Faith Groups Pledge to Fight Climate Change

Prior to the Copenhagen conference nearly 200 religious leaders gathered in England to make the largest ever faith commitment to environmental sustainability, writes Eleni Towns.

Delegates arrive at the Many Heavens, One Earth Celebration held in Windsor, England last month. Each of the 30 religious and interfaith groups at the event made commitments to sustainability and conservation. (AP/Carl de Souza)
Delegates arrive at the Many Heavens, One Earth Celebration held in Windsor, England last month. Each of the 30 religious and interfaith groups at the event made commitments to sustainability and conservation. (AP/Carl de Souza)

A month before governmental leaders, advocates, and scientists arrived in Copenhagen for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference, nearly 200 faith leaders gathered at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom to announce and celebrate their own commitments to tackling the climate change crisis.

From November 2 through 4 religious and secular leaders at the Many Heavens, One Earth Celebration developed an extensive climate treaty, marking the largest ever faith commitment to environmental action. Each of the 30 religious and interfaith groups shared the ecological messages within their own traditions and pledged long-term actions of conservation and environmental awareness.

Leaders from each faith tradition committed to specific actions, such as eco-educating their congregations, greening their houses of worship, developing new liturgies, promoting environmental tithing, and more. By the end of the conference, these commitments (see below) were gathered into a 176-page document to be distributed for “discussion and inspiration worldwide.”

Government world leaders attending the Copenhagen conference represent 82 percent of the global population, 89 percent of the world’s GDP, and 80 percent of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions. The nine different faiths present at Windsor—Baha’ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, and Skhism—spoke on behalf of equally large proportions of civil society. Eight-five percent of the world’s population adheres to these faiths. In addition, these religions own 7 to 8 percent of the Earth’s habitable land surface, possess vast media networks, and provide diverse social services to the public, such as health care, education, food, and shelter.

In addition, religion provides unquantifiable aid—namely, hope and inspiration—according to Martin Palmer, secretary-general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a U.K.-based international secular body that supported the event. Palmer said, "We believe that the key contribution the religions can make is to develop programs that will deliver responses based not on fear, guilt, or apprehension, but because they are true to what the faith understands."

The conference was hosted by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and also supported by the United Nations Development Program as well as the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Assistant Secretary-General Olav Kjørven also attended the conference.

The Windsor conference was officially independent from the Copenhagen conference, but religious leaders are hoping that their commitments will encourage the intergovernmental process and prepare civil society to support coming policies.

Ten key commitments made by each faith tradition

  • Daoists in China will install solar panels at all their temples in China.
  • American Evangelicals will facilitate an annual Creation Care Leadership summit to inspire and equip evangelical leaders to support creation care in their communities.
  • Chinese Buddhists and Daoists will promote a new Three Sticks of Incense Program to limit the pollution produced by burning hundreds of incense sticks. By saying that three incense sticks are sufficient, Daoists and Buddhists monasteries hope to promote clean air and conservation.
  • The Church of South India will encourage its followers to carry out environmental tithing, reducing the church’s burden on the earth’s bounty by producing 10 percent less waste and consuming 10 percent less in nonrenewable resources.
  • Hindus will include eco-labels for goods and services that adhere to their religious principles.
  • The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church will replant an ancient historical forest that used to grow near the Mother See of Holy Etchimiadzin. This is part of a plan to plant 1.5 million trees in the country in memory of genocide victims.
  • Jewish groups will uphold the ecological value of Shabbat, the Sabbath, as “a day to step back from shopping, manufacturing, flying, driving and technological manipulation of the work.”
  • Muslims will work with the Saudi minister to the Hajj to transform the pilgrimage into a Green Hajj. In the next two years the ministry aims to free the Hajj of plastic bottles.
  • Based on the Church of England’s 2007 audit that identified its national carbon footprint as 330,000 tons of CO2, the church will pledge to reduce its output by at least 42 percent by 2020.
  • Sikhs will recommend that their gurdwaras—temples—use copper pots for storing water. Traditional Hindu Ayurvedic teachings instruct households to do so, and 99 percent of e-coli bacteria are killed when water is stored in this fashion.

See the full list of commitments here.

Eleni Towns graduated from George Washington University in May. She is an intern with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

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Eleni Towns

Policy Analyst