SINGAPORE, March 17 (Reuters) – About 10.3 million people were displaced by climate change-induced events such as flooding and droughts in the last six months, the majority of them in Asia, a humanitarian organisation said on Wednesday.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said about 2.3 million others were displaced by conflict in the same period, indicating the vast majority of internal displacements are now triggered by climate change.
Though the figures cover only a six-month period from September 2020 to February 2021, they highlight an accelerating global trend of climate-related displacement, said Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement Coordinator for the IFRC.
“Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability,” Brunt said. “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”
Some 60% of climate-IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the last six months were in Asia, according to IFRC’s report.
McKinsey & Co consulting firm has said that Asia “stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risks than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation”.
Statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) show that on average 22.7 million people are displaced every year. The figure includes displacements caused by geophysical phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the vast majority are displaced by weather-related events.
Globally, 17.2 million people were displaced in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019. Full-year figures are not yet available for 2020, but IDMC’s mid-year report showed there were 9.8 million displacements because of natural disasters in the first half of last year.
More than 1 billion people are expected to face forced migration by 2050 due to conflict and ecological factors, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found last year.
Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said.
Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year.
Making peace with nature was the defining task of the coming decades, he said, and the key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all people. The report combines recent major UNassessments with the latest research and the solutions available, representing an authoritative scientific blueprint of how to repair the planet.
The report says societies and economies must be transformed by policies such as replacing GDP as an economic measure with one that reflects the true value of nature, as recommended this month by a study commissioned by the UK Treasury.
Carbon emissions need to be taxed, and trillions of dollars of “perverse” subsidies for fossil fuels and destructive farming must be diverted to green energy and food production, the report says. As well as systemic changes, people in rich nations can act too, it says, by cutting meat consumption and wasting less energy and water.
“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal,” said Guterres. “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth.”
The triple emergency threatened our viability as a species, he said. But ending the war would not mean poorer living standards or an end to poverty reduction. “On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”
“This report provides the bedrock for hope,” he said. “It makes clear our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a postwar rebuilding programme.”
Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), said: “We need to look no further than the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, a disease transmitted from animals to humans, to know that the finely tuned system of the natural world has been disrupted.” Unep and the World Health Organization have said the root cause of pandemics is the destruction of the natural world, with worse outbreaks to come unless action is taken.
The report says the fivefold growth of the global economy in the last 50 years was largely fuelled by a huge increase in the extraction of fossil fuels and other resources, and has come at massive cost to the environment. The world population has doubled since 1970 and while average prosperity has also doubled, 1.3 billion people remain in poverty and 700 million are hungry.
“We use three-quarters of the land and two-thirds of the oceans – we are completely dominating the Earth,” said Ivar Baste of the Norwegian Environment Agency, a lead author of the report.
Prof Sir Robert Watson, who has led UN scientific assessments on climate and biodiversity and is the other lead author of the report, said: “We have got a triple emergency and these three issues are all interrelated and have to be dealt with together. They’re no longer just environmental issues – they are economic issues, development issues, security issues, social, moral and ethical issues.
“Of all the things we have to do, we have to really rethink our economic and financial systems. Fundamentally, GDP doesn’t take nature into account. We need to get rid of these perverse subsidies, they are $5-7tn a year. If you could move some of these towards low-carbon technology and investing in nature, then the money is there.”
This meant taking on companies and countries with vested interests in fossil fuels, he said: “There are a lot of people that really like these perverse subsidies. They love the status quo. So governments have to have the guts to act”.
Financial institutions could play a huge role, Watson said, by ending funding for fossil fuels, the razing of forests and large-scale monoculture agriculture. Companies should act too, he said: “Proactive companies see that if they can be sustainable, they can be first movers and make a profit. But in some cases, regulation will almost certainly be needed for those companies that don’t care.”
Pollution was included in the report because despite improvements in some wealthy nations, toxic air, water, soils and workplaces cause at least 9 million deaths a year, one in six of all deaths. “This is still a huge issue,” said Baste.
The world’s nations will gather at two crucial UN summits in 2021 on the climate and biodiversity crises. “We know we failed miserably on the biodiversity targets [set in 2010],” said Watson. “I’ll be very disappointed if at these summits all they talk about is targets and goals. They’ve got to talk about actions – that’s really what’s crucial.”
