Church delegates to bring ethical perspectives to environment summit

The Peoples' Summit for Social and Environmental Justice will "propose a new way of living on the planet, in solidarity against the commodification of nature." Photo: LaiQuocAnh
The Peoples' Summit for Social and Environmental Justice will "propose a new way of living on the planet, in solidarity against the commodification of nature." Photo: LaiQuocAnh
Published June 12, 2012

A delegation from the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC) will take part in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) from June 20 to 22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The delegates will participate in various ecumenical and interfaith events at the conference, also known as Rio+20, according to a WCC news release. It marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

The WCC said it will also participate in the Peoples’ Summit for Social and Environmental Justice, an event taking place between June 15 to 23 in Rio de Janeiro alongside Rio+20. The People’s Summit will “propose a new way of living on the planet, in solidarity against the commodification of nature,” according to its website.

“We hope that the results of Rio will effectively reflect a larger ‘we,’ including in particular the most vulnerable and poor communities in the world,” said Guillermo Kerber, WCC program executive on climate change, who is facilitating the WCC delegation to Rio+20.

“WCC delegates will focus on highlighting ethical concerns, and religious insights in a number of events which we have organized, in addition to the intense advocacy efforts to be carried out at the UNCSD,” he added.

The WCC program for eco-justice is organizing a series of side events both at the UNCSD and the People’s Summit. One will focus on “ethical and religious insights on the future we want,” which echoes the expected title of the outcome document of Rio+20 (“The future we want”). It is anticipated the document will include a call for action and commitments by the participating countries.

The WCC gathering will take place on June 22 and include a message from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. WCC Central Committee moderator the Rev. Walter Altmann will be one of the speakers among other religious leaders. The event has been co-organized by the WCC with Caritas Internationalis, the Lutheran World Federation and Religions for Peace.

On June 17, another WCC event will address the theme “Ethical implications of sustainability: educational and religious perspectives.” The WCC has organized this event with the Baptist World Alliance, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, the International Forum on Human Rights (FIDH), the University of Washington and other partners.

To address the “spirituality and ethics of water”, the Ecumenical Water Network of the WCC joins with United Religions Initiative and Faith without Borders on June 18. An interfaith panel will be led by theologian Reijo E. Heinonen, founding dean of the ecumenical theological faculty of the University of Joensuu in Finland.

Other events where WCC delegates will contribute include a seminar on “The Rio+20 Legacy: an inter-generational dialogue on sustainability” on June 13. This event will be organized by Beyond 2015, the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA).

Besides these events, a program on the theme “Religions for Rights” has been developed for the Peoples’ Summit by the Ecumenical Coordination office. The office was established in March by Koinonia, an ACT Alliance member organization in Rio, and is led by Marcelo Schneider, the WCC’s communication liaison for Latin America.

The program will bring together ecumenical and inter-religious participants for events in seven different tents at the Peoples’ Summit. As part of the activities, a vigil will take place on the night of June 17.

“Our original idea was to promote an expressive spiritual event organized with the members of our ecumenical inter-religious initiative,” said Schneider. “But the People’s Summit coordination group adopted the idea, and now the vigil is going to be part of the overall program at the event.”

“We had to adapt our language and symbolism to include many different expressions and movements of civil society. The vigil will focus on the four basic elements of life and the rights we are advocating for,” Schneider added.

WCC activities at the Peoples’ Summit will include workshops on the “WCC and the Rio Convention on Climate Change” and “Climate and Human Responsibility for Creation.”


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