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Faith Leaders in Africa among Signatories to Joint “response to pandemic, climate crisis”

Credit: South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

Faith-based leaders in Africa are among hundreds of “the high-level religious and spiritual leaders who have signed onto the Sacred People, Sacred Heart Statement”, calling for a joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic and “the climate crisis.”

In an online petition, the religious leaders who include Bishop Joseph Obanyi of Kenya’s Kakamega Diocese and members of the Interreligious Council of Uganda (IRCU) say their "hearts overflow with concern" because of the accelerating climate emergency and the damage that COVID-19 is causing especially to vulnerable people. 

"We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and the planet,” the faith-based leaders say. 

They add, "A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment."

"Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet," the high-level religious and spiritual say in the petition authored by the worldwide, multi-faith climate and environmental movement, Green Faith. 

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The faith-based leaders who are drawn from religious institutions in the Africa, Asia/Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America further say that they "envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth." 

"The good life is one of connectedness – with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power," they say in the petition titled, “Sacred People Sacred Earth.” 

In light of governments' response to COVID-19 and the upcoming COP26 where world leaders will present their climate commitments, the high-level faith-based leaders offer a number of suggestions. 

To financial institutions, they say there is need to "abandon systems based on exploitive returns."

"Money and finance must serve morality and the common good, not exploit the vulnerable, destroy nature, and increase income inequality," the religious leaders say, and call for the creation of "a system that provides energy, transport and healthy food for all, that protects the rights and wellbeing of workers and local communities, and that truly sustains the planet." 

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They also appeal to the leadership of financial institutions across the globe to stop financing infrastructure in new fossil fuels and agribusiness that destroys the environment. 

Instead of investing in environmentally unfriendly infrastructure, the religious leaders say financial institutions "must dramatically accelerate investment in renewable energy systems, with a conscious commitment to decentralized, community-based, women, indigenous, and community-led initiatives so that the new energy system is more equitable, with more broadly distributed ownership."

Financial institutions, the add, "must increase support for regenerative and sustainable agriculture, with a particular commitment to smaller-scale farms." 

To governments, the high-level faith-based leaders advocate for the enactment and enforcement of laws that protect the people and the earth. 

They also call on the leaderships of the wealthiest nations to “commit to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and accelerate finance and technology transfers to poorer countries to ensure a global, just transition to zero before 2050."

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Governments, they further say, “must enact policies and regulations that ensure: Universal access to clean, affordable energy, especially for the 840 million people who lack access to electricity, rapid expansion of affordable public transport, retrofitting of buildings for energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy."

Governments also need to put in place legal provisions that ensure sustainable food systems and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, they say. 

The religious leaders also call on governments to "ensure the protection of the rights of Indigenous communities and environmental defenders, on whose security healthy ecosystems rely.”

Governments, they say, also need to end subsidies for fossil fuels and "provide for a just transition for jeopardized workers and communities through improved healthcare, job training and placement and other supportive measures." 

Addressing themselves to individual persons, the high-level religious leaders say, “Each person carries a divine spark, unique gifts, and a moral responsibility to make one’s life a blessing for the Earth and all people.

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They call upon individual persons to use renewable energy and to adopt "largely or entirely plant-based diet." 

The faith-based leaders add that individuals can "travel sustainability, on foot, by bicycle, and by mass transit, avoiding car travel and flying to the greatest degree possible." 

Individual persons also need to divest fossil fuel and "invest in enterprises creating a sustainable future, and conduct our banking through institutions whose ethics reflect our values," the religious leaders say.

They further call on every person to join "collective efforts to work for climate and environmental justice." 

On their part, the faith leaders vow to be “models of environmental leadership, utilizing our rituals, religious education, facilities, and the public voices of our spiritual leaders, members and followers.”

They also "pledge to power our own facilities with 100% renewable energy where possible and as soon as possible in order to provide a positive moral example, on a schedule consistent with preserving a 1.5°C future." 

"We will move purposefully towards sustainable, largely plant-based dietary practices in our religious schools, houses of prayer and worship, clinics, and our other institutions," the high-level faith-based leaders say, and promise to "align our investments with our values by moving to end support for the fossil fuel and industrial agriculture/agribusiness sectors and the banks that finance these industries." 

The religious leaders also promise to invest in climate solutions and encourage the people under their care to participate in transforming the earth through advocacy, education, job training and other means.