COVID-19 relief and recovery plans aimed at recycling and reusing more of the billions of tonnes of materials consumed each year could slash planet-heating emissions and limit the impacts of climate change, researchers said on Tuesday.
By developing and promoting ways to reduce the amount of minerals, fossil fuels, metals and biomass used in new products, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 39%, or 22.8 billion gigatonnes annually, said a report by Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy.
“Governments are making huge decisions that will shape our climate future,” CEO Martijn Lopes Cardozo said in a statement.
“They are spending billions to stimulate their economies after the COVID pandemic and they are committed to strengthening their climate commitments,” he added, referring to new national targets being submitted ahead of November’s U.N. climate summit.
Greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 59.1 gigatonnes in 2019, putting the world on track for an average temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, a U.N. report showed last year.
About 70% of emissions are generated by resource extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods to meet the needs of the world’s population, such as clothing, mobile phones and food, according to the fourth annual report by Circle Economy.
Only about 8.6% of the 100 billion tonnes of materials utilised annually are put back into service, added the report, published during the virtual “Davos Agenda” event organised by the World Economic Forum.
To reduce waste and emissions, and keep climate change in check, economies should seek to become “circular” by reusing and recycling products, green groups say.
“Ever since the beginning of the 1990s, countries have come out with climate pledges – but all of them combined have never even got close to deliver what we should deliver,” said Marc de Wit, director of strategic alliances at Circle Economy.
“Most of those options in those pledges look at incremental solutions – like squeezing another kilometre out of a litre of petrol – rather than moving to electrified transport and shared mobility concepts in urban areas,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The report identified strategies that can help achieve the goals adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the average rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F), and ideally to 1.5C, above pre-industrial times.
Housing, mobility and nutrition are responsible for almost 70% of global emissions, it noted, and are key areas where strategies to become “circular” could have the greatest impact.
Housing, which includes commercial and industrial buildings, should reuse and recycle construction and demolition waste to divert it from landfill, while office floor space could be shrunk, de Wit said.
Choosing low-carbon building materials, such as sustainable timber and agriculture waste, and powering heating and cooling systems with renewable energy are also key, he added.
Passenger and freight transport contributes most of the 17.1 billion gigatonnes of emissions from mobility each year, primarily from burning fossil fuels, according to the report.
New design to make vehicles lighter would cut consumption of raw materials, while car-sharing schemes can make their use more efficient, it added.
During the coronavirus pandemic, people have reduced air travel and commuting, replacing many physical meetings with video calls, which could continue, said de Wit, adding that public and electrified transport should also be promoted.
On nutrition, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture can reduce the environmental impact of fish, cattle and crop farming while still producing good yields, the report said.
The use of cleaner cooking fuels and switching to more locally sourced, plant-based diets would also reduce emissions, de Wit said.
Measures in the report could nearly double the proportion of materials that are reused to 17%, it said.
Martin Frick, a senior official at the U.N. climate change body, called for efforts to restore the planet’s balance.
“We need to eliminate waste and create products that last, can be repaired and ultimately can be transformed into new products,” he said in a statement.
A court in the Indian capital has granted bail to a 22-year-old climate activist, saying there was “scanty and sketchy evidence” of sedition in her efforts to help farmers protest in a case that has drawn global attention.
Disha Ravi was arrested in the southern city of Bengaluru on February 13 and charged with sedition for her alleged role in the creation of an online toolkit that police said contained action plans used to foment violence during the farmers’ protest.
Tens of thousands have been camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi in the bitter cold since December to protest new agricultural laws they say will hurt them and benefit of large corporations. The government says the reforms will bring new investment in the vast and antiquated produce markets.
Judge Dharmender Rana on Tuesday said there was little to hold Ravi, a founder of the local chapter of Swedish climate crusader Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, in custody any longer and criticised the authorities for detaining anyone who differed with government policy.
“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of ‘Bail’ against a 22-year-old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail,” Rana said in a written order.
Ravi’s arrest stoked criticism of repression of dissent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government which has been trying for months to end the farmers’ protest.
Ravi’s lawyers had said there was nothing in the toolkit to attract the charge of sedition, which carries a life term.
