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People's Climate March Rio de Janeiro 18.09.2014
Image: Reuters/Pilar Olivares

Religious group to fight climate change

Interview: Charlotta Lomas
October 10, 2014

Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, tells DW how religious groups are increasingly fighting climate change and how that might have a bigger impact than you'd think.


DW: Mr. Nuttall, in the lead up to the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has called upon religious groups around the world to combat climate change. Why are religious leaders asked to address climate change?

Nick Nuttall: Right now there is quite an interesting groundswell of interest among all sorts of sections of society to try and address climate change. The faith groups have been emerging in the last few months because I think they have internalized the science that has been coming out and have determined that it's actually a very moral and ethical central issue that they feel needs addressing.

Christiane Figueres, the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has urged faith groups to "find their voice" and "set their moral compass" on climate change. What does this mean exactly?

Christiane Figueres was actually in London a few months ago addressing a group of faith leaders and business leaders from the city of London at St. Paul's Cathedral. And I think she was basically expressing to them: now is the time. There needs to be a lot more energy towards a really meaningful agreement in 2015.

Nick Nuttall
Nick Nuttall is the spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate ChangeImage: UNFCCC

And this setting of the moral compass was her way of expressing to them that this is your moment, this is your time to actually stand up and basically say to your leaders: "We would like a meaningful agreement on climate change to protect not only the people but the whole concept of stewardship of this one planet that we have."

Why should religious groups care about climate change? Why have they been specifically targeted by the UN?

With every new report that is brought out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, the science gets ever more sobering and the risk assessment gets ever more clear. The churches are very aware that they have within their own midst members of the communities who are vulnerable and marginalized and that climate change presents an ever increasing risk to those very vulnerable people.

There may be people within the developed countries, but certainly in the developing world, where many are at a very high risk from extreme weather, the spreads of diseases, shortages of water, and all the other impacts that are likely to come with a more intense climatic change.

So I believe that many of the churches have accepted that this is unacceptable and they must do something about it because climate change threatens to undermine several decades of development gains in the developing world. It' s part of looking after their flock in the near term but also the extended family of humanity across the globe.

How successful has the campaign been to divest investment in the fossil fuel industry?

Divesting from fossil fuel sends a very clear signal to the investment community as well as to leaders across the world that these kinds of fuels that we are burning right now, that contain high amounts of carbon, isn't the way to go. And the Quakers in the UK were one of the church groups that have actually done this on ethical grounds.

Interfaith Climate Summit in New York
The Interfaith Climate Summit in New York brought together faith groups from all over the worldImage: WCC/Melissa Engle Hess

There are other faith groups looking at it right now, for example the World Council of Churches. They have called on member churches to actually divest from fossil fuels. They represent about half a billion of Christians and there is a huge interfaith meeting happening in New York, which is bringing together not just the Christians but also Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews who are coming from around the world and also from within the United States to basically sign statements and a declaration of what they want world leaders to do in respect of climate change.

Apart from urging faith groups and followers not to invest in fossil fuel companies, is the UN encouraging religious institutions to address climate change in other ways?

There are already many initiatives by churches and religious and faith groups across the world who actually incorporate climate friendly, energy efficient and clean energy technologies in their buildings. And only the other day, a mosque in Dubai announced eco-friendly measures that it was incorporating into its buildings and structures. There is actually an interfaith movement in the United States which is installing renewable energy solar panels in churches, mosques and other places of religious worship.

New York Demonstration Flood Wall Street 22.9.2014
Not only religious groups are speaking out against climate change, there are increasing protests all over the worldImage: picture-alliance/AP/John Minchillo

With religious groups around the globe taking action on climate change, how big of an effect could this have?

I think it could make a huge impact. Climate change is often talked about through the economic lens. It's often discussed through the lens of science and other quite cerebral ways. But through the lens of religion one speaks to the spirit and sometimes it's the spirit and the heart that you need to move - as much as the head - to actually get progress in this world.

How can religious leaders convince the climate change skeptics out there?

I think there is maybe a chance that religious leaders work with the scientists to bring home the risk assessments because in the end it is a risk assessment. And the risk assessment points to some very sobering future for us all if we don't act.

Nick Nuttal is an environment and technology journalist from England who is currently living in Bonn, Germany, where he works as the spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Before joining the United Nations Environment Program in 2001, he won several awards for his reports about technology and environment.

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