Religious Diplomacy: a game changer for the climate negotiations?

This week, the speeches Pope Francis did during his visit to the United States, including at the opening of UN’s General Assembly, confirmed his position of spokesperson and political actor of the climate change cause.

Since the release of the encyclical Laudato Sí in the beginning of the year, the message that it is necessary to rethink our relationship with the planet, the relations of interdependence and to reestablish the balance between the social, environmental and economic dimensions has been gaining new meaning and reach. However, this movement goes way beyond Catholic Church. Several religious communities are leading forums of dialogue and action over climate change all around the world, letting clear that saving the planet it is not just a task for the environmentalists, but of all of us.

The religious leaders have a key role on debates about the vision for the future that society has or should have and about the transformations so that humanity can live in peace in a healthy planet. According to Paul Ladd, director of UNPD, more than 80% of the world population declares some religious filiation. The religious communities form the biggest and most socially active group of the planet, and the relations between these leaders and communities are imbedded in action. These relations translate in the share of an ethic that implicates in behavioral changes, both individually and collectively.

The debates over climate change causes a reflection about the need of rethinking our development model that still puts in conflict the need to provide economic growth and social inclusion with the protection of environment and harmony relation of the human beings with nature.

The engagement of the religious groups in this debate is fundamental for the reframing of climate change, giving it more concreteness for society, making it more tangible not only in every day practices, but also in the political demands that society presents to its representatives. Fortunately, several religious communities have been organizing themselves in this sense.

“Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop. This necessarily entails reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption.” Laudato Sí

Faith on Climate in Brazil

Hosted in the end of august, in Rio de Janeiro, the International Meeting Faith on Climate that had the presence of representatives of 12 religions and traditions that made possible the exchange of experiences and visions about climate change in light of different perspectives that each religion offers. Some of the messages left by the leaders can be found here.

The religious leaders signed the Declaration Faith on Climate that was delivered in hand to Izabela Teixeira, Minister of the Environment of Brazil and will be handed over to other political leaders in Brazil. The document demands the government to commit to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases compatible to the need of limiting the rise of global temperature to 2 degree Celsius; preserve biodiversity in all biomes; control deforestation, promote adaptation actions in benefit of the most vulnerable population to climate change; guarantee the protection of cultural traditions and ways of life; fight hunger and indignity; and adopt preferentially renewable energy sources and clean technologies.

“We assume the commitment of expressing the climate change discussions in a language that makes sense to our communities and allows us to reflect about how we can transform our way of life, promoting awareness and effective mobilization over the theme”. Declaration Fé no Clima.

Not only in the Declaration but also during the meeting, it is clear their sense of common and shared responsibility, not just of governments, in dealing with the effects of climate chance. The leaders, based on their different languages and symbols, reinforce the importance of the work to be done with their communities of followers and congregations so that a change in behavior and a new ethics can emerge, promoting a deeper understanding of the interdependence between all beings, the spirit of collaboration and responsibility over the planet and its future. The interreligious meeting in Rio also revealed that there are multiple ways of approaching this theme, connecting climate change to people’s every day matters like the use and access to water, relationship between consumption and welfare, among others.

The initiative marks the beginning of what it is expected to be a larger and promising political engagement of religious leaderships with this theme in Brazil.

Initiatives around the world

A great religious leader, the 17th Karmapa, the second on the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism, only below the 14 th Dalai Lama, declared explicitly his desire to leave as a concrete legacy the recuperation and preservation of the Himalaya, one of his main commitments. In March this year, he began his international travels from American universities, wielding the flag of climate and respect of the environment.

On August, in Turkey, 60 Islamic leaders of 20 countries emitted a declaration fostering actions to engage the more than 1,6 billions of Muslims on the climate change cause. Among the demands of the document is the reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide, that the countries agree to do everything it takes to limit global warming and avoid the global temperature exceed 1,5 C and that, countries have as goal a 100% clean or renewable energy matrix as fast as possible.

The ARC (Alliance of Religions and Conservation), that works since 1995 to create a “narrative of conscious” among the individuals, had two world meetings of leaders of several religions to discuss climate change and the commitments that could be assumed collectively in favor of the future of the planet and humanity. On the September’s meeting , concrete commitments were taken on by religious leaders to contribute with the sustainable development of the planet.

The way ahead

The message of these religious leaders and of Pope Francis are putting in check the (un)sustainability consumption pattern and life styles that we have today. They promote a deep reflection of the current values and on how humankind wishes to build its future. The learnings that these leaders bring over the theme are extremely valuable to expand and disseminate this debate within a larger spectrum of the global society.

Climate change is an issue of planetary range that reaches us all, but mainly the most vulnerable populations. The “religious diplomacy” is a powerful tool to exert pressure over decision makers in assuming an assertive position in relation to the countries’ contributions for the UN Climate Conference in Paris, next December. The contribution of Pope Francis in the last few days was a key contribution to leverage this debate.

Engaging the religious leaders and its communities on the political debate of climate change is as critical as involving usual political and economic leaders. We are all part of the same humanity that needs to assume a new sort of ethics and behavior when it comes to the use of natural resources and the future we want for the Planet.

Ana Toni directs the Institute of Climate and Society. Alice Amorim leads the climate change work of the GIP Group (Public Interest Management). Both collaborate with Nivela.

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