Response to Climate Change: Implications for Faith Communities

The evolving nature of the global response to climate change

Implications for faith-based communities

International Environment Forum Statement

Understanding the nature of the challenge

More advanced understanding of the inner workings of the climate system and of the socio-economic drivers of human interference with it has put Man in the position of effectively managing the Earth’s climate. The influence of human behavior on the Earth's atmosphere in recent centuries is so significant that some scientists (including the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen) have concluded that we are entering a new geological epoch, the “Anthropocene”. The global response (more on this below) including the now universal 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is not aimed at preventing climate change but at limiting it to a level considered manageable from a risk-management perspective.

While economic benefits of activities leading to greenhouse gas emissions are enjoyed at source, the adverse impacts from these emissions are felt globally and are hitting the poor and vulnerable hardest. This cruel fact is now well understood but has not yet triggered sufficiently strong moral reaction given the lack of capacity of moral leaders to articulate a compelling counter argument to balance the short-term-economic-gain arguments articulated and promoted by vested interests. This balance will start to tip in the favor of climate action when the significant economic benefits of low-carbon alternatives become better understood.

The evolving nature of the response to climate change

It is entirely possible with currently technologies to meet human development needs without exceeding the internationally agreed upper limit on warming but this requires a combination of urgent and long-term responses. Urgent response is needed given the significant near-term opportunities to bring down emission, the risk of lock-in due to long lifetime of infrastructure such as the energy system and the time delay until policy reform delivers its full impact. Most of the big investment shifts will need to be driven by changes in economic policy and domestic legal frameworks, many of which will only partially be put in place for climate reasons. To understand the essence of the climate change challenge one needs to consider simultaneously the three interwoven strands of the sustainable development “triple helix” namely the environmental, social and economic strands and their interactions.

The accepted paradigm of how the climate challenge will be addressed is under growing pressure and a new paradigm is under construction. The accepted paradigm saw Government intervention as central and that it would suffice to assign shares of the responsibility for the problem through international treaty obligations on individual States. This paradigm is under pressure both due to a lack of agreement on what is a fair division of responsibilities and due to growing awareness of the limits on the control Governments can or are willing to exercise over fundamental economic decisions. The emergence of an alternative paradigm where the role of national Governments is more narrowly defined and the role of non-state actors and sub-national governance are more fully recognized emerged in the Paris Agreement, adopted in Paris in December of 2015.


Motivation to build Humanity’s capacity to solve collective challenges

The call to action on climate change has tended to be dominated by apocalyptic views of the future; a more hopeful narrative is needed to instill faith in the future and to mobilize the will to realize the vision of a just, low-carbon and climate resilient global community. Mankind is perplexed and close to a paralysis of will in the face of the multitude of global challenges. Climate change, with its recognized threat multiplier nature, is perceived by many as one more in a long list of intractable global problems, which also acts as a threat multiplier.

The root causes of the predicament mankind finds itself in on climate are in fact the same as those underlying other global challenges; lasting solutions to this challenge will only be found when attention moves from its symptoms to its root causes. The climate challenge is a truly global problem. All Mankind is in the same boat when it comes to disruptions of its life support system. The more vulnerable are currently bearing the brunt of the burden but no one is immune. Climate change will test to the limit Humanity’s capacity to solve collective problems.

Climate change is not an issue that can be solved in isolation, but is integrated with many other challenges facing humanity. It opens a dialogue on the consumer society and its use of energy; on the economy and extremes of wealth and poverty; on social justice and concern for future generations; on migration, immigration, and the integration of diverse peoples into harmonious communities; and on environmental sustainability, among others.

The threat of climate change has the potential of propelling humanity forward on its path to stronger global governance just as threats to peace and security and the violation of human rights did last century. The motive forces giving strength to truly global governance can’t be confined to the fear of the consequences of an imminent threat; aspirations to meet the development needs of all members of the human race and collective sense of responsibility for our common destiny are more powerful motivators if they can be tapped. Stronger global governance will not only be manifested at the intergovernmental level; its foundations will need to penetrate much deeper.  

Recognition of the spiritual dimensions of development and empowerment of constructive agents of change is essential to accelerate the transition out of the danger zone Mankind finds itself in at this juncture. Government policies, international treaties and other intergovernmental arrangement are necessary but not sufficient. Consumer choice, consumption patterns, public awareness and education are important determinants of success. There is a growing realization that these issues must be addressed at the level of values if we are to see adequate change at other levels, with a potential for inter-religious collaboration.

Climate change can be integrated into the Bahá'í core activities, which are themselves a good response to the needs of climate-displaced people. It can be a theme for devotional gatherings, for junior youth service projects, for children's class activities in contact with nature, in implementation of the Bahá'í International Community plan of action on climate change.

Last updated 8 October 2017