“Perusal of the said ‘Toolkit’ reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent,” the judge said in a written order.
The protests present one of the biggest challenges to Modi’s rule. Several rounds of talks between the farmers and his government have failed, and Modi has faced criticism for using heavy handed tactics to curb the movement.
Police had alleged that the toolkit was authored by Ravi and two others and had the backing of supporters of a Canadian-based group called the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF).
They also said Ravi had shared the toolkit with Thunberg, who is one of several international celebrities who have lent public support to the farmers’ cause.
The judge said he did not find Ravi’s link to the toolkit or PJF objectionable.
“We didn’t assemble the toolkit in question, although links to our materials were included in that document,” PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal told the Reuters news agency.
Dhaliwal also countered the police’s claim that the PJF was a group which held separatist views.
“We have only created space for open debate and dialogue,” he said, alleging it was under fire because Modi’s government was “fostering a culture of fear where dissent is equated with sedition”.
Vatican City, – The Vatican Secretary of State has called for a new model of development built on “the synergistic bond” between the fight against climate change and the struggle against poverty.
In a video message to the Climate Adaptation Summit taking place online Jan. 25-26, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that climate change is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
“This is a moral and humanitarian imperative, especially since the greatest negative consequences of climate change often affect the most vulnerable: the poor and future generations,” the cardinal said.
“While the poor are the least responsible for global warming, they are the most likely to be affected, since they have the least adaptive capacity and often live in geographical areas which are particularly at risk.”
The Climate Adaptation Summit is a virtual international summit organized by the Netherlands aimed at outlining practical solutions for confronting climate change.
The summit’s list of speakers include French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry.
“On behalf of Pope Francis, I … wish to assure you of his closeness, support and encouragement in these days of intense effort for a fruitful outcome to this Climate Adaptation Summit,” Cardinal Parolin said in his video message.
The Vatican Secretary of State called for “stronger international cooperation committed to a low-carbon sustainable development” and an investment in “strengthening technologies and resilience and transferring them under fair conditions, particularly to the most vulnerable countries.”
“Complementarity mitigation and adaptation activities require coming up with a global and shared long-term strategy based on precise commitments, capable of defining and promoting a new model of development and built on the synergistic bond between the fight against climate change and the struggle against poverty,” the cardinal said.
Parolin urged that there is “no alternative but to make every effort to implement a responsible, unprecedented collective response, intended to work together to build our common home.”
“May we make the response to climate change an opportunity for improving overall living conditions, health, transport, energy and security, and for creating new job opportunities,” he said.
“This task is difficult and complex, but we know that we have the freedom, intelligence and capacity to lead and direct technology and to put it at the service of another type of progress: one that is more human, social and integral.”
Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, “To put it mildly, gas is over” — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.
Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB — the investment bank publicly owned by the European Union’s member states — made the comments while presenting a review of the institution’s 2020 operations at a press conference in Luxembourg.
Calling a future break with fracked gas “a serious departure from the past,” Hoer added that “without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets” to which the EU states — and therefore the bank — have committed.
McKibben and others responded to the comments as the most recent promising signal that the financial world is catching up with the climate science that demands a rapid and profound shift away from fossil fuels.
“President of the EIB, Werner Hoyer, clearly knows what’s up,” tweeted Oil Change International. “We agree. Time to #StopFundingFossils.”
Greenpeace EU also heralded the news and stated: “There’s nothing clean about gas — it’s not a ‘transition fuel’ or a ‘bridge fuel,’ it’s a dirty fossil fuel just like coal and oil. It’s time to stop bankrolling the #ClimateEmergency and stop public money back gas projects.”
Others emphasized what a historic shift the comment represents from even just a few years ago:
While many European climate groups and financial watchdogs have criticized the EU member states and the EIB itself for not moving forward fast enough with proposed reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hoyer said Wednesday that the shift away from fossil fuels is paramount and that even the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the continent must not act as a roadblock.
“We have achieved unprecedented impact on climate, preparing the ground for much more,” Hoyer said in his remarks. “But the risk of a recovery that neglects climate and the environment remains.”
“The fight against climate change cannot wait until the pandemic is over,” he added. “The [Covid-19] crisis is not a reason to stop tackling the climate and environmental challenges facing humanity.”
