Faith leaders unite in call for urgent climate action informed by “the knowledge of science and the wisdom of religion” ahead of COP26

20 October 2021

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Image credit: Jeffrey Bruno and Lambeth Palace

We have inherited a garden: we must not leave a desert to our children.”
Joint appeal by global faith leaders and scientists, 4th October 2021

It is now just a matter of days until world leaders will come together in Glasgow for COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Not since 2015 has there been such intense focus on this annual gathering. The COP in 2015, COP21, resulted in the historic Paris agreement, the moment when the world finally, as a whole, came together on climate change and agreed to take the measures necessary to keep global temperature rise below 1.5oC. As signatories to the Paris agreement, member states commit to ratchet up their ambition and action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions every 5 years. COP26 is the first of these scheduled milestones.

The importance of COP26

Much has changed since the Paris agreement of 2015. Businesses and cities are rising to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future. Renewable forms of energy production have increased dramatically and the costs fallen. Individuals, communities and churches are taking action. There is a lot to celebrate.

But not enough is happening. At the moment, as a world, we are not doing nearly enough to address the enormity of the crisis we are facing. Moreover, since 2015, it has become increasingly clear – and the warnings increasingly stark – that the window of opportunity for action to avert catastrophe is rapidly closing.

COP26 is an important opportunity to correct these collective failings and galvanise one another to take all necessary action. It is a milestone that will determine what kind of world future generations will inherit. This is a key reason why there will be so much media coverage of the COP and why so many people will be watching what happens and trying to influence the outcome.

It is into this context that two important statements have been issued by faith leaders in recent weeks.

A joint message for the protection of creation

The first was an urgent appeal for the protection of creation made by Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is the first time that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion have made a joint statement on climate change. The leaders highlight the lessons of the pandemic, saying, “We realised that, in facing this worldwide calamity, no one is safe until everyone is safe, that our actions really do affect one another, and that what we do today affects what happens tomorrow.”  Urging the world not “to waste this moment”, they call on people everywhere “to endeavour to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor, examining their behaviour and pledging meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us”.

The statement focuses on three specific areas: the profound damage caused by prioritising short-term wealth over planetary health and the interests of future generations; the injustice of the climate crisis, whereby its impacts are greatest on the poor and the young – the people least responsible for causing it; and the need to recognise interconnection, both between environmental, economic, health, food and social crisis, and with one another in our vulnerability and inability to control everything. The statement ends with an appeal to choose the future: “to seize this as an opportunity for conversion and transformation. If we think of humanity as a family and work together towards a future based on the common good, we could find ourselves living in a very different world.”

Changing the narrative: a joint appeal by global faith leaders and scientists

The second statement was a joint appeal by global faith leaders and scientists, issued on St Francis Day, October 4th at the Vatican.  It was the culmination and fruit of months of dialogue between faith representatives and scientists convened by the two countries hosting COP26, the UK and Italy. The Most Revd. Julio Murray Thompson, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Central America and the Anglican Communion’s lead archbishop for the environment was part of the process and the statement was signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Anglican Communion.

The statement calls on all sectors of society to take action and commits the signatories to “taking much more serious action” within their respective religious traditions. The latter includes the ‘ecological conversion’ and education of adherents, and “supporting actions to reduce carbon emissions, achieve carbon neutrality, promote disaster risk reduction, improve waste management, conserve water and energy, develop renewable energy, provide green open spaces, conserve coastal areas, prevent deforestation and restore forests”.

Whilst setting out some of the practical actions required of different actors, the statement also recognises the root causes of the climate emergency and emphasises the shift in understanding and values needed to address it.

“We are not limitless masters of our planet and its resources”, it reads. “We are deeply interdependent with each other and with the natural world… Damage to the environment is a result, in part, of the predatory tendency to see the natural world as something to be exploited with disregard for the extent to which survival hinges on biodiversity and on maintaining the health of planetary and local ecosystems. Multiple crises facing humanity are demonstrating the failures of such an approach; these are ultimately linked to a crisis of values, ethical and spiritual.

“Humanity has the power to think and the freedom to choose. We must address these challenges using the knowledge of science and the wisdom of religion: to know more and to care more.”

Specifically, the faith leaders and scientists say, “we also need to change the narrative of development and to adopt a new kind of economics: one that places human dignity at its center and that is inclusive; one that is ecologically friendly, caring for the environment, and not exploiting it; one based not on endless growth and proliferating desires, but on supporting life; one that promotes the virtue of sufficiency and condemns the wickedness of excess; one that is not only technologically driven, but is moral and ethical.”

The Anglican Alliance has been working in close collaboration with other bodies of the Anglican Communion throughout 2021 as part of the Anglican Consultative Council’s COP26 working group. We will be publishing further web stories shortly about COP26 and how the Anglican Communion will be engaging with it to help reverse the climate emergency. As the Vatican statement says, “2021 presents a vital challenge to turn this crisis into an opportunity to rethink the world we want for ourselves and for our children.”

For further information on the Anglican Alliance’s work with the Communion on environment and climate issues, please visit our resource hub.

Please pray for the outcomes of COP26, meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1-12 November.