Faith leaders urge action for climate justice ahead of COP26

Religious leaders from the five continents have signed a petition, titled “Sacred People, Sacred Heart”, urging a joint response to the climate and COVID-19 crisis.

By Lisa Zengarini

As COP26 approaches, faith organizations across the world are intensifying their calls for bold action against climate change, also in light of the COVID-19 crisis.  Ahead of the UN summit due to convene in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12, hundreds of religious leaders from the five continents have signed a “Sacred People, Sacred Heart Statement”, urging a joint response to the climate and COVID-19 crisis. The petition is sponsored by the multi-faith climate and environmental movement Green Faith, and its signatories include Catholic and other Christian leaders.

Expressing concern over the accelerating climate emergency and the damage caused by COVID-19, “especially to vulnerable people”, the signatories say that a “far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment”. “The good life is one of connectedness — with each other and all of nature”, they stress.

The need to change an outdated economic system

According to the faith leaders, Governments meeting in Scotland should commit to actions that “do not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible”. Instead, “they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions”.

Moreover, “wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition” and also “prepare to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change”.  “Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all”, the faith leaders emphasize.

Ten suggestions

The statement goes on to list ten suggestions, or “Demands”, to invert this trend concerning: clean energy; compassionate finance;  employment; Indigenous peoples self-determination; hospitality for migrants; restoration of the environment, biodiversity; divestment from fossil fuels and exploitative agriculture; climate reparations from wealthy countries; bold faith community leadership.

Finance should serve the common good

Addressing financial institutions, the signatories say they need to "abandon systems based on exploitive returns", because money “must serve the common good, not exploit the vulnerable, destroy nature, and increase income inequality”.  Hence the call on the leadership of financial institutions across the globe to stop financing infrastructure in new fossil fuels and agribusiness that destroy the environment.

Zero emissions by 2030 

The faith leaders further urge governments to enact and enforce laws that protect the people and the earth.  In addition, they call on the wealthiest nations to “commit to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and accelerate finance and technology transfers to poorer countries to ensure a global, just transition to zero before 2050."

They also address individuals, saying that they too can contribute with a different and healthier lifestyle, for example using renewable energy and choosing sustainable means of transport.

Pledge to become models of environmental leadership

On their part, the faith leaders vow to be “models of environmental leadership” and pledge to power their own facilities with 100% renewable energy where possible and as soon as possible and to divest from fossil fuel and industrial agriculture sectors and the banks that finance these industries. They also promise to invest in climate solutions and encourage the people under their care to participate in transforming the earth through advocacy, education, job training and other means.

The “Healthy Planet, Healthy People Petition” 

Meanwhile, thousands of people across the world have signed the "Healthy Planet, Healthy People Petition",  addressed to world leaders at the COPs. The initiative is sponsored by the Laudato sì Movement (formerly known as Global Catholic Climate Movement) and was launched in May this year during “Laudato Si' Week”. The petition, among other things, advocates for more binding agreements from policymakers to tackle the biodiversity crisis and reduce air pollution emissions. Furthermore, it stresses the need for greater awareness, backed up by active involvement of grass-root communities.

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26 October 2021, 16:30