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‘The house is on fire’: faith leaders, government reps share candid dialogue

‘The house is on fire’: faith leaders, government reps share candid dialogue

Rev. Dr. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, president of Brot für die Welt, was one of the speakers of the dialogue in New York City. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

25 September 2019

At an informal dialogue, faith leaders gathered with representatives from governments, civil society, academia, and the United Nations to talk about financing adaptation, and loss and damage, related to climate change.

In other words, “the house is on fire,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development. He urged people to consider climate change as an emergency, not a slow-moving misfortune. “This is no longer God-given impacts on people; this is human-caused,” he said. “It is not right. An emergency means the house is on fire; it means we need to deal with it right now.”

Held 24 September at the Church of the Covenant in New York City, the dialogue was hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), ACT Alliance, Bread for the World, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Government of Uganda. 

In opening remarks, Peter Prove, director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, underscored Huq’s sense of emergency by saying that the threat from climate change is so significant that nothing short of urgent and decisive action will do. Over the last few months, a rising global movement of children and youth have rightly called us out because we have failed them,said Prove. WCCs approach to climate change and environmental protection is founded on the fundamental principle of justice. The most vulnerable people and communities must be protected and supported.

United for change

Dr Azza Karam, senior advisor on social and cultural development at the United Nations Population Fund, moderated the dialogue. Youve heard some very motivating calls to action,said Karam. A plea from my heart to yours is that the next such gathering includes more people from other religions so that it goes beyond ecumenical into the multi-religious space as well.

Karam has been elected as the new secretary general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. 

Mark MacDonald, archbishop of the National Indigenous Anglican Church of Canada and WCC president for North America, spoke of how many people have lost touch with what their land means to them. Every one of us will soon understand how deeply we need Mother Earth and how deeply we need each other,he said. I have a very simple message: There is no livable future for this planet that does not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples.

Rev. Douglas Leonard, WCC representative to the United Nations, described the convening role of the WCC in facilitating dialogue that leads to actions that help people in dire need - including those most affected by climate change. "Whatever the outcomes are from this dialogue, we are going to include those in our international advocacy strategy, so we will be carrying those outcomes to the UN system here,explained Leonard.

‘What does it take?’

Right now, the world lacks disaster mitigation strategies, noted Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, director general, Global Issues—Sector Policies and Programmes, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

What does it take to put up a financial system that is commensurate with the challenges we observe?she asked. Unless we mobilize more resources, how are we going to cover the additional requirements that we are talking about?

As drought, cyclones and other disasters increase in both frequency and intensity, people are rapidly losing their land and their livelihood, reflected ACT general secretary Rudelmar Bueno de Faria.

The cause and effect can be avoided if adequate measures are in place for disaster risk reduction,said de Faria. Our expectation as faith communities is to share ideas that might enable us to unlock and new and additional financial support.


Birgitte Qvist-Sørensen, general secretary of DanChurch Aid and moderator of ACT Alliance, added that faith communities also have the role of bringing hope. It is time to make sure that these promises are turned into action,she said. To make that happen, we must mobilize funds and support.

Chebet Maikut, commissioner of the Climate Change Department, Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda, said extreme weather events have led to loss of life, economic hardship, and displacement of people in Uganda. We need concrete actions,he said. We have a lot of good ideas of how to influence international decision-making. It takes a process, and this is where our international partners can help.

Rev. Dr. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, president of Brot für die Welt, said that, even if climate change slows, loss and damage will continue to happen. It is a matter of ongoing climate injustice caused by ignorance, irresponsibility and greed,she said. The people affected must be at the center of all decisions.

"Climate emergency: faith-based groups pledge to amplify prophetic voice" - WCC news release 25 September 2019

"As Climate Summit begins, churches call for action now!" - WCC news release 23 September 2019

“Do you love me?” It’s a question about global warming - WCC news release 22 September 2019

"WCC joins global climate strike with throngs of young people" - WCC news release 21 September 2019

Learn more about WCC's work on Care for Creation and Climate Change