Ecumenical council active at Rio climate summit

Demonstrators carry an image of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff through the streets of Rio de Janeiro during the Rio+20 summit. Photo: Aliencow/Wikimedia Commons.
Demonstrators carry an image of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff through the streets of Rio de Janeiro during the Rio+20 summit. Photo: Aliencow/Wikimedia Commons.
Published June 25, 2012

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has been playing an active role in the two major events taking place in Rio de Janeiro from June 12 to 23: the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, and the People’s Summit.

According to a WCC news release, the People’s Summit is an open-invitation event that is gathering thousands of representatives of movements working to create a common voice to advocate for human rights and effective commitment of the world’s leaders to the care of the planet.

An official delegation of the WCC has been following the activities and negotiations at Rio+20 and promoted a side event on 22 June in cooperation with the Lutheran World Federation, Religions for Peace and Caritas Internationalis.

The WCC’s Central Committee moderator, the Rev. Walter Altmann, one of the speakers at a June 19 panel on the theme of religions’ commitment to life on earth, said: “The mutual understanding and close cooperation between different religions is essential if we want to achieve a just society and a sustained earth,” the news release reported.

“The WCC has consistently put on its agenda issues of justice, peace and care for God’s good creation, as well as having looked for opportunities to share experiences and adopt common stances with other faiths in these areas,” he said. The panel was sponsored by the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Brazil.

The WCC’s participation in Rio+20 and the People’s Summit started long before both events were convened. Through its programme on climate change, the WCC has been advocating for ethical values to be taken into consideration during the negotiations of the draft document prepared for Rio+20. The WCC and its ecumenical partners also helped to build an ecumenical and inter-religious platform at the People’s Summit called “Religions for Rights.”

On June 16, the WCC organized a series of activities in the Religions for Rights tents. The first event focused on the role of the WCC at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, also known as the Rio Earth Summit.

The speakers, Elias C. Abramides of Argentina, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Rev. Ilkka Sipilainen, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, were both at Rio 1992.

Abramides highlighted that the WCC’s interest in international negotiations on sustainability and environment is based on bringing to the negotiation tables the principles of ethics, equity and justice. “This principled approach has simultaneously guided the WCC’s advocacy on climate change negotiations,” he said.

Sipilainen shared experiences from his own church demonstrating the efforts made in the last 20 years to develop sustainable lifestyles for the church and the faithful. Examples from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland include programs such as eco-fasting and carbon calculators for congregations.

“While in Rio 1992 climate change, for instance, was still something quite unknown to the larger public, in recent years it has become one of the headlines in the news,” recalled Sipilainen.

Abramides stressed that the ecumenical movement has spoken about sustainable communities and societies rather than talking about sustainable development. “The current development model includes the notion of unlimited growth, which has provoked the current ecological crisis,” he concluded.

A panel on “Climate Justice: Creation and Responsibility” was also held on June 16 in the Religions for Rights tent.

Churches are advocating at the United Nations for concrete and effective responses to the suffering of the whole creation. The role of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in preserving the environment and addressing climate change was highlighted.

“Even in spite of hopeless circumstances, Christians have hope, the general secretary of the WCC, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, said in a message to Rio+20.

The launch of a WCC publication called Spiritual values for earth community was the third WCC event in the Religions for Rights space. The book, written by David Hallman, reflects on the values that should inspire the struggles of Christians, churches and others for a sustainable life on the planet earth.

More than 60 activities were held in the seven tents of Religions for Rights between June 15 and 19. The People’s Summit included workshops, panels and discussions that represented more than 70 religious expressions, churches and specialized ministries.


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