©Einar Tjelle

©Einar Tjelle

A conference organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland under the theme “Just Peace with Earth” was offered in conjunction with the Arctic Assembly, the largest annual international gathering focused on the future of the Arctic held Oct. 13-15.

Throughout the Arctic Assembly, a WCC delegation emphasized the growing role of faith with regard to climate change and sustainable communities. Ecumenical Patriarch His All-Holiness Bartholomew I offered a keynote speech during the assembly.

Among speakers at the “Just Peace with Earth” conference was WCC president for Europe and Archbishop emeritus Dr Anders Wejryd, who reflected that, through history most peoples have been totally dependent upon nature, living constantly on the verge, which taught them respect for and care of nature.

“Now, that knowledge is nearly only carried on by indigenous peoples, living traditional lives,” he said. “They are the ones most seriously threatened by climate change. And here in the Arctic the rise of temperature is double the level of the world average and destroys lives and civilizations.”

Throughout the conference, WCC strengthened its connection with indigenous people to chart further action related to climate change in the coming years. Together, the group considered messages that will be carried to discussions on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to climate change conferences.

Wejryd posed the question: Is nature here to be lived in by us and others - or is nature here to be ruled over by us?

“The anthropocentric approach of the last centuries has brought about an unparalleled rise of wealth, knowledge and material living conditions,” he reflected. “The resilience and redundancy of nature have made it possible. It is tempting for us to think that this will be possible also for the future. Tempting and comfortable – but untrue. We are approaching limits. We have passed limits.”

The path to positive change

In a message released at the conclusion of the conference, participants agreed that, in defiling and destroying the environment that is held in sacred trust from one generation to the next, we sin against God and nature. “There cannot be any sustainable development at the expense of spiritual values and the natural environment,” the statement reads. “Churches and faith communities have been as complicit in environmentally-harmful practices as other sectors of society.”

But history also demonstrates the power of religion to foster world views that guide people to new social, political and cultural alignments, the statement notes. “Faith communities can be powerful sources of the social capital for positive change,” the statement reads. “The ecumenical movement and religious leaders have played a key role in advancing the concepts of sustainability and climate justice in international and national policy forums.”

The statement encourages the active engagement of churches in promoting and modeling environmentally sustainable behavior at all levels, from the national level to the local congregational level.

“Given the vast national and global constituencies of people and communities represented through the churches, there is enormous potential in our networks, as well as in our relationships with interfaith partners,” reads the statement. “Even more fundamentally, the contribution of faith must be to confront the essential immorality of lifestyles and economic systems that are based on the conquest and selfish abuse of nature and of others, and that are indifferent to injustice and ecological repercussions.”

The statement also emphasized that indigenous peoples need to be part of the entire process of consultation on climate change. “We reject the passive acceptance that some lives, homes, lands, ways of living and therefore ways of being and identity-connection will be ‘lost’ while others ‘gain’ from climate change,” the statement reads. “Forced migrations and loss of identity from the Arctic and island homelands are unacceptable.”

Island populations – whether in the Arctic region, the Pacific or the Caribbean – suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, the statement notes. “Relocation of people, loss of shorelines and the degradation of land and water resources are already a reality and an emergent threat,” reads the statement.

Reflecting on the message, Rev. Henrik Grape, coordinator of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change, said seeking justice is not only about financial resources to adapt or to compensate for loss and damages.

“It involves the loss of cultural and spiritual values when the permafrost is melting and the erosion of the land force you to move or the sea level rise makes an island disappear,” said Grape. “The Arctic is pivotal for the future and it shows with all clarity in the world that people of the land are connected to their environment.”

Read the final message of the conference

Read the full presentation of WCC president for Europe and Archbishop emeritus Dr Anders Wejryd

WCC work on care for creation and climate change