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History of Climate Action at PoWR

Climate Change and the Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Parliament of the World’s Religions envisions a world of justice, peace and sustainability. To bring into existence the world we hope for, the Parliament fosters peace between the world’s religious and spiritual communities based on mutual respect and understanding, building community in diversity.

The Parliament promotes engagement of the world’s religions, spiritualities, and ethical convictions with each other and with society’s guiding institutions to address the critical issues of today’s world. These include:

  • Transforming hatred, conflict and violence into harmony between religions, nations and cultures
  • Ending poverty and providing for the basic needs of all people
  • Achieving sustainability with care for the Earth with all of its life forms and eco-systems

The work of the Parliament is formed by its two historic documents, the “Declaration Towards a Global Ethic” (1993) and “A Call to Our Guiding Institutions” (1999). These establish the Parliament’s work on a common set of core values: respect for human dignity and the rights and responsibilities of all, affirming our interdependence and the common good, and a commitment to sustainability.

The Parliament and Environmental Concerns  

Sustainability and concern for the environment – including climate change – have been integral to the mission of the Parliament since its founding.

The Parliament is an international interfaith platform where those in the religious sphere who were early subscribers to climate science have become regular speakers at global Parliament events, inspiring and advancing worldwide grassroots activism for the environment.  From academic experts to religious leadership and indigenous wisdom keepers, an indelible snapshot of each Parliament is of a prophetic environmentalist standing center stage professing the virtues held sacred by most every spiritual tradition concerning humanity’s relationship to the Earth and all living beings.

At the first modern Parliament in 1993, a proclamation of “global warming” called for the attention of the world’s religions at the inaugural plenary, and the principle of care for the Earth and all life was an essential theme of the Global Ethic there adopted. In 1999 in Cape Town, 300 “Gifts of Service to the World” included dozens of personal and organizational commitments to sustainable practices and policies by Parliament attendees. In 2009 in Melbourne, the Parliament devoted 66 programs to the environment, with a shift from faith-focused interpretations of “Earth care” to forward-thinking interfaith-based advocacy at grassroots and international levels. Important programs were the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, an Indigenous Call to care for the Earth, and a symposium of experts, “Connection to Copenhagen.”

In 2015 most who came to the Parliament rated the climate crisis as one of the driving reasons for attending their first or repeated global Parliament event. Engaging the crisis was also an organizational commitment made the previous year when the Parliament was a founding Partner Organization of the Religions for the Earth conference hosted by Union Theological Seminary, a seminal moment for faith-based environmentalism. The Parliament participated in the People’s Climate March and was represented at the closing interfaith service by the Parliament’s Chair who declared, “Sustainable living will be the prime focus of the forthcoming 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions.”

At the Salt Lake City Parliament, the climate crisis permeated many of the 800 programs and eight plenary sessions – and influenced work in each of the critical issue areas, not only Earth care, but also economic injustice and war and violence. An increasing number of traditions were now showing up to the table.

Between Parliament gatherings, the Parliament has increasingly promoted advocacy to implement sustainable development and built bridges of engagement with global agencies and grassroots affiliates. At Melbourne in 2009, thousands of messages from Parliament participants reached world leaders who gathered a few days later for COP15 conference in Copenhagen, scripted onto a 200-foot long banner asking to “Protect the Only Earth We Have.” Following the Salt Lake City Parliament, the Parliament sponsored an official Ambassador on Climate to present its appeal to the United Nation’s Secretary General at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference.

Activities in 2015 – 2016

In October 2015, more than ten thousand members of the world’s faith and spiritual communities committed at the Salt Lake City Parliament of the World’s Religions to rise in action to save the only Earth we have. It may be that now, for the first time, work for the environment in the interfaith movement has reached the critical mass needed to ensure that our actions secure the attention of our global leaders. Faith-based, religiously, and spiritually based work for the environment has been growing for decades, but the 2015 Parliament clarified and emphasized the urgent need for the cooperation with which we must act, and recognized that human-caused climate change poses risks to every aspiration of sustainable development.

Those gathered at the 2015 Parliament adopted the statement “Embracing Our Common Future: An Interfaith Call to Action on Climate Change” and committed the wholehearted effort of the Parliament to action. The genesis of the CATF is found in the Salt Lake City Declaration on Climate Change. This isn’t the first time the global interfaith movement has risen to strive for sustainability for all life. But the recent 2015 Parliament clarified and emphasized the urgency and cooperation with which we must act.

We recognize climate degradation poses a risk that every gain in worldwide development will be rendered futile should we fail to establish and adhere to international guidelines to regulate and reverse the systems which have created this mess. An all-hands-on-deck climate campaign was launched upon closure of the 2015 Parliament mobilizing participants to rally on the pathway to the UNFCCC Paris COP21 where the watershed Paris Climate Agreement was adopted. Read more here: “7 Ways the Parliament Stepped Up to Challenge Climate Change in 2015.”

It may be that now, for the first time, the interfaith movement has reached critical mass around the world to ensure our actions secure the attention of our global leaders.

The mission of the Parliament of the World’s Religions has been clear in stating:

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

To accomplish this, we invite individuals and communities who are equally invested in attaining this goal to join us.

And now, we invite you to participate in bringing our commitments to life, to share your work on the ground.

Actions in 2016

The Entry into Force of the Paris Climate Agreement, November 4, 2016 coincides with the launch of a new Parliament of the World’s Religions Climate Change Task Force. Read the statement from Executive Director Dr. Larry Greenfield and Parliament Climate Change Task Force Chair David Hales here.

In early October, the Parliament co-sponsored “Faith and Environmental Justice: More Than Simply Loving the Earth” with Chicago Theological Seminary, an esteemed panel featuring the Executive Director of GreenFaith, as well as program representatives from Program T’ruah and Green Muslims. This program livestreamed through YouTube, which you can catch here.

For International Day of Peace (September 21): the Parliament co-sponsored a major session at the UN on Sustainable Development moderated by Jonathan Granoff, the Parliament’s Special Ambassador for Nuclear Disarmament. The forum featured keynotes from Nobel Laureates Leymah Gbowee, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman.

June: Parliament Executive Coordinator Austin Sisson was selected to attend the the GreenFaith convergence conference in Louisiana for a several-days long intensive training for young religious and interfaith leaders at “ground zero for climate change” in the United States. His blog post, which was published and cross-promoted by GreenFaith is here.

April: The Parliament endorsed the Interfaith Climate Change Statement presented to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the adoption of the Paris agreement ceremonies.