By Stephen Brown*
Faith campaigners have presented a total of 1,780,528 signatures gathered worldwide calling for decisive action to curb global warming. The petitions were delivered to leaders of the United Nations COP 21 climate conference beginning its work in Paris.
"We can do it together, we must do it together, and we will do it together," said Anglican Archbishop and “ACT ambassador” Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town as he handed over the petitions to Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN body dealing with climate change, and Nicolas Hulot, French President François Hollande's special envoy for the planet.
Makgoba is the global climate ambassador for ACT Alliance, a worldwide coalition of 137 churches and affiliated organizations working for positive and sustainable change.
The handover took place at a "Faith in Climate Justice" event on 28 November in St Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, attended by about 400 people including climate campaigners, many of whom had walked hundreds of miles on pilgrimages to the French capital.
"I want to thank you for every single step," said Figueres, visibly moved. She embraced Yeb Sano, a former Philippines' climate change negotiator turned campaigner who walked from Rome to Paris as a leader of the People's Pilgrimage.
Pilgrims came forward with symbols of their walks, such as the bottle held by Norwegian Bishop Ingeborg Midttømme, carried from the Arctic Circle and containing water collected throughout the journey. "Life begins with water, and life cannot exist without water," she said.
Welcoming the pilgrims, the Rev. François Clavairoly, president of the French Protestant Federation and of the Conference of Religious Leaders in France (CRCF), praised their "courage and hope".
French faith communities, Clavairoly said, supported the campaign so that "a sustainable world, upholding the weakest and the most vulnerable, may be promised to the generations to come."
French envoy Hulot announced that President Hollande would officially receive the petitions during the UN conference. "Your message transcends religion: we need more humanity," he said.
Lotifa Begum of Islamic Relief Worldwide spoke of the global Islamic Climate Change Declaration launched at Istanbul, Turkey in August. "Together we are raising our voices here today by using the power of faith to call for climate justice," Begum said.
The presentation of the petitions was preceded by an interreligious ceremony at the historic Cathedral of St Denis, with readings and meditations from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions.
"The injustice of the present situation is evident," said Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) as the chairperson of its council. "Will we have the strength to draw the conclusion and radically transform the way we organize the global economy?"
The events in St Denis followed months of activities by French religious leaders that began on a boat on the River Seine in front of the French National Assembly in June 2014. Together with Hulot and Sano, they joined civil society representatives supporting the "Fast for the Climate" initiative to fast on the first day of each month for a global, fair, ambitious and binding agreement climate treaty at Paris.
In January this year, the Conference of Religious Leaders in France officially received a candle sent by Religions for Peace and the Interfaith Council of Peru, where the last UN climate conference was held in 2014, to symbolize the passing of the baton to Paris.
This was followed in May by an event on “religions and climate” at the Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament. The event was organized by the CRCF which gathers Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. In July, the conference presented its first-ever joint statement on climate change to President Hollande.
Such activities, said Protestant leader Clavairoly after the St Denis event, help promote communication between religious leaders in France. "The religious climate is also better as a result," he said, "because this movement has both meaning and direction and really challenges us, and calls us to act."
For high resolution photos from the events in Paris, please visit oikoumene.org/cop21photos
*Stephen Brown works as a freelance journalist and communicator and is president of the European region of the World Association for Christian Communication.