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Faith communities challenged COP27 participants

Seven women from the global south led hundreds of protestors staging a flood at COP27. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

All aspects of climate change were on the agenda Nov. 6 to 18 at COP27, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. This climate summit brought together global leaders and members of civil society to try to deliver some action to combat Earth's climate emergency.

The umbrella term "civil society" covers a myriad of actors who represent varied interests and approaches to finding solutions to the climate crisis: social movements, corporate business, local governments and faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Some 2,000 NGOs submitted the names of 10,000 individuals from civil society groups to attend the COP27. At least 10 percent of them were faith-based.

Many faith-based groups began their advocacy at the event by describing how they see the link between their faith and the climate crisis.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) noted: "When faith communities come together, we realize that this climate crisis isn't a tribal concern or just a regional issue. Rather, it is a global distress, and it affects the entire global family which includes all animals, plants and the earth."

Henrik Grape, a pastor and WCC climate consultant at COP27, said, "We need to make an impact, and it's hard to know when we have an impact. We cannot remain silent as we will leave the floor to everyone else. Faith communities are worldwide and are acting together."

A Catholic social movement that takes its name from Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical "Laudato Sí" highlights the effect of the climate crisis on the lives of people. It connects faith and the climate crisis by bringing testimonies in a series of documentaries from people of faith whose lives have been affected directly through loss and damage, human rights violations and their need to become environmental refugees. A documentary film "The Letter: A Message for Our Earth," shows video clips from four protagonists who share their witness about the consequences of climate injustice in their communities and lives.

Under the auspices of Hazon, a national Jewish environmental organization, the Jewish Youth Climate Movement (JYCM) sent a group of university students from various institutions in the United States with the hope that they will apply their learnings from COP27 to long-term strategies of holding Jewish communities accountable for developing climate action plans.

Members of Islamic Relief Worldwide were also present at the COP27 with the hope of providing impetus to save life on the planet from the untold destruction of a two-and-more-degree temperature rise by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.  They are also vitally interested in issues related to climate adaptation which reflects their work of insisting that adaptation takes its proper place in the priorities of negotiators and those who seek to influence them. They find hope that this year's COP is in Africa and next year's will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates.

Several faith-based groups from the United States identified some hoped-for outcomes from the negotiations:

• Shifting from "net" zero solution to "real" zero. A "real zero" agreement means moving away from fossil fuels, the root cause of the climate crisis. So-called "net zero" strategies have been used by the world's great polluters to continue their status quo operations while seeking to use land-based "off-setting" carbon credits.

• Reducing the debt burden of vulnerable nations to allow climate action. Developing countries are suffering from the triple crisis of debt, climate change and nature loss. Reducing the debt burdens of vulnerable nations can free resources to implement climate solutions to directly benefit their peoples.

• Addressing the issue of loss and damage. Climate change is not just the future, it is the present for many of the world's most vulnerable citizens who have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their cultures. Wealthy nations have fiercely resisted providing financial support for these losses. COP27 should create a Finance Facility of Loss and Damage guided by the polluter paying principle that is needs- and rights-centered, public- and grant-based, and gender-responsive.

• Adopting agro-ecology as an effective climate adaptation strategy. A quarter of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions come from forestry and industrial agriculture. Agroecology, a system of food production that nourishes rather than destroys nature, offers a solution. It should be promoted and funded as an adaptation strategy to climate change and a pathway to greater food security.

Also during the summit, religious leaders gathered in many places to "offer their voices as a contribution" to the work of politicians and negotiators. In one gathering in London, representatives of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh faiths joined their voices together in prayer saying that people must confront the "destructive habits" that limit their efforts to tackle climate change.

Faith communities were hopeful that their presence at COP27 will inch the event closer to making this a sustainable world.

WCC shares observations

In a Nov. 12 statement, the World Council of Churches Executive Committee said communities and nations already are facing catastrophic impacts of climate change because the international community has failed to heed urgent appeals.

They expressed concern that there were limited opportunities for civil society to speak.

 Faith communities were at the front of the traditional COP march—normally in the heart of the host city but this year confined around the COP27 venue.

At a Nov. 13 ecumenical prayer service at the Coptic Orthodox Church's Heavenly Cathedral in Sharm el-Sheikh representatives from various church traditions spoke of repentance and forgiveness, and prayed for guidance in caring for the Earth.

For more information and statistics on U.S. climate change efforts, see

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December 2022