Believers or Believable?

 Believers or Believable?

Are religious leaders rising to the climate challenge? What have they done? What are they doing? What will they do? Would their efforts be valuable? A Green Zone outspoken panel discussion asked these questions to three English religious leaders. 

By Elisa Lunardelli | YPA Italy

“Everybody let’s go! Quickly, there is an emergency going on!” 

This is the role that religious leaders should cover: be the ones in the room that sense the smoke and raise their voices to make people aware of the urgency to take action. The alarm went already on, the fire is here, but people are still skeptical about the evidence, they are incapable of change, they are dubious about the fact that their single contribution, together with the others’, will make a difference. 

Yesterday, the Green Zone hosted a really intriguing panel during which three religious leaders critically discussed their position and engagement in fighting climate change. The three panellists of the event were Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Bishop of Reading Olivia Graham and Chief Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi. All of them agreed on the importance of living in harmony within nature, of loving your neighbours, even the ones further away, and, lastly, of earning the privilege to be guardians of our planet. But if the premises were the same, was their implementation too?

The questions asked by the chairman Clive Lawton, CEO of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, were deep and went straight to the point: what should your role be? What are you actually doing? It was made pretty clear that this is not the time to be just believers, but that it is necessary to be believable too! The representatives of the three communities spoke honestly and directly: they admitted that they are still not doing enough. It is definitely necessary to go from thoughts to facts and actions. They suggested they could encourage people to change their consumption habits and to question the sustainability of their daily choices. Inspired by recognized religious leaders, individuals should be more willing to sacrifice some of their comforts and embrace the cause without compromise. Education is the key in doing this, but it is a long path to go and the clock is ticking. 

Alongside these medium- to long-term solutions, the representatives of the different religious beliefs pointed out what they are already doing, at global and local scale: some of them have been working since many years, some are a bit more cautious, some others are joining, some are still skeptical. The journey is long but their presence at COP26 gives hope that the engagement of religious communities in climate change fighting could significantly increase across the world. 

Many different successful experiences and approaches were reported. Bishop Graham cited the increasing number of eco-bishops in the Anglican Church and how this positively affected the climate discussion and action. On the other hand, Rabbi Mirvis suggested that a leader should be primus inter pares and the first to incarnate his beliefs and values. Imam Razawi highlighted the importance of cooperation and support to the ones that are already working to build a better future in the communities. The role of religious chiefs is to be a good example and influence their followers. In a nutshell, they should gain credibility and become real leaders. A valuable card that religions could play is that they are not tied to a specific country, so they might and should help in the processes of cooperation and negotiation. Green sukuk, islamic sharia-compliant bonds that are used to promote socially-responsible development, are an example of innovative financial instruments. 

Pope Francis is devoted to the climate cause too: his engagement was made irrevocably explicit by his encyclical Laudato Si in 2015. Most recently he gathered numerous religious leaders pushing them to sign a joint appeal to COP26 and encouraging them to be credible guides and examples for their followers on climate issues.

The preconditions are unequivocal: climate issues are religious matters and caring for the planet is a commandment and an honour. We, as communities, did not do enough, the religious leaders of the 80% of men and women that are assumed to be believers have not done enough until now. It is time for transformation and cooperation, going from local to global. It is time to take action and to prepare to give answers to the questions our grandkids will ask us: “Where were you? What did you do?”. Inaction is not an option, not even a religious option. Citing the imam Razawi: “with hope we can move the mountains… or maybe we can leave them where they are!

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