UN Climate Chief: Faith groups must act on climate change

APFaith leaders are being urged to lead the way on rejecting fossil fuels

UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres has condemned climate change as "one of the great humanitarian issues of our time", arguing that faith leaders must take a stronger stance against it and encourage their followers to do the same.

In an article for the Guardian, Figueres contends that "Saving the Earth and its peoples from dangerous climate change is an economic, social and environmental issue – and a moral and ethical one too that goes to the core of many if not all of the world's greatest faiths".

According to the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a role which she took up in May 2010, it is vital that faith communities and groups "find their voice and set their moral compass" on the future of our planet.

"Overcoming poverty, caring for the sick and the infirm, feeding the hungry" – key tenets of many faiths, including Christianity – "will only get harder in a climate challenged world," Figueres asserts.

"In supporting greater ambitions by nations, religious and faith groups can assist in shaping a world that is less polluted and damaged and healthier, safer and more secure for every man, woman and child."

Figueres believes that religious institutions should withdraw their investments from the fossil fuel industry; a move which has already been made by several in the US. She also notes that the Church of England's General Synod has committed to reviewing its investment policies, which she has labelled "a step in the right direction and a potentially powerful signal to its 28 million followers".

"Leaders of faith groups, from Christians and Muslims to Hindus, Jews and Buddhists have a responsibility and an opportunity over the next 18 months to provide a moral compass to their followers and to political, corporate, financial and local authority leaders," she writes.

"In doing so, faiths and religions can not only secure a healthy and habitable world for all but contribute to the spiritual and physical well-being of humanity now and for generations to come."

Figueres' comments are already being well received by key environmental campaigners, both from within and outside the Church.
Ruth Valerio, theology and churches director at A Rocha, praised the UN official's remarks, asserting that it is imperative that churches and other faith groups respond immediately to her call.

"I absolutely welcome Christiana's words and add my call for faith leaders to recognise the urgency of climate change and the need for us to turn our theological assent into practical action," she says.

"It is time for us as the Church to put the challenge of climate change at the top of our agenda, not as something to be merely discussed and debated, but as something that will lead us to wholesale change, as churches and as individuals within those churches."