Faith Leaders Press to 'Seal the Deal' on Climate Change

((Photo: The Ecumenical Press))Archbishop of Abuja John O. Onaiyekan speaks as Christian Aid climate advocate Nelson Muffuh looks on at the High-Level Consultation of Senior Religious Leaders on climate change, held Wednesday, Sept. 23, at the British Consulate General in New York.

Nearly a dozen high profile religious leaders from around the globe gathered at the British General Consulate in New York Wednesday morning in efforts to help "seal the deal" at the upcoming UN conference on climate change in December.

"We recognize that we need the broadest level of partnership possible to tackle the challenges that we face on climate change today," said Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General for the multi-religious coalition Religions for Peace.

"We may not have long discussed that the overwhelming majority of the world's population are religious believers," he said. "But that fact needs to be transformed into a tremendous capacity for political action."

"The deepest moral imperatives and the profound spiritual vision that animates religious believers…needs to be transposed into effective political action over these next few months."

Co-organized by Religions for Peace and the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), the delegation brought together Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and indigenous faith leaders from various countries including V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America, His Holiness Tep Vong of Cambodia, and Swami Agnivesh of India among others.

Debate participant John O. Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria and Co-President of Religions for Peace commented, "The issue of climate change is a good opportunity for collaboration between government and religious institutions, because climate change concerns all of us. It is theologically neutral and non-controversial, therefore it should be easy for religious communities – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists – within any particular country to work together."

Affirming the value of the morning's debate, Onaiyekan gave a reminder that most politicians are also members of faith communities.

"The reason why these kinds of forums can have an impact is that most world leaders involved in this debate have some kind of faith belonging," he said. "They also go to church on Sunday, or to the mosques on Friday, or the temples where they go to worship. And that means that we can expect them to listen to the messages of the religious community and apply them to the discussion that is going on."

Reflecting on the significance of the religious community within the climate debate, Onaiyekan credited people of faith with being especially qualified on assessing the value of the planet and humanity.

"What our planet means to us, where are we coming from and where are we going to - these are spiritual issues which most every religion has been dealing with for millennia," the Archbishop shared. Onaiyekan also emphasized that for most religions, the earth is sacred or "a gift from God," and that the material resources are viewed as precious to them.

But for Onaiyekan and other leaders at the gathering, of greater concern than the future of the planet is the present struggle many are facing due to current climate conditions.

"The world is changing for the worst for many people," Onaiyekan shared. "And for them it's a matter of life or death. It's a matter of whether they will have water to drink or whether there will be food on the table or whether their home will still be there next year. These are the major issues that must be attended to."

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