BARCELONA, – More powerful storms are battering people and economies harder, with the poor suffering the worst losses, an annual climate risk index showed, as leaders were urged to ramp up their response to climate change impacts at a global adaptation summit on Monday.
The index for 2019, from research group Germanwatch, showed that Mozambique and Zimbabwe were the two countries hardest-hit by extreme weather. Both were struck by Idai, the deadliest and costliest cyclone recorded in the southwest Indian Ocean.
Just this weekend, central Mozambique was hammered again by another tropical storm, Eloise, which wrecked thousands of buildings, ruined crops and displaced almost 7,000 people.
Storms and their effects – strong winds, heavy rainfall, floods and landslides – were the major cause of extreme weather damage in 2019, Germanwatch said. Of the 10 most-affected countries, six were pounded by tropical cyclones.
The Caribbean island nation of the Bahamas was the third worst-hit, due to devastation from Hurricane Dorian.
The United States was not included in the 2019 index due to data problems.
Recent research suggests the severity and the number of strong tropical cyclones will increase with every tenth of a degree in global average temperature rise, Germanwatch said.
In 2020 – one of the three hottest years on record – the global average temperature was about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
David Eckstein, a Germanwatch policy advisor, said the climate risk index showed poor, vulnerable countries face particularly large challenges in dealing with the consequences of extreme weather events.
“They urgently need financial and technical assistance,” he said, noting they had yet to receive the full $100 billion a year in climate funding promised by wealthy countries.
Richer nations agreed to build up to providing that sum each year, starting in 2020, to help poorer countries adopt cleaner energy systems and adapt to the impacts of planetary warming.
Of the nearly $80 billion raised in 2018, the latest figures available, only about 20% was allocated for adaptation, despite repeated calls for that share to be raised to half.
The climate adaptation summit starting Monday “must address these problems”, Eckstein added.
Research out last week from international aid agency CARE suggested the actual amount of donor money going to adaptation could be even lower than reported.
Working with other organisations, CARE assessed 112 projects in Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Nepal and Vietnam, representing 13% of total global adaptation finance between 2013 and 2017.
It found 42% of the money was spent on activities that did little to help communities build resilience to climate change, including a “friendship bridge” and an expressway in Vietnam and a post-earthquake housing reconstruction project in Nepal.
Report author John Nordbo from CARE Denmark said rich nations had not only failed to deliver enough adaptation finance, but had also tried to give the impression they are providing more than they do.
“This injustice must be corrected, and a clear plan must be presented to show how they intend to live up to their commitments with real money – and no reporting tricks,” he added in a statement.
Ahead of Monday’s summit, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) announced plans to at least double the size of a fund which it uses to support communities before climate disasters hit, to reduce losses.
IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said expanding the fund was part of a broader effort by the Red Cross to respond to an increasing case-load of emergencies caused by climate change.
The IFRC aims to grow the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, now at 30 million Swiss francs ($34 million) a year, to 60 million a year in 2021 and 100 million by 2025.
In the past 30 years, Chapagain noted, the average number of climate and weather-related disasters per decade has increased nearly 35%. They accounted for 83% of all disasters in the past decade alone, killing 410,000 people and affecting 1.7 billion.
The IFRC’s new loss-prevention approach, now gaining ground among donors and aid agencies, is known as “forecast-based action” because it is triggered by weather predictions.
Under the approach, money is made available to people imminently at risk from a coming weather threat, to help them move their families, livestock and goods to safety or otherwise take measures to protect them, as well as recover afterwards.
The Red Cross used it six times in 2020 to protect at-risk communities in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Mongolia and Mozambique, through measures such as early evacuation or reinforcing homes.
“By doing this, we are definitely saving lives,” Chapagain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Red Cross now aims to scale up forecast-based action in partnership with local governments, he added.
As climate threats accelerate, the Red Cross head urged vulnerable countries to implement laws that improve how they manage disasters, and put in place systems to provide early warning, evacuate people and reduce losses from extreme weather.
Chapagain urged leaders at the summit, hosted by the Netherlands, to acknowledge the need to take urgent steps to help communities cope with global warming impacts, while ramping up efforts to cut planet-heating emissions at the same time.
