It felt like the world had descended upon Lima, Peru. Political leaders, scientists, activists, NGOs, world leaders and religious leaders gathered at the COP20 (20th annual Conference of the Parties, sponsored by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)) in Lima to discuss climate change and sustainability.
Each group had a similar goal: to save the planet and work for social justice and human rights. There were many ways identified to reach this goal and each group had its own. In some cases, groups and government delegations had agendas, mostly motivated by financial issues. They sometimes used their influence to block issue or slow things down. But the overall goal is to contribute to saving the planet, achieving social justice and protect human rights.
COP20 sought to tackle one of the most important issues of our time: the human impact upon the environment that is contributing to climate change. It has not taken us long to come to the point where our way of life is leading us on the road to destruction of the earth.
At COP20, the spirit was high, the energy was strong, the agenda was long and the goal was clear. Many high profile meetings occurred with world leaders discussing global warming, carbon emissions, ice cap melting and working towards sustainability. There were also many side events which were presented by various organizations which are working towards climate justice.
United Nations Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights. They presented a side event and showed how climate change is affecting the rights of vulnerable populations. Climate change already interdicts the rights to food, water and sanitation and the right to live in an environment adequate for health and well-being for too many of the world’s people. The international community needs to respond to this challenge. A key item under discussion at COP20 in Lima was to have human rights language in the preamble of the text that was being negotiated as the statement of the gathering.
The World Council of Churches (WCC), in partnership with Religions for Peace, the Quaker United Nations Office, the Centre for International Environmental Law, Earthjustice and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung held a side event, “Climate Change Threatening Human Rights: Challenges and Actions,” rooted in the understanding that, for many faith communities, the climate change issue is a human rights issue.
Dr. Guillermo Kerber, WCC Programme Executive for Care for Creation and Climate Justice stated:
“Climate change is an ethical issue. Those who are and will be suffering the most from the consequences of climate change are those who contributed the least to the causes of climate change. This is why it is a justice issue. For churches and other faith based organizations, this struggle for justice and rights is an inherent component of their mission to human beings and to the whole creation.”
As religious leaders and members of religious organizations, we believe that God created this beautiful world. God gave us everything we need for our survival and flourishing. The weakest and the poorest are affected by the greedy lifestyle of high consumption lifestyles in the first world, especially in the United States. Due to our own human greed, we have gone the downward path of self-destruction. If we are to make any inroad into this human rights issue, we must tackle the issue of climate change immediately.
We have bought into the false notion that “nothing will run out.” Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute, said we cannot keep believing the earth is a “supermarket.” Such a view wrongly teaches us to not worry about resources, as if there will always be more, as if there were no limits. Many now believe that the threat of scarcity is false and that we will continue to have what we want, where we want it as long as we have the money to buy it. There is possibly no better parable of this than the recent film, Noah, where the reason for the creator’s doing an Ctl-Alt-Del on creation is because humans had exhausted all the natural resources. Ridley Scott took a bit of poetic license and posited that in that situation, the only way Noah could build his ark was to supply him with new forests, since all others had been cut down.
We need to wake up and understand that we cannot continue to live the way the people of the rich nations, and the rich people of the poorer nations, have come to accept and love. Liberation theology reminds us that we need to live with a “preferential option for the poor.” That is we need to emphasize the physical welfare of the poor and powerless.
We need to reflect on our own lifestyle and the way we live, understand the impact our living has on the planet and on our brothers and sisters and consider how we need to change our ways.
As spiritual leaders we recognize that God created this bountiful earth. As recipients of God’s blessings, we should not destroy the blessings we receive. We cannot waste the very earth that we depend on for life.
Adapting a low carbon lifestyle is a basic step that nations and individuals can take to live a more ethical and just life. As we seek to identify other steps, technology is our friend, not our enemy. It offers new sources of energy from the sun, as well as the means to use less paper.
Rich and poor, male and female, of every age and race and nation, we all live on the same planet. As we co-inhabit the world with each other, the World Council of Churches reminds us that we need to take care of the whole of creation, including the entire human family.