The 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23), held in Bonn, Germany under the presidency of the Pacific island nation of Fiji may have had mixed results in terms negotiations on the Paris Treaty, but for faith communities there was an opportunity for discussion on common goals and collaborations which served to remind the world that despite diverse spiritualties, we can unite for the sake of the planet and all her inhabitants.
On the morning of November 10th, rather chilly for a Pacific Islander as myself, wearing a sulu, a tailored skirt of sorts, similar to a kilt (but a little longer and of softer material) that is the traditional dress of Fijian and many pacific island men, I found myself cycling a rickshaw with two senior members of the Brahma Kumaris as my passengers, along a three-kilometre route from St Cyprian Church to the World Conference Centre, venue for the negotiations of COP23.
“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,” said the statement.
“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.”
You may read, and sign the full text of the statement here: http://www.interfaithclimatestatement.org/the_statement
The day before the delivery of the statement, with other representatives of the World Council of Churches, I attended the Multi-Faith Compassionate Simplicity Convening, which addressed the challenges and opportunities on how to best foster sustainable lifestyles.
The gathering included the launch of a global Multi-Faith Sustainable Living Initiative.
As a representative of the faith community from the Pacific, and the country presiding COP23, I was given an community to lead a “spiritual pause” during the gathering, to share a reflection from not only the global south, but from a region that is one of the most vulnerable from Climate Change. It was an opportunity to share about the Talanoa Process of COP23 – respectful, deep listening of the stories of all and to call for a reweaving of the ecological, economic and ecumenical mat – we can rethink, we can redream, we can re-vision, each one a strand in the mat of the household of God, until the mat is big enough for justice and hospitality for all.
(To watch the spiritual pause: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0RzsTz3fq8)
In many ways, the convoy of bicycles and rickshaws through the streets of Bonn and along the bank of the Rhine river symbolised the journey towards lifestyles of compassionate simplicity for the sake of the climate, the human family, and the community of life.
“Through commitments in the areas of energy use, diet and transportation, we will create a global community of conscience and practice that will help reduce emissions to the level needed for a 1.5⁰C future. These commitments, which will augment increasing levels of multi-faith climate advocacy, will elevate awareness of lifestyle change as a vitally important facet of our response to climate change,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper of Greenfaith, one of the faith-based organisations that organised the initiative.
Partners in the Initiative include leading Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Interfaith and Unitarian organizations.
Following events in Bonn, a community of multi-faith partners will work with spiritual leaders and people of faith worldwide to secure formal commitments to a sustainable lifestyle. “These commitments will accelerate a growing multi-faith sustainable living movement,” says Imam Saffet Catovic, Senior Advisor for GreenFaith, the organization coordinating the initiative.
“The commitments will be announced at a global weekend of commitment in 2018 through thousands of grassroots events at spiritual and religious centers around the world.”
Groups partnering on the Multi-Faith Sustainable Living Initiative include the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, The Bhumi Project, CIDSE, Franciscan Action Network, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Global Muslim Climate Network, GreenFaith, Hazon, Islamic Society of North America, One Earth Sangha, Parliament of the World’s Religions, Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quaker), Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the World Evangelical Alliance, and the World Council of Churches.
“God the creator has given us this world as our common home, together with all that are created and living here. We have to walk on the land and sail at the sea with care and deep respect for what is given. To love God and to love our neighbor means that we also love the creation of God,” said Rev Dr. Olav Fykse-Tveit, General Secretary of World Council of Churches, in support the statement.
That Sunday, the 12th of November, marking the middle of the two-week conference and the beginning of the “serious” part of the negotiations, I beat a “lali” a traditional wooden drum, which followed by the blowing of a conch shell marked the beginning of an ecumenical service for climate justice organized by the World Council of Churches at St. Paulus Anglican Church in Bonn.
As we listened to the singing of the Fiji Police band, who were part of the cultural team of the Fijian COP23 delegation, my thoughts went back to exactly a week ago when I had knelt, in the cold rain in the village of Manheim to offer prayers of confession and intercession at the start of a solidarity ceremony by the Pacific Climate Warriors of 350.org to support the people of Manheim, a now mostly deserted village due to the expansion of the Hambach mine, an open pit lignite mine which is the deepest man-made hole on earth. The mine is on the site of the ancient Hambach Forest, which is 12,000 years old and rich in biodiversity and home to 142 species regarded as important for conservation.
Only ten percent of Hambach Forest still remains.
How long, I thought, until only ten percent of the Pacific Islands remain above sea-level?
Late on the evening of Thursday 16th November, Frances Namoumou, the Climate Change and Stewardship Officer of the Pacific Conference of Churches and a fellow Fijian spoke on behalf of the World Council of Churches at the COP23 plenary of the High Level Ministerial Segment.
The text emphasizes the urgent situation of the people in the Pacific, stating that it is “a matter of justice that wealthy nations responsible for the bulk of global emissions provide financial and other forms of support to income-poor, vulnerable countries, enabling the latter to adapt and build resilience to a warming climate as well as compensating for loss and damage”.
“In the face of such suffering and loss, many of our religious teachings call us to bear witness and do justice to the impoverished and vulnerable. As the message of the Pacific Conference of Churches to COP 23 states, “We exercise our prophetic voice as churches and believers…to amplify the cries of our people and Moana who are directly or indirectly affected by climate change and encourage the spirit of stewardship among ourselves as custodians of God’s creation.”
(Read the full text here: https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-presents-interfaith-statement-to-cop23-high-level-plenary )
A deep spirituality permeates the communities of the Pacific and is at the heart of the Pacific people’s relationship with each other and the environment. Spirituality is integral to the way we interpret, understand and interact with one another, and with the natural world. This spirituality is enhanced by (Christianity and) the many faith traditions of the world which have grown roots in our diverse Pacific communities. These faith traditions are shared with the vast majority of those who share this planet.
Acknowledging and embracing the significance and centrality of such life-affirming spirituality has the potential to not only underpin the negotiations of the conference of parties but mobilize billions of like-hearted people as allies in the challenge to address Climate Change, providing an important catalyst for grass roots action.
Rev. James Bhagwan is currently the Secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission of the Methodist Church in Fiji. He is a member of the World Methodist Council’s Inter-religious Relationships Committee and the Ecumenical Relationships Committee. He attended COP23 as a delegate of the World Council of Churches.
Watch: COP23 Multi-faith Statement Bicycle Delivery https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajLYEUJomMo
Watch: WCC member churches from the Pacific at COP23: “We are not drowning, we are fighting” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEKG-ZTuIYc&t=9s
Watch: World Council of Churches general secretary at COP23 climate summit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bso1wQbkaU
Watch: Frances Namoumou, Pacific Conference of Churches after COP23: talk to your government! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1ih-F53gJc
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