Often, those pipelines follow routes that take them across or near Indigenous territories. Just a week ago, on Jan. 9, eight people were arrested when about 300 water protectors and Anishinaabe jingle dress dancers gathered at a pipeline construction site in Minnesota, according to the Indigenous Environmental Network.
The Indigenous demonstrators are protesting the expansion of Enbridge’s 1,097-mile Line 3, which pipes oil from Edmonton, Canada, across North Dakota and Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.
Ojibwe writer and activist Winona LaDuke is among the protesters. She writes about their reasons for opposing the construction in a commentary originally published in The Nation, which we published today on EarthBeat as part of the Covering Climate Now consortium. Not only will the pipeline carry some of the world’s dirtiest crude oil, from Canada’s tar sands, she notes, but the worker camps also pose a particular health hazard during the coronavirus pandemic.
In November, Alleen Brown at The Intercept warned that the construction “has the potential to draw together thousands of temporary workers from across the U.S. and trigger a mass protest movement in a state that currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the nation.”
And in The New York Times, Chippewa novelist and poet Louise Erdrich writes that in the November general election, the “Native vote became a force that helped carry several key areas of the country and our state. On the heels of those victories, the granting of final permits to construct Enbridge’s Line 3, which will cross Anishinaabe treaty lands, was a breathtaking betrayal.”
Enbridge made more news this week, when it notified Michigan’s governor on Jan. 12 that it would defy a state order to stop pumping oil and natural gas liquids through a pipeline that crosses Lake Michigan. In November, the state rescinded an easement and ordered operations to stop by May. The company has taken the case to federal court, arguing that the state overstepped its authority.
This is the latest in a series of pipeline projects championed by the outgoing Trump administration, including the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which have been targets of protests and court challenges. The issues they raise are not only political and environmental, but also cultural and spiritual.
The Trump administration eased pipeline regulations, but industry executives and environmentalists expect the incoming Biden administration to reinstate environmental controls.
Opposition to pipelines, especially those crossing territories of Indigenous peoples and other traditional communities, extends far beyond U.S. borders. In Canada, protests that began in British Colombia, in the territory of the Wet’suwet’en nation, spread across the country a year ago, shutting down rail transport in parts of the country.
And in East Africa, critics warn that a 900-mile pipeline from Lake Albert in Uganda to the Tanzanian coast — another new project ramping up even as analysts predict the decline of fossil fuels — will displace thousands of small farmers and threaten ecologically sensitive areas.
Here in Peru, where I live, I have covered a series of spills from an aging and poorly maintained pipeline operated by the state-run oil company, Petroperu, which carries oil from the country’s largest Amazonian oil fields across the Andes Mountains to the Pacific coast.
I’ve seen how even a small spill can have a devastating impact on Amazonian Indigenous communities that have no safe water supply and depend on rivers and streams for water for drinking, bathing, cooking and washing. Contaminated surface water is a constant health hazard, and oil spills also poison fish, robbing people of a key source of protein and an important part of their livelihood.
Occasionally there are bright spots — Peru’s Constitutional Court recently ruled that Petroperu must compensate four communities affected by a spill in 2014. It’s a landmark decision that could set an important precedent for other communities that have suffered spills.
But court cases take time, and people get tired of fighting. I’m reminded of a Kichwa woman I met at a three-month-long protest over oil spills in Peru’s Marañón River Valley in 2016. A marathon negotiating session with the government had ended at midnight with a 30-point agreement, which the participants were celebrating.
She didn’t stay for the party. Over the past couple of decades, she told me, she had seen many such pacts become empty promises. “How many months have we waited for these agreements to be signed?” she asked. “When I see things change, that’s when I’ll celebrate.”
Gore: Probably one of the main things to lift up is the migration that results when people can no longer feed their families and are so desperate that they need to leave. And that did of course happen in the 2010 drought in Syria, and it has happened also [in] Central America, in what’s known as the Dry Corridor, where a lot of migration is coming from.
The U.N. estimates around 200 million people migrating due to climate impacts by 2050. There was a World Bank study in 2018 that estimated 143 million by 2030 from Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa alone. The hottest parts of the world also have the fastest-growing populations, so we need to be able to anticipate what is coming.
