An interfaith panel discussion on climate, held 21 September, sent a clear message to the world’s governments: a social and spiritual transformation must underpin policies that care for the earth and the most vulnerable people living on it.
The discussion was held during three converging times: the Season of Creation, New York Climate Week, and the UN General Assembly’s opening of the 77th Session.
The discussion, entitled “Listen to the Voice of Creation: Caring for Creation in a Season of Climate Emergency,” explored the theme of this year’s Season of Creation as a way of sending messages to the UN and to the world’s policymakers.
Held at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, the event also drew a global online audience. Speakers from many religious and spiritual backgrounds, while differing in their beliefs and the sources of their moral authority, united in their call to care for creation and our common earthly home.
They asked a complex question: How do we listen to the voice of creation—of nature— individually, as faith bodies, as decision-makers and policymakers in our societies?
The UN General Assembly’s 77th Session will involve related discussions of education, peace, sustainable development, and nuclear disarmament.
Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, spoke via video message, urging that campaigns—such as the one for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty—be strengthened.
“These are significant mechanisms that we need to be engaged with,” he said. “We continue to struggle for momentum on climate finance, on loss and damage, and these will be key.”
He also called for a more broad understanding of how we contain any further damage to an already fragile eco-system. “We need to ensure that, whatever we do, is done in the context of protecting the environment,” he said. “There is a need for a social transformation—we know that.”
Such a social transformation would underpin the needed policies, laws, and regulations, Bhagwan added. “That social transformation will provide the political will, the business will,” he said. “We need to ensure the countries that are the most vulnerable and affected at the moment do not go further into debt as they seek to protect the environment.
“There is so much that needs to be done—and time is running out,” he concluded.
Dr Ryan Smith, programme executive for the Ecumenical Office to the United Nations, and representative to the UN Headquarters for the World Council of Churches, spoke about “the need for the faith community to bring our unique voice to the discussion of the climate crisis and work together with faith based partners and the scientific community to ensure that God’s creation is habitable for the next generations.”
The panel discussion was preceded by an ecumenical prayer service in which those gathered lifted up their concerns—and their hopes—for the future.