At the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland, representatives of faith communities called for a just climate deal to be adopted by the UN in 2015. Many observers viewing the event from ethical and spiritual perspectives commented that COP19 concluded without fulfilling expectations of the victims of climate change.
The issue of the impact of climate justice on vulnerable communities was brought into focus during a joint event of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic development agencies, held alongside COP19 in Warsaw on 21 November.
The participants in the joint event echoed concerns raised by Naderev Yeb Saño, the Philippines’ representative at the UN climate change talks, who called the parties to deliver a meaningful outcome and started a “spiritual fast” that lasted for the two weeks of the negotiations. Held in a context of more than 5,000 casualties and the destruction caused recently by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Saño’s symbolic act of fasting was joined by faith communities in Poland and beyond.
The agreements reached at COP19 proposing a new mechanism to help victims of typhoons, floods, droughts and other impacts of climate change, as well as pledges to the Adaptation Fund of up to 100 million US dollars from developed countries, are still far from being sufficient to respond adequately to the climate crisis.
Faith communities have called to continue the spiritual fast one day per month until the next COP20, to be held in Lima, Peru in December 2014.
At the WCC-CIDSE event, discussions moderated by Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman of the Presbyterian Church (USA) featured a powerful presentation by Dissarama Sabine Attama from Caritas Niger. Attama shared stories on how climate change is affecting her home country, especially the peasants who are among the most vulnerable and poor.
Fr. Frederick D'Souza, director of Caritas India, also spoke about initiatives in his home country implementing adaptation and mitigation strategies to address climate change.
Addressing climate change, supporting climate victims
During the discussions, Joy Kennedy from the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) spoke about the challenges of climate change that have induced resettlements in the Pacific. In remarks based on the WCC 10th Assembly Minute on Climate Justice issued in Busan, Republic of Korea, she referred to “climate victims as a new face of the poor and most vulnerable, especially loved and cared for by God.” Kennedy quoted the Minute and its call for “churches to speak out when creation is affected by climate change, as an expression of our commitment to life, justice and peace.”
Rev. Henrik Grape from the Church of Sweden made a presentation on love, peace and understanding as driving forces to move the climate change discussions to action, stressing that faith communities can and must contribute to the UN response towards climate change.
At a press conference of representatives of faith communities in Warsaw moderated by Dr Guillermo Kerber, WCC programme executive for Care for Creation and Climate Justice, speakers recognized the spiritual fasting of hundreds of people around the world during COP19 as an expression of solidarity with the victims of climate change.
In his comments Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC general secretary, said, “the WCC 10th Assembly has recently stressed the urgency of climate crisis in a Minute on Climate Justice. The interfaith fast for climate justice is one concrete way churches and other religious institutions have expressed their concern about the situation and the negotiations at COP 19 in Warsaw.”
While presenting the WCC statement titled Justice and peace must prevail: We must not betray life! on behalf of faith communities at the high level segment of COP19, Joy Kennedy concluded by saying: “Do not betray us, do not betray yourselves and your families, and do not betray the hopes of the world of the future. Act and act now! The future is here, the future is today. The world cannot wait: climate change is happening. Justice and peace must prevail.”