Faith Initiative on Sustainable Living

In Paris in 2015, world leaders agreed to keep global warming to “well below 2°C”, and “pursue efforts” for a 1.5°C limit. However, on current trends the world is heading for at least 3°C of warming. To meet the 1.5°C limit we would need a rapid drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions, of the order of a halving in each of the next two decades and reaching zero by 2050. The 1.5°C scenarios reviewed so far by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rely heavily on unproven and costly “negative emission technologies”, in particular biomass as an energy source combined with CO2 capture and storage, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

There is one reliable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: deep cuts in energy consumption so that we can stop using fossil fuels. However, scientists and policymakers find it hard to imagine that people will be prepared to make the changes implied in our ways of living.

At the Climate Conference in Bonn on 6-17 November 2017, about 80 leaders from a wide range of faith communities world-wide gathered in a joyous and moving event to launch a new initiative for sustainable living. The following text is an extract from the statement of commitment from the faith leaders, delivered to negotiators at COP23 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“As religious and spiritual leaders, we are committing to make changes in our own lives, and to support the members of our communities in doing the same.  Together, we come to you with an invitation to embark on a journey towards compassionate simplicity for the sake of the climate, the human family, and the community of life.  For many of us, changes in three areas make the greatest impact: dramatically reducing emissions from our home energy use, adopting a plant-based diet and reducing food waste, and minimizing automobile and air travel. Because of the gravity of our situation, substantial and long-term changes in these areas are indispensable if we are to reach a 1.5⁰C future, particularly for those of us in communities whose carbon footprints exceed sustainable levels.  We pledge our commitment to such change.

“Through this collective effort, we look forward to creating a global community of conscience and practice in which we learn to put belief into action in relation to our own lifestyles.  Our spiritual and faith communities will give us hope and companions for this journey.  We will share ideas, materials, and stories of struggle and success.  Our practices of mindfulness, spiritual discipline and prayer will enable us to grow.  These ancient teachings and practices, and our renewed commitments and willingness to strive, will help us build pathways towards a sustainable future.

“We wish to be clear that we understand that systemic change is required to solve this crisis.  We will continue to advocate for the policies that are so urgently needed.  However, we also believe that individual commitments and behaviors are as important in addressing climate change as they are in addressing poverty, racism, and other grave social ills.  And we know that our spiritualities and traditions offer wisdom about finding happiness in a purposeful life, family and friendships, not in an overabundance of things.  The world needs such wisdom; it is our privilege both to share and to seek to embody it.”

The full text is available at http://www.interfaithclimatestatement.org/, as well as the video recording of the faith leaders event which was held on 9th November. The video will be edited to allow direct viewing of individual presentations and the full list of statement signatories will be made available as soon as possible.

The initiative is in early stages of implementation. Core funding was agreed in September 2017 by KR Foundation in Copenhagen for the period to the end of 2018. The initiative is being managed by GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental organisation based in New Jersey. Recruitment is underway for a programme director and an appointment is expected later in November 2017. While an international, interfaith steering group is in place, much has still to be worked out in the programme structure and governance. Our current ideas and aspirations are

  • for an ongoing process to secure pledges from leaders at all levels in an extensive range of faith communities,
  • to provide training, mostly online, for sustainable living facilitators/leaders within the communities
  • to provide a directory of existing resources for sustainable living, and support to faith communities in developing their own resources
  • to establish ways to monitor, evaluate and report on progress in the initiative
  • to hold a period of celebration, probably a weekend in September 2018, involving events in local and national congregations, potentially including collaborations among faith groups and with secular groups
  • to deliver a further statement of record, celebration and commitment to COP24, to be held in Katowice in December 2018
  • to seek funding for an ongoing programme of work beyond 2018.

The interfaith statement has been signed by Paul Parker for Britain Yearly Meeting, by clerks of other yearly meetings from Alaska to Australia, by Gretchen Castle for Friends World Committee for Consultation. Individual Friends. Local and area Quaker meetings are also encouraged to sign and many have already done so. We have yet to establish how Quakers in Britain might engage in implementing the commitment.

Laurie

17th November 2017