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COP 23 “debriefing” brings faith and ethical perspectives

COP 23 “debriefing” brings faith and ethical perspectives

FBOs have been contributing to work on issues of climate change for many years. Here, a group marching at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany 2017. Photo: Sean Hawkey/WCC

23 January 2018

Faith groups gathered at the Ecumenical Centre on 16 January to evaluate from faith and human rights perspectives the outcomes of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They discussed the role of faith-based organizations in the Talanoa Dialogue emerging from COP 23 and began to cooperate for effective and meaningful faith-based engagement in COP 24.

The event was organised by the Geneva Interfaith Forum on Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights composed of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Brahma Kumaris and Franciscans International, among others.

The scorecard on COP 23

Chaired for the first time by a small island state at the forefront of climate impacts – Fiji – poor and climate-vulnerable nations joined together at COP 23 to call for greater ambition in global climate negotiations: keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to prevent catastrophic warming and increase national commitments in order to meet this target.

The Paris Agreement obliges countries to keep global warming increase to 2 degrees Celsius but studies indicate that the current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions will likely take the planet to over 3 degrees Celsius. This will have dire consequences for the world and especially the world’s poor in terms of adverse impacts on health, livelihoods, food and water security.

Against this background, panellists at the event titled, “Debriefing COP 23: Faith and Ethical Perspectives,” expressed general disappointment at the last round of climate talks held in Bonn from 6-18 November 2017.

There was a “disconnect between ambition and outcomes” as the negotiations in Bonn failed to adequately address the demands of small island states and other developing countries for adequate climate finance as well as a stronger mechanism to tackle irreversible loss and damage arising from climate change. “It was a lost opportunity”, said Isaiah Toroitich, global policy coordinator at ACT Alliance.

Notwithstanding this, panellists acknowledged that the links between climate change and human rights became much more entrenched in the discussions at COP 23. “The Gender Action Programme adopted includes language on human rights” and in the areas of Indigenous Peoples’ rights as well as agriculture and food security “there are tiny steps” forward, said Benjamin Schachter, focal point for Climate Change and Human Rights at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Engagement in the Talanoa Dialogue

In a written message to the participants to the event, the Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations invited various stakeholders – not least faith communities – to prepare inputs to the Talanoa Dialogue launched at COP 23, focusing on three critical questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? And how do we get there?

“The Talanoa Dialogue is a very important legacy from the Fiji Presidency”, said Yves Labrador from the Geneva Consultative Group on Climate Change of which WCC is also a member.

Employing an inclusive, transparent and “leave no one behind” approach rooted in Pacific tradition, the Talanoa Dialogue aims to overcome the gaps between reaching the bolder target of 1.5 degree-Celsius increase, the 2 degrees Celsius agreed in Paris and the current trajectory of 3 degrees. “This is matter of human rights as we know that at a higher degree of warming there will be more human rights violations,” Labrador added.

The Talanoa Dialogue in a way echoes the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si, said Chiara Martinelli, executive advisor and project officer on sustainable development at CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic development agencies. Laudato Si urgently appeals “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet…a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all”.

Martinelli emphasised that FBOs can and ought to bring to the Talanoa Dialogue testimonies from grassroots communities impacted by climate change, deep analyses of barriers and continuous pressure to push for climate justice. “Governments alone cannot deliver”, she said.

Faith-based organizations can play an important role in “building trust” among various stakeholders in the Talanoa Dialogue, said Rev. Henrik Grape, coordinator of the WCC working group on climate change.

More importantly, we must be at the forefront of the “narrative of change…change in economy, politics, lifestyles” that is necessary for meeting the more ambitious goal of keeping global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Grape expressed.

David Matthey-Doret, director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Centre for Documentation, Research and Information, agreed. For Indigenous Peoples, “change will not happen unless we get reconnected with Mother Earth”, he said.

Faith, spirituality and values

Our organisations and communities have long been engaged in the UNFCCC COPs, said Athena Peralta, programme executive for economic and ecological justice at the WCC who co-moderated the event, “bringing in a perspective of faith and compassion in order to inspire and encourage decisionmakers to put people and Mother Earth at the heart of the climate negotiations”.

Many values, recognition of human rights and caring for creation cannot be put down to one faith or religion but are held in common by many faith and religions, said Valeriane Bernard, the Brahma Kumaris representative to the United Nations. We engage in the COPs because “we want the best future for our common planet”, she said.

Video: Debriefing COP23 from Faith and Ethical Perspectives

Care for creation and climate justice