If you believe it will take divine intervention to produce a climate agreement at Copenhagen next month, here’s encouraging news.
A major interreligious conference called “Many Heavens, One Earth” was held this week at Windsor Castle, where many of the world’s faiths presented seven-year plans for greening their activities and promoting climate stablization. The conference was convened by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme. Thirty-one plans were presented by the major faiths, including the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, and Sikhism.
Many religions are leveraging their extensive holdings of land and buildings to show leadership in reducing their carbon and environmental footprint, as described in this article. A few highlights: The Church of England has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by at least 42 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050–a front-loaded commitment that ought to embarass U.S. Congressional efforts, which aim only for 17-20 percent reductions by 2020. The U.S. Catholic Coalition on Climate Change is targeting the tens of thousands of Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and colleges and universities in the United States to green their operations, and is working with treasurers of these institutions to green their investment portfolios.
Perhaps most notable are the commitments by Muslim leaders, which appear to signal a new and substantial engagement on environmental issues by Islamic institutions. Under the Muslim seven year plan submitted at the conference, the holy city of Medina will become a model green city. It also calls for creation of a Muslim Association for Climate Change Action (MACCA), which will represent Islamic nations and faith communities from around the world, and for a “Green Hajj” to make the traditional Islamic pilgrimage environmentally friendly within a decade.
The involvement of faith groups is an especially encouraging development for the environment and climate. My book, Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development, points out that religions represent roughly 85 percent of the world’s people, making them a potentially powerful political force on environmental issues. And the moral authority of religions is a strong influence in shaping worldviews. More concretely, according to ARC, the world’s faiths own 7 percent of habitable land, run more than half of the world’s schools, and, if they invested collectively, would constitute the third largest investment block. Thus, greening religious activities, and involving religions in pushing for environmental legislation, regulations, and norms could give an enormous boost to the effort to build sustainable societies.