Copenhagen unites Anglicans hoping to combat climate change

December 14, 2009
By Matthew Davies
Episcopal News Service

As church bells rang throughout the world Dec. 13 to mark Christianity's commitment to combating climate change, Anglican leaders were making their voices heard about global warming in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference Dec. 7-18 in the Danish capital welcomed world and faith leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both spoke at a Dec. 13 ecumenical worship service in Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral, about the religious imperative to cut carbon emissions and save the planet from further environmental degradation.

At the same time, church bells tolled 350 times around the world to symbolize the 350 parts per million that many scientists say mark the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"We cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people and for future generations," said Williams in his sermon at the cathedral service, attended by other religious leaders, members of the Danish royal family and Denmark's Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

"[A]sk how the policies you follow and the lifestyle that you take for granted look in the light of the command to love the world you inhabit," Williams said. "Ask what would be a healthy and sustainable relationship with this world, a relationship that would in some way manifest both joy in and respect for the earth. Start with the positive question – how do we show that we love God's creation?"

A visible commitment

On Dec. 12, about 100,000 campaigners braved the cold weather to join a four-mile march through the streets of Copenhagen for climate justice.

Speaking to Christian Aid during the march, Williams said he had come to Copenhagen because "it is important for faith communities to be visible; it's important for the leaders of faith communities to be visible … The world isn't ours. The world is something we're part of – we don't own it."

The issues being addressed in Copenhagen are also about justice, Williams said. "Climate change weighs most heavily on those least powerful, least advantaged in the world. There's a clear imperative there."

Williams told an indigenous Ecuadorean farmer that her voice and the voices of the world's poor were critical to achieving a strong climate deal for the most vulnerable communities, according to a press release from Progressio, an international organization that lobbies the world's decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor.

Fabiola Quishpe, 42, who spends much of her time farming in her rural village high in the Ecuadorean Andes, is noticing the effects of a changing climate in her community.

"It's very important to hear your voice directly," Williams told Quishpe.

People like Quishpe "are the people who carry the consequences of our decisions," Williams said. "Very often, they pay for what we've done. Therefore, to hear their voices is a way of letting those without power have access to some of those who do have power and are making the decisions."

Petitioning for justice

On Dec. 13, Tutu handed more than half a million signatures calling for climate justice to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

A delegation of concerned leaders from around the Anglican Communion was led by the Rev. Jeff Golliher, program associate for the environment and sustainable development in the Office of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations. Drawn primarily from the Global South, the delegation included Eliud Njeru Njiru of Kenya, a member of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, and the Rev. Grace Kaiso, general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa.

Representation from the developing world is critical because of the disproportionate impact of climate change, Golliher explained. "We need to be sure that we have the whole world's voice, because the solution ... needs to include them. They should be equal partners."

Also traveling to Copenhagen was a portfolio of statements from faith groups collected by the National Religious Coalition for Creation Care. Rabbi Warren Stone, coalition co-chair, planned to present the statements to the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Statements in the delegates' packets represent the hopes for action of a wide range of Christian and Jewish groups.

Other Episcopal leaders in environmental ministry expressed hope that the United States delegation would "demonstrate a willingness to push the envelope on the commitment we will make" as the Rev. Fletcher Harper of Green Faith, an interfaith education and action organization, put it.

"I hope that the U.S., which among all the nations on earth on this issue has been so recalcitrant for so long, will demonstrate a new moral resolve with the help of our president," said the Rev. Benjamin Webb, director of the Center for Regenerative Society in Cedar Falls, Iowa. "The whole world yearns to hear and see such leadership from America."

-- Matthew Davies is editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service. The Rev. Phina Borgeson contributed to this story.