As the Season of Creation drew to a close, a climate justice workshop convened in Jordan by ACT Alliance Middle East drew together ACT members, church leaders, environmental NGOs, the Director of the Climate Change Directorate of the Ministry of the Environment and an expert from the UNFCCC (the UN body on climate change) to look at how climate change is impacting the country, how different stakeholders are responding and what the future might look like – including how participants might work together to influence that future. There was specific focus on areas such as loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation, with sessions taking the form of dialogue and the exchange of knowledge.
Joel Kelling, the Anglican Alliance’s Middle East Facilitator, leads the ACT Alliance’s recently formed climate working group for the Middle East and North Africa and played a key role in setting up and hosting the meeting, working alongside the ACT Alliance’s regional lead. The relationships with churches and parishes that the Anglican Alliance, through Joel, has in Jordan complemented the existing coalition of NGOs that make up the ACT Alliance, enabling a richer dialogue between participants and a wider range of people with grass roots experience to inform advocacy work and be heard by decision makers.
The workshop took place over three days, using a combination of socially distanced in-person meetings on different sites (fully compliant with local rules) and Zoom connections. Both because of COVID travel restrictions and the very different contexts within the Middle East and North Africa, this workshop was exclusively focused on Jordan; equivalent workshops are due to take place in Palestine and Egypt later in the year. The Middle East workshops are part of a series of regional consultations on climate justice that the ACT Alliance is carrying out across the world.
Speaking after the event, Joel reflected on some of the key moments of the workshop and what emerged from it.
What do you hope to come out of the workshop?
“A very small-scale, initial output from this specific meeting is for youth committees to be formed by the clergy, which will start working on a project they think helps respond to this issue in their context. I also think there’s a long-term hope that NGOs from Jordan will be able to advocate up at things like COP26. The ACT Alliance is gathering these stories – from the Middle East and elsewhere – to create a coherent global narrative from the grass roots that they can present to a broader audience.”
Joel also spoke about the contributors and the connections that had been made, which have potential to bear fruit.
“One of the things that was very encouraging was the calibre of those who spoke to us and those we engaged with. It’s the beginning of a process. For example, we had the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN) who have been working on the issue of loss and damage around deforestation and desertification. They’ve been working on this for a long time so really know what they’re talking about – and they work regionally. We also had the director of the umbrella body of NGOs working on environmental protection in Jordan. They are very keen on capacity-building, have training materials and offered to provide training for clergy in Jordan, saying it was something they would love to do. I think that’s really interesting because [by working with them] there’s no replication of material – it already exists, in Arabic and in a contextually appropriate way, and they’re willing to do it. The challenge for us is to get enough of the clergy to join in.”
What will be your key abiding memory of the workshop?
“One of the clergy participants spoke about how they were used to the idea of creation care, but that the concept of climate justice was new to them. The notion that we had created a space where he was thinking differently about the issue and that he had been quite impacted by the idea of tying justice in with creation care, was encouraging. That’s one abiding memory that will stick with me.
“The other thing that was really encouraging was that all of the Jordanian participants who were there felt they had the right to request more information from the Ministry of the Environment about what they were and weren’t doing. There was a willingness to say they didn’t think certain things were right. Creating a forum in which there could be honest and open discussion and where people could disagree well, in a considered and serious but loving way, was really good and, hopefully, productive.”
What was the most inspiring thing about it?
“One of the contributors was a woman from Dibeen, a human rights focused environmental organisation. She was so on top of the knowledge, so critical of the failings at the institutional level and so willing to state them, but so optimistic about what could change. She spoke about the human rights impact of climate change – on livelihoods, on women, on young people – and the need for rights-based, almost constitutional, language about the right to a clean, healthy and safe environment. She was a very young but incredibly well informed and passionate, Muslim woman. She had a charge and energy. After she spoke everyone clapped – an odd thing for an online audience – but everyone was inspired by her passion. We need to make sure we learn from her.”
Did you gain any new insights? What were they?
“I learnt a lot about climate finance! It’s all very technical and I don’t know how the Church productively engages with it.
“If we are serious about making a change, then we need to know what the changes are that need to be made. It’s the challenge of being generalists; we need specialists. If we’re going to be serious about this as a church, we need to have environmental coordinators in each province of the Communion – who are not merely the lead on it but are as close to being an expert on it as much as is possible in that context, because if we want to be taken seriously, we need to know what we’re talking about.”
Were there any particularly inspiring or significant stories you heard?
“Yes! The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature’s honesty about their failure – and their learning from failure – around tree planting. They talked about how the communities they were working with in the north of Jordan didn’t understand why trees were important. The communities didn’t invest in the project and the trees died. Where do you go from there? APN realised that for people to care about these things, they needed to have a value [to them]. Working this through, it makes sense: if it’s a fruit tree and it produces food for the community, then of course you’re going to want to make it grow – it’s an asset; if it provides shade, that’s an asset, but only for some and it’s a bit more nebulous.
“That sense of the iterative learning, that transformation wasn’t immediate, there wasn’t an instant positive is significant and inspiring. And their ambition is incredible. They want to plant a million trees. But they want to plant a million trees that are going to live and can sustain both themselves, so they continue to live, and sustain the communities that are going to benefit from them.
Will you do anything differently as a result of the meeting?
“I think I’ll keep reaching out to a broader range of the Church. It was really great that both the traditional recognised churches as well as other denominations from Jordan were able to participate and it was good to see clergy from very diverse denominations (so a Greek Orthodox priest in a cassock and a pastor in a T-shirt) chatting away with one another.
“I was also personally challenged once again about my own personal consumption habits.”
Why the Anglican Alliance cares about climate change
The Anglican Alliance connects, equips and inspires the worldwide Anglican family to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation. Climate change is a major factor driving poverty and migration, as well as having wider severe detrimental impacts on the environment.
The Anglican Alliance also provides a convening platform for Anglican churches and agencies to work together in the aftermath of disasters, many of which are climate related. Helping build resilience to disasters and building partnerships for response and resilience is an increasingly important part of our work. See here.
Climate change is therefore a cross-cutting issue that is part of each of our three pillars of relief, development and advocacy.