Religious communities have, as James said, the skills and the relationships and the networks and the sensibilities to be able to mitigate this type of conflict, to be able to anticipate and to build the kind of resilience that is needed in this extraordinary time.
What role can religious communities play in helping to mitigate some of the violence related to climate change?
Gore: So many people in the world derive their values from their religious traditions and identity. … It is incredibly important that we recognize how powerful religion and faith are. And there are ways in which we’ve seen throughout the world it can be used for good.
Bishop [Desmond] Tutu said the scriptural teachings about every human being made in the image of God were key to ending apartheid [in South Africa]. We saw with Gandhi and satyagraha [non-violent action] and ahimsa [non-violence] were used against British imperial rule. And in this country we have the example of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the situation we’re in now, where there’s going to be increasing strain and pressure and tension because of climate impacts and also because of the kind of system that is extracting and exploiting so many people’s ecosystems … faith communities bring it into a place of moral discourse about right and wrong and also can lift up nonviolence. That is a really strong tradition within a lot of faith communities.
There’s also on the front end the level of cause. The fossil-fuel energy extraction system and how that operates, the way big multinational agricultural corporations are operating on local food systems — on that level, there’s also an opportunity for faith communities to be leading the way.
Pope Francis says this very well in Laudato Si’, that part of the problem is that there’s not enough contact with people who are excluded from decision making, and that includes diplomacy. And so one of the things that religion and diplomacy can do is to be with the people in the real values they’re living, and take the best of that to help forge a better way.
Are there examples of religious communities who are doing this right now?
Gore: Last year, I was working with a community in Virginia … that was objecting to the placement of a giant fracked gas compressor station of a pipeline in a historically African American community. And amazingly, given the odds, they won this fight.
And as I witnessed it, it was largely due to the level of commitment and the clarity and the grounding and the strength that came from the interfaith work between a Black Baptist community and a community called Yogaville, where Swami Dyananda was leading the way. There was a very concerted effort to have prayer and a ceremonial approach — taking meals together, setting your intention before a march, for example — in a way that I think qualitatively changed the nature of the resistance to that compressor station.
In any of these situations, where there is something destructive toward a community, there can be the impulse to finger point and blame and turn on each other. Or you can appeal to some higher sense of purpose that brings you together and clarifies what’s happening and brings people to a greater level of commitment. And so I saw that work in an interfaith way in Virginia.
I also was able to travel last year to Recife, Brazil, and participate in an interfaith ceremony, in the oldest synagogue in the Americas actually. People [came] together from not only the Abrahamic traditions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam — but also from indigenous traditions and the Candomblé tradition, which mixes African traditional religion.
To see an interfaith group that honors those indigenous traditions for their own spiritual sovereignty also helps you to see through a different lens how it feels to them to have the Amazon being destroyed in the way that it is, because it’s an issue also of religious freedom. So participating and witnessing that gave me also faith in the power of religion and diplomacy to be a force for good. Peacemaking with each other and also with the Earth, with the ecosystems we’re living in, to stop the trajectory of being against the laws of nature and instead live in balance and harmony.
Patton: There are extremisms running throughout lots of our communities around the world, and one of the great drivers of that is lack of opportunity and lack of the ability to support yourself and your family. It offers opportunities for people to identify with a group and to provide, either in this world or the next, for their needs.
We have been working in Yemen since before the war broke out. And one of the spaces in which we work was severely affected by drought, severely affected by the collapse of the government and their inability to provide infrastructure, and severely impacted by violent religious extremist organizations that were recruiting young people.
We talked to tribal and religious leaders about how to resolve conflict issues, and the thing they brought up specifically was that water was one of the great drivers of violence. There was very little water in the area, and different communities were fighting over it, and the extremist organizations were trying to gain control over it.
So we supported a water infrastructure program, which is not our usual kind of work. We usually work much more on dialogue and reconciliation And what that did is the religious actors went to the young people who were being recruited by al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates, and with a spiritual narrative and a community narrative they brought them into these programs so that they would commit their energies to actually helping develop necessary infrastructures, so the communities could be improved and have their basic needs met — in this case, water.
