What’s Religion Have to Do With Climate Change?

Posted by Shaun Casey
November 24, 2015
People hold banners reading ' Climate action Now ' and ' Many Faiths, One Planet ' in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican

In the lead-up to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, almost everyone is talking about issues surrounding climate change: scholars, policymakers, scientists, international organizations, and NGOs focusing on sustainable development -- just to name a few. Religious communities, often overlooked as potential stakeholders in the debate, are also actively engaging in environmental efforts and many have been deeply concerned about climate change for decades. 

The perspectives of members of religious organizations, as well as those of the private sector and security communities, are critical in the discussions surrounding a global climate change agreement. Recognizing that these important stakeholders are at the forefront of the global efforts to mitigate both the causes and the effects of global climate change, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs (RGA) in cooperation with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, hosted a two-day Symposium on Religion and Climate Change earlier this month to explore the theological, ethical, scientific, social, and policy dimensions of climate change. 

The first day of the conference emphasized the moral underpinnings of the climate action movement, and the connections among climate, justice, and poverty. The second day centered on issues of climate science, adaptation and mitigation strategies, as well as the current status of climate change negotiations.

Participants who attended the symposium characterized it as a unique and essential opportunity for academics, scientists, policymakers, and activists to discuss shared goals, educate one another on actions they are taking in response to climate change, and to build connections. The symposium brought to the forefront the foundational moral and spiritual dimensions of addressing climate change, as well as underscored the need for strong global political leadership and action to address the interlinked challenges of poverty, climate justice, and sustainable development.

In addition to the diverse representation of academic and religious leaders, the symposium presented a “whole-of-government” approach to President Obama’s climate change agenda, featuring a keynote address by U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and remarks from representatives from the U.S. Departments of State, Energy, and Treasury, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, USAID, and the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In Energy Secretary Moniz’s remarks, he emphasized that symposium participants have “unique access to broad and concerned populations with both environmental and moral imperatives” and noted his team will be “taking to Paris [COP-21] a very strong focus on the clean energy technology innovation agenda…that can help bring along the poor and the underserved.”

A recurring theme of the symposium was the urgency of addressing climate change, as both speakers and participants overwhelmingly agreed it is not a “future issue.” We are already experiencing the effects of climate change -- in the United States and around the world. Despite this sobering reality, the gathering reinforced that there is great opportunity and challenge in addressing climate change. As we move forward toward COP-21 and beyond, religious leaders and organizations will undoubtedly continue to be a growing force in joining domestic and international actions to combat climate change.

About the Author: Shaun Casey serves as the Special Representative for Secretary Kerry’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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