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Speech for the public event in Lengerich Germany

Speech for the public event in Lengerich, Germany, delivered by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC.

14 October 2015

Liebe Freunde,

Klimagerechtigkeit jetzt!

Diese Forderung vereint uns heute hier in Lengerich.

Ob ihr miteinander unterwegs seid für eine oder mehrere Etappen des Pilgerweges oder ob ihr nur bei dieser Veranstaltung sein könnt, ihr wollt Ergebnisse der Klimakonferenz in Paris sehen, die der Erderwärmung und dem Klimawandel Einhalt gebieten. Euch alle grüsse ich von den mehr als 340 orthodoxen, anglikanischen, protestantischen und auch pfingstlerischen Mitgliedskirchen des Ökumenischen Rates der Kirchen in aller Welt!

Speaking of our member churches, let me now continue in English. I can assure you: Many of the churches worldwide are in solidarity with you. They work for climate justice in their own countries. The pilgrimage for climate justice, for instance, started already in Norway in the far north of the country on the island of Spitsbergen. The journey continued to Trondheim and further on to Oslo. I met the pilgrims myself in Trondheim. People took with them water from the melting glaciers in the north as a reminder that climate change is already happening and is a serious threat to life. This message has to reach the negotiators at the Climate Change Conference in Paris, but also the governments in the capitals of their countries. So far the self-commitments tabled by most of the governments are insufficient. We are still very far from an agreement that is:

  • based on principles of mutual trust, fairness and equity, precaution, intergenerational justice and common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities;
  • ambitious enough to keep temperature from rising well below 2° Celsius;
  • fair enough to distribute the burden in an equitable way; and
  • legally binding enough to guarantee that effective national climate policies to curb emissions are well funded and fully implemented.

It will be egregious if the Climate Conference in Paris does not deliver what is needed. Negotiators in Paris and their governments must know that our engagement for climate justice will not stop with Paris. Our movement will not get weaker; rather, it will grow if they fail to deliver.

You are part of a climate justice movement that is indeed growing everywhere. Last year in September, 400,000 people were demonstrating on the streets of Manhattan. I was there in New York at the same time, together with representatives of different religions to express our care for creation before the United Nations. Rev. Tafue Lusama, general secretary of the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu, said at this occasion: “Climate change for us is a matter of life or death.”

For a long time, people on the Pacific islands who are threatened by rising sea levels and people in Asia and other parts of the world who suffer from severe flooding, droughts and storms have called for solidarity, reminding us that Christians need to take their responsibility for people and creation seriously. A bicycle rally has begun in Africa with many young people participating. It travels from Mozambique via South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and other countries to Nairobi. Churches and civil society groups will demonstrate in Nairobi for climate justice together with Desmond Tutu. Climate justice was high on the agenda during my recent visit to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia. The World Council of Churches and some others started also a call for divestment from fossil fuel-related companies. This call has by now has many, many supporters among churches, universities, pension funds and other institutions, probably representing more than $2 billion US dollars of investment.

But let us go beyond this. You are part of an even bigger movement for justice and peace. The 2013 assembly of the WCC called churches and all people of good will to join in a pilgrimage of justice and peace. More and more churches and partners are responding to this call. Those on their way today for climate justice join hands with all others who are struggling for justice for the poor and excluded and for peace and reconciliation in the middle of violence and war. We know that these concerns are interrelated and have a lot to do with misuse of power and money. Changes in climate can only be addressed properly and in a fair and sustainable way that really makes a difference if there exists a proper dynamic between the care for the environment and provision for social justice.

Neither in the global north nor in the global south is it possible to choose one of these perspectives only. Neither in the north nor in the south can the challenges for the globe and humanity be seen primarily from only one of these perspectives.

We are together on this blue planet as one human family. Our actions have a positive or negative impact on the basic conditions for the lives of others — of all. Not only Christianity but also other religions remind us of our responsibility for God’s creation and the world we belong to and depend on. Tuvalu, the country of Rev. Tafue Lusama, is a very small country we may have not heard of before. But it should not be seen as an “exotic” and faraway reality. To be one humanity, to act as one, to effectively express our togetherness, we need to be sensitive to what the most vulnerable communities are experiencing. That is the test if our faith affirms life and will contribute to the future of humankind.

As a global fellowship, present in the north and south, east and west, the WCC has as one of its first responsibilities and privileges to really speak to these issues from the standpoint of ordinary people who suffer from climate change or from unfairness of all kinds. Those who have contributed least to climate change may have the highest cost to pay, losing their livelihoods, access to food, water, security for their children. This is probably the greatest threat to basic human rights in the decades to come.

Human rights must be strongly emphasized in the international legal treaty that needs to be adopted in Paris at COP21. Human rights should also be strengthened in national legal frameworks to build more just societies. This moral call has been expressed by various religious leaders over the decades. Pope Francis delivered an Encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, which reaffirms what the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and other ecumenical leaders have said for decades. He called more recently for Catholics to celebrate a World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1, a practice the WCC has encouraged for years.

As a fellowship of churches, we listen to and echo the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth due to climate change. Furthermore, as communities of faith we believe things can change. If we know, as we do, that our action has an impact on the environment, we must also believe that our action can have a positive effect. Acknowledging the climate crisis should not paralyze us but push us to change. We who live in rich countries need to change our lifestyle patterns. Those in vulnerable countries should have the means to build resilience and to adapt.

We know individual change is not enough. The change should be at the community and national levels. But even at the latter, “we share the conviction that the threats of climate change cannot be curbed effectively by a single State alone but only by the enhanced co-operation of the community of States,” (Interfaith climate summit statement, 2014).

When we are able to share the experiences of vulnerable communities, we are astonished by their solidarity, their resilience and their joy. They show us how we all depend on our wholeness and togetherness. Let us — as one humanity — defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Let us as one humanity struggle for peace with the earth and for climate justice as fellow pilgrims on the pilgrimage of justice and peace. As human beings we are all pilgrims in our lives, searching for meaning, for change, for hope. Go forth with hope and joy and let yourself not be overcome by powerlessness, despair and paralysis. Our faith convictions express and nurture the hope for the future, for the next generations, for one earth and for one humanity as strong motivation to take action.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary