Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell at COP25. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell at COP25. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

As he shared the perspective of an indigenous person at a side event during the 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Madrid, Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell, urged people to adopt a deep respect for Mother Earth.

“We need to bring society in closer alignment with Indigenous practices and world views that see humans as part of creation, redefining what we mean by development and what constitutes wellbeing,” said Kernell, who is part of the Seminole Nation and a member of the World Council of Churches Indigenous Peoples’ Reference Group.

The event, which explored the theme “Inspiring Courage to Act and Adapt in a Climate Emergency” was held on 3 December and organised by the World Council of Churches together with the Quakers United Nations Office, Franciscans International, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and Brahma Kumaris.

Bishop Philip Huggins of the National Council of Churches in Australia spoke to the importance of “cultivating a fresh and coherent narrative that pays attention to healing historical trauma and violence if we are to bring together the human family” to respond to the existential challenge of climate change.

“The connection with the divine gives us the courage to step away from materialism and money” which are at the root of the crisis, expressed Sister Jayanti, Brahma Kumaris representative to the UN.

Prof. Mark Lawrence, scientific director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, emphasized that individual lifestyle changes are insufficient because “we come up against systemic boundaries”. Therefore we have to be “the agents of the change we want to see,” he said. “We need a kind of climate change – a change in the socio-cultural climate that will enable us to face climate impacts.”

“If we don’t have access to our lands and our seeds are being genetically modified we lose the ability to adapt and share time-tested methods to survive,” warned Andrea Carmen of the Yaqui Nation and a member of Facilitative Working Group of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform at the climate talks.

Ben Schachter from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that a human rights approach to tackling climate change is critical. “Climate discussions must be about people who are affected, displaced, islands that are disappearing.”

Anna Villalobos from the Costa Rican delegation at the climate talks, highlighted the need to “to think outside of the box,” citing examples from Costa Rica – a success story in reforestation – such as strong representation of women in policymaking and the absence of an army which enabled resources to be channeled towards social and ecological objectives.

Finally, Prof. Elisabeth Holland from the University of South Pacific and a leading author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on oceans, shared about toolkits developed and implemented in partnership with young people from faith communities in the Pacific to map vulnerability and to provide support in times of extreme weather events. “This is about putting science into action,” she said. “We are all paddling in the same boat and nothing is more magical than when we paddle together,” she concluded.

Read the WCC Executive Committee "Statement on Climate Change Emergency" (25 November 2019)

"A holistic approach to climate change" - WCC news release 3 December 2019

"Interfaith dialogue prior to COP25 calls for unity, action to confront climate crisis" - WCC news release 3 December 2019

Learn more about the WCC work on Care for Creation and Climate Justice