[These kids] helped build these piping infrastructure. And afterwards, they said, “We always thought the government needed to do this kind of stuff. And when the government disappeared, we turned to the extremist groups to help us because they were coming in and providing for basic needs.” Very little of their engagement with the community was around ideology. A lot of it was around basic needs. So they said in the end, “We don’t need them anymore. And we will reject them and we will find ways to do this together as community members and as members of this religious community.”
Not only did they do that project, but then they went out and they talked to surrounding communities, raised their own funds and did additional water infrastructure programs on their own with at-risk youth from these faith communities. So it can have incredible impacts when you address some of these drivers, not just on basic needs and some of the issues around how climate affects people’s water and food availability [but also] ancillary benefits that are associated with countering radicalization and countering extremism and countering conflict dynamics.
It’s incredibly important work, and I think that these examples of how faith leaders, spiritual leaders, can drive this work forward — bringing communities together around these principles of stewardship — are essential and should not be overlooked.
Where can religious communities and leaders being most effective in these climate-related conflict situations? Can they be proactive, before conflicts begin, or can they help lessen tensions once conflicts start to develop?
Patton: We think in terms of a conflict curve. There’s pre-conflict, there’s the period during the conflict, and then there’s a post-conflict period. And each of the interventions at those different spaces is going to be significantly different. To stop a conflict from erupting is a very different kind of approach and methodology and engagement than to get people to stop shooting each other once they’ve actively started. And then to recover itself is an entirely different approach.
Religious communities can play a role in all three of those spaces. We work with some faith leaders on deradicalization of extremists — people who are very much involved in violence or committed to violence. But we also work on the kind of interfaith work that Karenna’s talking about, where we break down identity divisions and prejudices that might lead to conflict but have not yet. … And of course, it’s critically important, after a community has been broken by violence, that faith leaders, spiritual leaders can step forward and help heal that community.
Gore: Forgiveness, redemption, changing your sense of belonging to include those who you considered to be the enemy or the other — that is a place where faith leaders obviously can play a very positive role.
In the case of climate and environmental issues, I think it’s very important to look at the trajectory that we’re on right now in the world. That although we know the urgency of shifting to another energy system, the world still gets 80% of our energy from fossil fuels, and half of the global warming emissions that are up in the atmosphere now have been put up there in the last 20 years, which is the time that we’ve known the most about this and have had the most available alternatives.
Because we know that climate disruptions will lead to migration and conflict, mitigating conflict for religious actors also means changing this trajectory. Questioning and telling the truth, which is also such a part of prophetic tradition and certainly in the Judeo-Christian heritage that Pope Francis has very wisely drawn on for his work in speaking out about climate. That we must look at the truth and we must tell the truth, no matter how difficult it is for people to hear.
The arguments that are made for continuing on this trajectory are often that we need economic growth to end poverty, no matter whether there’s a lot of pollution and depletion … and so we need to understand that in fact it’s a very counterproductive model that we have now.
The U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, explained in a report that actually climate change would undo the last 50 years of progress and drive over 100 million more people into poverty. … We need to be asking the deep, serious questions about what is development for? What is the meaning of life? How do you measure a good society?
For those things, we need to be very mindful and respectful of the spiritual and faith communities that have been thinking about these things for many generations. And they ought to be consulted about any development that affects their community. These are people who should have a seat at the table.
And the faith leaders can be part of the conversation, setting a conversation based around ethics so it’s not just about money, it’s about well-being. It’s about what we want to be handing down to the future generations that we are proud of and that is sustainable. This is a really big challenge. We know that it’s here, and we know that it’s coming with stronger force. And if faith communities can step up and do this in a good way, we can make the world better in the process.
Today, 47 faith institutions from 21 countries, including nine institutions from the UK, announce their divestment from fossil fuels as a practical response to the climate emergency.
Participating institutions include five Catholic religious orders in the UK, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, two United Reformed Church Synods, local Anglican and Methodist churches and American Jewish World Service. (See link to full list of participating institutions below.)
This week, from 19-21 November, Pope Francis has convened the ‘Economy of Francesco’, an online conference involving more than 1,000 young adults, which will explore innovative ways of shaping a sustainable economy. This conference builds on an announcement in June, when the Vatican recommended in its first-ever operational guidelines on ecology that all Catholic organisations divest from fossil fuels.
