum and United Evangelical Mission (VEM) last week in Switzerland.

D’Souza is executive director for the Laya Resource Centre, working for climate justice, with focus on indigenous people in India.

As the life of such people is dependent on eco-systems for survival, churches join hands with other faith based organisations to support their cause, stressing an ethical aspect in the debate on climate change, he says.

“What we have taken from the earth has destroyed some parts of it. Ethical concern means that responsibility for creation is to be taken by all of us. In a polarised world where there is an imbalance of power, faith based groups are engaging in debate on development and its impact on climate justice,” D’Souza stated.

D’Souza remains optimistic about the role of faith organisations in promoting a “pro-people” stance in the debate on climate change. “Churches and faith based organisations can relate religious ideologies to a broader ethical perspective. Religions that see themselves as part of a global reality can support the most affected by climate change. The WCC is doing this by safeguarding the ethical aspect in a debate for climate justice,” says D’Souza.

These views were endorsed by Dr Guillermo Kerber, WCC programme executive on climate change. Speaking on behalf of the WCC and the Geneva Interfaith Forum, he says, “Churches and faith based organisations acknowledge the various dimensions of climate change. They are witnessing how climate change is affecting vulnerable communities on the ground, especially those who have a strong link to nature and those who are extremely dependent on the environment. Being aware that these populations have contributed less to climate change, it becomes evident that climate change has an ethical dimension.”

Diverse perspectives on climate change and human rights were shared by other panellists. Sophia Wirsching from Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World, Germany) especially focused on climate displaced people and their rights, while Theodor Rathgeber, from the German Human Rights Forum, assessed the present negotiations of climate change and human rights at the Human Rights Council. The moderator of the discussion was Valeriane Bernard from Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and Geneva Interfaith Forum.

Presentations were followed by discussions, where Hendrik Garcia, from the Philippines diplomatic mission brought participants’ attention to a draft resolution on climate change and human rights that it has initiated along with Bangladesh mission. Panellists appreciated the effort, while stressing their expectation of a more ambitious position from the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

As churches and faith based organisations prepare for a stronger impact at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference COP 17 in Durban, South Africa from 28 November to 9 December 2011, a “Call for Action” was signed urging “responsibilities of the States in the area of climate change, adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and funding” and “reaffirming the role of faith traditions to care for the environment and addressing climate change”.

* WCC campaign for climate justice: www.oikoumene.org/climatechange

[Ekk/3]

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