Pan African Interfaith Meeting Calls for Climate Justice and Sustainable Peace in Africa

June 9, 2011
United Nations Environment Programme

Nairobi - More than 130 faith leaders, including traditional leaders, mainly from Africa but also from Northern Europe and Asia gathered in Nairobi this week to reflect on the position of faith groups towards the environment and humanity, with a particular emphasis on climate change and its effects on Africa.

The event that represented Muslims, Christians, Hindus, African traditional leaders, Bahá'í and Buddhist communities from 30 countries across Africa, was co-organized by the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI), the All Africa Churches Conference (AACC) and the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) lent its logistical support.

The objective of the meeting was to prepare African religious leaders for the upcoming UNFCCC climate meeting (COP17) in December in Durban, South Africa, and to do the following:

  • Develop a common framework for African Ecumenical action on climate justice and sustainable peace in Africa;
  • Mobilize faith based organizations to understand and respond to climate justice and sustainable peace in Africa;
  • Strengthen faith leaders' competences in climate justice and sustainable peace;
  • Explore synergy with state and non-state actors in joint advocacy efforts on climate justice and sustainable peace in Africa;
  • Present to the climate change negotiators negotiators the essential moral principles required to reach a fair and just climat agreement.

The organizers convened the meeting in time to plan concrete actions with particular interest to get religious and political leaders prepared for COP17 in order to make a significant step forward in the direction of a legally binding agreement.

"In Durban, African Faith Communities will have a tremendous authority, legitimacy and power to bring back to the climate negotiations a sense of responsibility, and we in UNEP and the UN family as a whole are ready to work with you, to assist you and equally to draw on you to assist us, to ensure that people will not loose faith in their own ability to make a difference," Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director told the meeting.

Africa has been highly impacted by the adverse effects of climate change: droughts, floods, shrinking of lakes and the dying of corral reefs as well as the depletion of the rain forests are sending strong warnings that the world cannot continue with its business as usual.

Climate change has serious effects on the agricultural sector as well as on the health of people. Conflicts over scarce natural resources have led to human migration into the cities. Parts of the employment sectors are already feeling the repercussions of climate change, such as among fishing and pastoral communities.

The faith leaders gathered in Nairobi called on world leaders to include climate change into their socio-political decisions. They want their voices heard in Durban so that COP 17 becomes also a peoples' COP and an African COP.

Increased awareness of the causes and consequences of climate change, adaptation and mitigation mechanisms as well as an increased number of individuals, churches, temples and mosques can make and promote lifestyle changes and choices towards responsible living by protecting the environment.

In his opening remarks Bishop Davies from South Africa expressed the feeling that politicians have failed the people, and that COP 17 needs to set the moral compass for the 21st centrury with the help of the world climate cup dealing with the future of life on planet.

"Many negotiators will say they believe in justice and equity, but when it comes to implementing it, it comes to naught. Climate change is a huge inequity for the planet, people, and Africa which is suffering most with only 4% of carbon emissions. With the declaration that we will be preparing, we call on world leaders to use principles and values in their negotiations. All faith communities share this message to return to ethical principles in the ordering of our societies and the caring of our planet. Africa can show the world that our relationships, our care for one another is more important than acquring material possessions," he said.

Kenya's Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs, Kalonzo Musyoka, adressed the inter-faith meeting with a clear message that the world has indeed no choice but to listen. He stressed that Durban must adopt an agreement that will take climate change a step forward and Africa needs a just and equitable distribution of the burden of climate change.

The two-day meeting ended with a strong message to COP17 on climate justice for sustainable peace in Africa. Those attending underlined a commitment and responsibility of the faith leaders towards their communities and the world to make the threats of climate change widely understood.

At the end of the meeting, participants came up with a declaration which also carries a clear message to all world leaders, for example, to abandon GDP as an indicator of prosperity in favour of indicators that include human wellbeing, equality and the external environmental costs of human economies. It also carries several messages to Africa's political leaders such as to regain a united voice and abandon expedient allegiances with blocs that are scrambling to appropriate Africa's natural resources as well as to recognise in all policy statements that our long-term social and economic interests require the stability of our biophysical environment today.

The declaration states that: Every human generation is faced by particular challenges and opportunities. If we do not secure a stable climate for the sake of future generations, we will be held accountable by them and judged by history. On this very critical issue of climate change, we must not fail. Every lost moment increases an irreversible threat to life on Earth.