From the 30thJanuary to 1stFebruary 2019 about 30 climate activists, climate injustice survivors, researchers and representatives of different religious and spiritual traditions came together in Dhaka for a workshop on “Interfaith Reflections on Just Transitions: Linking Climate and Economic Justice”.  Jointly organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Council for World Mission (CWM), in collaboration with the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh as the local host, the workshop aimed to address the following questions:

  • What are the ethical, moral and spiritual undergirding of just transitions?
  • What do just transitions entail locally, nationally and globally?
  • How can we as faith communities contribute in practical and concrete ways; and what resources do we have to empower transformation?

It was relevant that the workshop took place in the Bangladeshi context, given the country’s high vulnerability to the rapid effects of climate change, as well as resilient examples of struggles for, and strategies of, adaption and mitigation in different parts of the country. Our reflections were enhanced by exposure visits to three local contexts – a climate technology park specialising in adaptation technologies, a community based on the banks of the river Padma (Shivalaya) engaged in mitigating the effects of climate change and a settlement of climate refugees (Dwaripara slum). It was significant that these exposure visits took place at the very beginning of the workshop.  They enabled us to think with our feet firmly planted on the ground, focussing not on the abstract but on the pragmatic and realistic. These visits and the opportunity to listen to and learn from representatives of labour unions, women’s groups, farmers’ organisations and climate-impacted communities helped our dialogue to have a strong element of diapraxis (joint action).

It would be possible to frame our reflections during the workshop under a commonly used threefold model of dialogue: dialogue of the head(analytical reflective engagement), dialogue of the heart(spiritual engagement) and dialogue of the hands(practical engagement).

Dialogue of the head

As part of dialogue of the head we analysed how the present climate crisis demands a new ecological civilisation which upholds principles of human dignity, social inclusivity and economic equity while striving towards an environmentally sustainable economy. We realise that this ecological civilisation should be accompanied by a decolonisation of the imagination which refuses to see humans and nonhuman creation as expendable means of profiteering.

We recognise the urgent need to move away from a ‘growth-at-all-costs’ model to a ‘leave-no-one-behind’ model of economy, acknowledging that just transitions are an indispensable tool to usher in this shift.  We are united in our affirmation that a move towards a sustainable future cannot be made at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.

We also reflected on the concept of just transitions from various faith perspectives, focussing on the responsibilities of religious actors as well as the resources that our various traditions could offer. Given that religious resources especially scriptural texts can and have been used as well as abused, we realise the need to pay critical attention to their interpretation so that our scriptures become opportunities rather than obstacles to ecological and economic justice.

We comprehend that our faith traditions provide convergent as well as distinct ethical and spiritual principles to critically engage with climate change. In the Abrahamic traditions there is a shared affirmation that the whole of creation glorifies the creator. This recognises creation as a loving act of the creator to be treated with respect and gratitude. Within the Dharmic faiths there is an emphasis on recognising the intrinsic value of both sentient and non-sentient beings. Our religious traditions also offer distinctive principles which mandate respect and care for creation through just living. The brahma-viharas of Buddhist teachings with their fourfold principles of mothri, karuna, mudita and upeka,  the principle of tikkun olam and Sabbath in Judaism, stewardship in Christianity, Islam (khalifa) and Judaism, and Dharma understood as the duty to uphold what is right in Hinduism, along with the wider teachings in all our faiths that promote simple living are good examples of how care for creation is integral to living a life of justice centred on the wellbeing of our neighbours and the planet.  Other perspectives from indigenous groups and the Brahma Kumaris uphold that stewardship calls for respecting the dignity of the soil which is aligned with recognising the dignity of the soul.

Dialogue of the heart

We also reflected on the role of spirituality in fostering transformation. We learnt from each other how care for creation is intrinsically interwoven into our different spiritual traditions.  Despite our rich diversities there are elements in our spiritual traditions which converge significantly; not least though our harvest-related festivals which have a strong element of gratitude and honouring of the Earth and an element of generosity towards others. Other spiritual practices like fasting, frugal living (understood as not wasting) and ethical principles like non-maleficence (no harm) aim to liberate us from greed and expand the arc of our faith to include care for all creation. In such commonalities we rejoice while respecting our differences.

The ability of faith to inspire change at different levels cannot be discounted. Several religious traditions emphasise that aligning the outer political will with the inner spiritual will is essential to embodying transformation. At the individual level faith communities have an important role in building the spiritual resolve to stand up for just transitions by extending the moral compass to introspect individual complicity in exacerbating the climate crisis. At the collective level faith communities can help mobilise common action for the wider good by centring our actions beyond our own interests and agendas.  The importance of changing our personal and social love is crucial for sustaining a just and peaceable living.

Many of our spiritual traditions underscore the interconnectedness of all life. This self-understanding of ourselves as part of a collective whole can act as an antidote to the prevailing sense of isolation from the Earth and our neighbours which is at the root of society’s indifference, inaction and apathy in the face of climate injustice.

We understand that applying religious and ethical principles emerging in contexts different from our own to address contemporary problems needs appropriation of ethical and religious resources in creative and critical fidelity to their original contexts. This needs to be undertaken with extreme sensitivity.

Dialogue of the hands

A crisis as monstrous as the climate crisis mandates all people of faith and goodwill to work together.

However, we recognise that just transitions are often not a case of ‘one size fits all’. Rather, it entails finding the ‘one size that matters’. In other words just transitions need to be shaped locally in interaction with local factors and contexts. In this regard there is need for approaches which recognise the wisdom and visions of the impoverished and vulnerable – the ‘early warning systems of the world’.

As we devise practical steps to move forward it is important to adopt the perspective of intergenerational justice which treats the Earth as a gift entrusted for safekeeping for future generations. Transition which is focussed on future generations and their right to dignity of livelihood should transcend any form of anthropocentricism.

Our precarious context with its long-term debilitating effects on ecology and economy demands that attempts at just transitions strike a prudent and pragmatic balance between mitigation and adaptation-focussed initiatives.  For religious communities to be agents of change we need to recognise the urgency of acting now, reminding ourselves that if we are not part of the solution we remain part of the problem!

As part of our engagement in just transitions as faith communities we commit to:

  1. Developing approaches to mitigation, adaptation and resilience-building in solidarity with the impoverished and communities that are most vulnerable to the climate crisis;
  2. Preparing resources, both intra-faith and interfaith, that highlight the connections between our faiths, ecology and the economy, e.g. developing faith-based reflections on the Sustainable Development Goals from the perspective of just transitions;
  3. Promoting awareness of and building capacity for just transitions among faith communities and faith-based organisations;
  4. Including a focus on ecological and economic justice in theological curricula and spiritual praxis as part of the formation of future faith leaders;
  5. Advocating for the inclusion of faith-based perspectives in policy discussions;
  6. Engaging in interfaith and community dialogues on just transitions and forming inter-faith transition groups which can network and collaborate with broader civil society to form a common platform;
  7. Encouraging faith communities and actively mobilising them to be part of movements for just transitions; and
  8. Actively undertaking greening of our religious and spiritual institutions and activities, e.g. income and energy sources, investments, buildings.