Fr Dermot F Byrne MHM, Regional Representative of Mill Hill Missionaries (British Region), said: “Our members have always worked among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Africa, Asia and South America, and the pursuit of social equality and justice has always been a serious priority for us. Concern for what Pope Francis reminds us is ‘our common home’ has to be part of that pursuit. As our numbers decrease worldwide, there can seem to be little that we can do to make an impact, but divestment from fossil fuels is a practical choice that is open to us all and may have far-reaching results. Consequently, we feel that such divestment is in line with Catholic social teaching and the spirit of the present age, and we are happy that we, as a Region, are able to make this small contribution.”
Sr Catherine Lloyd RSCJ, Provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart (England and Wales Province) said: “The Province has actively engaged in reducing its carbon footprint for a number of years as the impact of the climate crisis became more apparent and urgent. After reflecting on our own values and the charism which underpins them, we have actively engaged with our fund managers to divest our investment portfolio of fossil fuels. Hopefully, we are making a contribution to working towards a future which is more sustainable and carbon neutral.”
The announcement coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement on climate change. The UK government faces increasing pressure to demonstrate global leadership on the climate crisis ahead of the UN climate talks (COP26) taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. Faith organisations participating in the announcement amplify calls for the UK government to end support for fossil fuels overseas and act more decisively, having failed to meet its climate targets according to the Committee on Climate Change.
Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, recently advocated for Catholic leaders to play a more active role when he addressed hundreds of people in a webinar on Catholic investment for an integral ecology. He said: ‘The most urgent, most serious material threat to this world is a moral question… The defence of creation is the most fundamental fact of the Christian faith.’
In September, it was revealed that Shell plans to resume oil and gas exploration in the Arctic for the first time since 2015, despite pressure from faith investors and others that has exposed the inherent weakness of the fossil fuel industry. Shell has cited divestment as a material risk to its business.
Today’s divestment announcement means that more than 400 religious institutions have now committed to divest.
Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “The economic power of faiths, turned to responsible investments and the green economy, can be a major driver of positive change, and an inspiration to others, as we rebuild better.”
James Buchanan, Bright Now Campaign Manager at Operation Noah, said: “It is hugely encouraging that so many faith institutions have stopped investing in the fossil fuel industry. Churches need to divest from fossil fuel companies as a practical response to the climate emergency ahead of COP26 next year. The UK government urgently needs to end subsidies for fossil fuels at home and overseas.”
The Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in England said: “As Sisters of the Holy Cross in England, Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, has encouraged us to focus on care of creation. For some time, we have been urging our investors to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels… We have realised that engagement with these companies only has limited success. We have now informed our investors that we have decided to completely disinvest from fossil fuels, and thus work towards a zero carbon future.”
The Congregation of Our Lady, Canonesses of St Augustine (UK Delegation) said: “According to our founders, our aim is to ‘do good to all and harm to none’ (St Peter Fourier) and ‘to do all the good possible’ (Blessed Alix Le Clerc). How can we put this into practice when we hold investments in oil and gas and we don’t go for investments that ‘promote a more just distribution of this world’s goods’ (from our Constitutions, 166)? ‘In our times the whole world has become our neighbour'(ibid, 3). One little way of loving our neighbour out there was for us to divest from oil and gas, which we did this February. And we’ve a long way to go yet.”
The Sisters of St Andrew in England gave the following statement: “At our last General Congregation in January 2017, one of the three main themes was ‘Justice, Peace and Safeguarding of Creation’. The final document states: ‘…we are in close interdependence with all of Creation. What happens in one part of our world has an impact on the rest of the planet.”
“Deepening this awareness led us to have a closer look at our investments here in England. We realised that part of our financial resources were actually financing more fossil fuel extraction and burning. We were thus contributing to the worsening of the climate crisis and its devastating impact on the poorest peoples of our human family, as well as the destruction of vast areas of wildlife on our beautiful planet Earth. We therefore decided to make the commitment to divest from fossil fuel and invest in funds that support constructive ecological, social and peace initiatives. This is one more important step on our journey of ‘integral ecological conversion’ (Laudato Si’).
“We pray that this step may contribute to the healing and wellbeing of our world and the flourishing of our Earth Community.”