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Interfaith Climate Summit participants. (Photo: WCC/ Melissa Engle Hess)
Image: WCC/Melissa Engle Hess

A spiritual voice in the climate debate

Charlotta Lomas
September 30, 2014

Religious leaders met at the Interfaith Climate Summit to discuss how to tackle climate challenges from a faith-based perspective. After all, there is no such thing as believing in climate change, says Guillermo Kerber.


DW: What was the purpose of the Interfaith Climate Summit in New York ?

Guillermo Kerber: The purpose was to show how religious communities are concerned about the climate, how they accept the scientific consensus that is showing the consequences of climate change today and for the coming years. Another purpose was to ask the international community to effectively react to climate change. We are especially calling for this legally binding, ambitious and fair treaty in Paris next year. Participants commit themselves as religious leaders to do what is in their power to address climate change.

Who attended? What faiths were represented?

We had Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and then Christians from the different denominations and representatives of indigenous peoples. There were two cardinals from the Roman Catholic Church and the archbishop emeritus from Sweden, who is the president of the World Council of Churches. Different sheiks from Africa and from the Middle East, different rabbis and significant Evangelical leaders from the US like Jim Wallis attended. So I think it was quite representative of top leaders in different religions.

Why was the Interfaith Climate Summit organized now?

This is actually not the first step we've taken. There have been interfaith meetings or declarations for many years already. What's new with this [the Interfaith Climate Summit] is that more and more, the threat of climate change is considered something where we have a very small window of opportunity to react. And this is why there is such a sense of urgency in the declaration of religious leaders, in their call to the international community to react and in their commitment to what they can do in their own communities.

Dr. Guillermo Kerber. (Photo: Peter Williams/WCC)
Guillermo KerberImage: Peter Williams/WCC

How have religious groups around the world been taking action to prevent increased climate change?

Well, in the case of the World Council of Churches, there was a decision last July to explicitly say that the World Council of Churches is not investing in fossil fuels. And this divestment from fossil fuels is something that has been gaining momentum in different areas. The Lutheran Church of Sweden has decided to diverse completely from fossil fuels. This is also the case for instance with the United Church of Christ in the United States, of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

What are the interfaith community's concerns about climate change?

Religious communities in different parts of the world are turning to the churches, because the communities are already suffering the consequences of climate change in the Pacific, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in the Caribbean. And they're asking for their leaders to also have a voice in the global arena. And they have asked the World Council of Churches and other religious organizations to speak out at this level when there are international conferences [like the UN Climate Summit].

What specific contributions can faith groups bring to the climate change negotiations?

I think the negotiations in Copenhagen and the ones after that weren't able to deliver, because there is still all this political struggle that from the religious perspective is not helping. What religious communities can bring to this debate is their moral and spiritual voice. The moral and spiritual voice can unblock the negotiations that have not delivered for 20 years. And there's an urgent need, especially looking towards Paris next year where a new agreement must be signed, that the negotiations deliver what is necessary to protect the vulnerable populations.

Why do you think it's necessary to have a religious climate summit?

The idea of our summit is to try to convince negotiators that the threat is so important that it does not have a one-stage solution. Leaders cannot look only to their own countries' interest. They need to look beyond this and be able to enter into a multilateral negotiation not only looking at what is needed today, but also taking into consideration what will be the situation of future generations in relation to climate change.

There's a perception that a large number of religious people don't believe in climate change. What role do the faith groups have in changing those perspectives?

I always say "I don't believe in climate change" - it's not a matter of faith, it's a matter of science. And we have very clear scientific data proving that climate change is occurring and that it is human induced. But as you rightly said, there are many people who are against climate change. They say that religion has nothing to with this.

But I think that faith leaders for all religions clearly established that the protection of the nature, of the environment is part of their core values, expressed with different terminologies. Christians, Jews and Muslims will speak about care of creation, because they believe in one God who has created the whole world. Buddhists and Hindus will speak more of harmony with the environment or nature. Indigenous peoples will speak of the relationship with Mother Earth - this came out very strongly in the Interfaith Summit, because we had one seminar on indigenous peoples and climate change. All this is why religions have a voice and a role to play in relationship to this.

Guillermo Kerber works for the World Council of Churches in Geneva and focuses on climate issues. The theologian hails from Uruguay and was one of the main organizers of the Interfaith Climate Summit.

The interview was conducted by Charlotta Lomas.

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