Australian Anglicans sign up to interfaith climate plea to UN, global community

Australian religious leaders have joined their international counterparts in an appeal for urgent action on climate change.

By Mark Brolly

April 21 2016Twenty-one Australian religious leaders have joined more than 250 of their international counterparts, including Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town and Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, in a fresh appeal for urgent action on climate change.

The leaders have signed the Interfaith Climate Change Statement, which calls on the world’s governments to urgently ratify last December’s landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement and reduce emissions to stop global temperature rise. It urges the swift phasing-out of fossil fuel subsidies and accelerated renewable energy investment to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above industrial levels.

The statement was delivered to United Nations General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft in New York on 19 April, as government representatives, including Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt, prepared to officially sign up to the Paris Climate Agreement – the first universal, legally binding global climate deal, which is due to come into force in 2020. The Paris Agreement is to be opened for signature at the UN’s New York headquarters for one year from 22 April and will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Australian Bishop George Browning, inaugural convener of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, said: “Science and Christianity are on the same page in urging human responsibility in the face of escalating climate change. Christianity has always urged care for the created order. Science points to the urgency. The clock is ticking. We cannot sit on our hands any longer.

“The responsibility belongs to everyone: politicians, business leaders, the investment industry, faith leaders and ordinary citizens. Politics has for a long time dragged its feet. It needs to catch up and realise that the age of fossil fuels is over – renewable energy must be mandated for economic as well as environmental reasons.”

Other Australian signatories of the interfaith statement include former South Australian Premier and now Chair of the Anglican General Synod’s Public Affairs Commission, the Revd Dr Lynn Arnold; Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Environmental Adviser to the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia; the Presidents of the Australian Hindu and Imams councils, Professor Nihal Agar AM and Imam Shady Alsulaiman respectively; the President of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, Dr Jake Mitra; and the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia, Sister Elizabeth Delaney.

International religious signatories include the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit; the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences of the Holy See, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo;  and Pakistan’s Grand Imam Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad.

The President of Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), Ms Thea Ormerod, said in many places, global warming was no longer just a theory but was destroying lives and livelihoods.

“The world desperately Australia to do its fair share of accelerating the shift to low-carbon technologies and of building resilience in vulnerable countries,” Ms Ormerod said. “The first step would be to ratify the Paris Agreement.”

Sr Delaney, of the NCCA, said there was growing awareness of the need to care for the Earth.

“All churches acknowledge that we can no longer simply look to the needs of the human family,” she said. “The whole of creation is God's gift. Increasingly, churches are recognising that we have a genuine mission to love and care for God's creation – this is an essential aspect of our Christian faith. As individuals and communities we can be challenged by the practical changes and implications of policy changes called for. Any lack of response condemns those who are among the most vulnerable in our world.”

Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Bishop for Indigenous Peoples, said “the communion of all things is what is at stake”.

“Indigenous peoples are uniquely threatened by climate change, though the least responsible,” he said. “The Paris Agreement is a beginning. We are called to go further. I invite you all to re-establish that communion and to achieve our moral transformation.”

The interfaith statement:

  • Urges governments to rapidly sign, ratify and implement the Paris Agreement, and to increase pledges to reduce emissions in line with keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels;
  • Insists on rapid emissions reduction and peaking by 2020, in order to keep the 1.5C goal within reach;
  • Strongly advocates for greater flows of finance, especially for adaptation and loss and damage;
  • Urges the swift phasing-out of all fossil fuel subsidies and a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050;
  • Encourages faith communities to reduce emissions in their homes, workplaces and centres of worship and to support and stand in solidarity with communities already affected by climate change; and
  • Calls for fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment in renewables and low-carbon solutions, including within our own communities, and/or by engaging companies on climate change.

“Caring for the Earth is our shared responsibility,” the statement says. “Each one of us has a ‘moral responsibility to act’, as so powerfully stated by the Pope’s Encyclical (Pope Francis’ 2015 letter ‘On Care for Our Common Home’, Laudato Si’, addressed to ‘every person living on this planet’) and in the climate change statements by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and other faith leaders. The planet has already passed safe levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Unless these levels are rapidly reduced, we risk creating irreversible impacts putting hundreds of millions of lives, of all species, at severe risk. The challenges ahead require honesty and courage and we all must take action to reduce emissions. 

“Humanity is at a crucial turning point. We as faith communities recognise that we must begin a transition away from polluting fossil fuels and towards clean renewable energy sources. It is clear that for many people significant lifestyle changes will have to be made. We must strive for alternatives to the culture of consumerism that is so destructive to ourselves and to our planet.

“The unprecedented consensus resulting in the adoption of the Paris Agreement, welcomed by faith communities the world over, has opened up a new path towards a low-carbon, climate resilient transformation of the global economy. The global collaboration by all nations is proof that our shared values are far greater than any differences that divide us. It demonstrates that the sense of collective responsibility shared by all nations and society is far more powerful than the recklessness and greed of the few.

“We are united in our support for the full and ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement and of all other decisions adopted at COP 21 (the conference in the French capital that produced the Agreement)…

“Climate change presents our global family with the opportunity to embark on a path of spiritual renewal defined by deeper awareness and greater ecological action. Every act to protect and care for all beings connects us to one another, deepening the spiritual dimension of our lives. We must reflect on the true nature of our interrelationship to the Earth. It is not a resource for us to exploit at our will. It is a sacred inheritance and a precious home which we must protect. United with the shared hope that arises from faith, we the undersigned believe that the means, desire, and will to care for Earth and all life can and will become action as our political leaders ratify the promises made in Paris – and thus safeguard the greater promises of this generation and of all those to come.”

*The Anglican Communion’s network of environment champions has received a boost with the news that Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury has agreed to be their honorary chairman and patron.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, who heads the network, revealed the news during a discussion about the environment at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, on 15 April.

The environment – and particularly the effects of climate change – has featured heavily during the two-week ACC-16 meeting. Before the ACC began, young Anglicans from southern and central Africa gathered for a youth conference on the environment sponsored by the Christian development agency Tearfund, which Archbishop Welby attended.

“It is a great privilege to be asked to be the honorary chair and patron of the Anglican Communion movement on the environment,” Archbishop Welby said. “Trips like this reveal more and more clearly as one listens to those in the Communion the huge life-threatening seriousness of the matters that are being faced.

“It has come upon me with fresh force during this ACC and I am very honoured to be allowed to have a role.”

[with ACNS]