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Churches use season of Lent to raise awareness of climate change

Churches use season of Lent to raise awareness of climate change

Women and children sing and dance a song about global climate change in Chidyamanga, southern Malawi. “We are always hungry because of climate change, droughts and floods,” according to the song’s chorus. © ACT Alliance/Paul Jeffrey

04 April 2014

* By Dr Guillermo Kerber

Lent, a season for prayers and reflections by Christians around the world, has become an opportunity for the churches to respond to climate change, an issue which deeply impacts the communities they serve.

It is therefore significant that a recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out on 31 March, in the middle of the Lenten season. This report brings into focus the impact of climate change, options of adaptation and an assessment of the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems and communities.

This report with its detailed analysis describes the impact of climate change, warning that the situation will grow worst in the 21st century. The poor in countries of the South will suffer more from climate change while being faced with food insecurity, lack of access to water, displacements and increased conflicts.

The IPCC report is important for the churches, who are witnessing effects of climate change on communities, making climate justice a priority in their pastoral plans.

This priority was reflected at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in South Korea last year, which adopted a Minute on Climate Justice calling “churches and ecumenical organizations to insist that the respective governments look beyond national interests in order to be responsible towards God’s creation and our common future, and urge them to safeguard and promote the basic human rights of those who are threatened by the effects of climate change”.

One initiative from a Christian organization this Lent is the Fast for Life, a call from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance for an observance that began on Ash Wednesday. The campaign raises awareness of how many CO2 emissions are generated from food that is wasted. It is an invitation to “Join the Zero Waste Daily Challenge”, establishing “waste-trackers” at home and providing resources for organizing related actions, worship services and other events.

The Anglican Communion Environmental Network has proposed a Carbon Fast during Lent, suggesting concrete actions to ensure climate justice. Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, has argued recently that Western lifestyles bear responsibility for causing climate change in the world’s poorest regions.

In Switzerland, church-related development agencies have focused on intergenerational justice for their Lent campaign, stressing the need to addressing climate change effectively for the sake of future generations.

Promoting climate justice

Building on an initiative by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) youth delegation to COP 19 in Warsaw last year, the LWF together with partners are calling to Fast for Climate. This call is an invitation to fast on the first day of each month. It invokes spiritual practices and ethical values, urging national governments to be more ambitious in climate change negotiations.

In an LWF statement of 1 April, WCC Central Committee member Metropolitan Serafim Kykotis of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, reminds us that fasting “always has noteworthy intentions: the transformation of ourselves to do good things for the whole creation of God.”

While addressing climate change, the need for transformation in our actions cannot be limited only to individuals. There is also a need for responsible actions and influential agreements by state institutions.

The Conferences of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have not yet delivered a promised multilateral agreement to curb CO2 emissions and thus limiting an increase in the average temperature of the world.

Yet there are steps that can help strengthen the negotiations on climate change. One initiative is the upcoming Climate Summit 2014 in New York, called by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, for September of this year. Ban Ki-moon has asked heads of states to “bring to the Summit bold pledges”.

“Innovate, scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement through the UNFCCC process,” said Ban.

As a part of these efforts, the WCC will organize an interfaith summit on climate change before the Climate Summit to endorse a call from faith leaders urging the international community to address climate change more effectively.

Echoing vulnerable communities’ experiences in different regions, churches and faith communities  across the decades have appealed for an effective transformation of current development patterns and consumerist lifestyles which are depleting the planet.

Again, the IPCC’s new report confirms that time is running short, reminding us that visible and effective efforts should be made to strengthen climate resilience in order to reduce the risks of climate change.

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*Dr Guillermo Kerber is the WCC programme executive for Care for Creation and Climate Justice

Minute on Climate Justice adopted by the WCC 10th Assembly

WCC’s work on climate justice and care for creation