Religious Leaders Call for Justice for the Planet

Article excerpt


A SUMMIT of religious leaders is calling on the government to turn over a forest of new leaves regarding the environment, and hopes its strong stance will trigger "a groundswell of civic action".

Oval Kjorven, director of development policy at the UN Development Programme, says the world's religions could become "the decisive force that helps tip the scales in favour of climate safety and justice".

The South African summit marks the first time the country's religious leaders have taken a stand together since they protested against apartheid under the banner of the UDF in the 1980s.

"Then, we were calling for justice for people. Now, we are calling for justice for the planet, for everything that is created," said Bishop Geoff Davies of the Anglican Church, head of the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Initiative (Safcei).

The summit, held in Midrand in February, was attended by leaders from the Muslim Judicial Council, Jewish communities, Buddhist and Baha'i groups, and Christian churches including the Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists, as well as environmental organisations.

Twenty pages of resolutions in the summit report make detailed recommendations on food security, biodiversity, waste, water, poverty and the environment.

Among them are that the South African and other southern African governments should shun plastic bags in favour of biodegradable bags, set targets for becoming zero-waste societies, and move from nuclear and coal-powered electricity to renewables "as a matter of urgency".

The government should also aim to shift 40% of road freight on to the railways by 2020 and set targets for moving private road commuters on to public transport - the target of 20 percent of commuters by 2010 was suggested.

The religious leaders recognised the "catastrophic consequences" of continuing to burn fossil fuels and that Africa was particularly vulnerable to climate change. They commended government efforts, including Working on Fire, Coast Care and Working for Water, which has cleared water catchment areas of invasive alien plants while creating jobs, saying these should be expanded and intensified.

They also called for the price of electricity to include all "cradle to grave" costs, including those to society and the environment, with a special tariff to exclude the poor from the price hikes.

In the keynote address, president of the South African Council |of Churches Professor Tinyiko Maluleke challenged all religious leaders to address "a planet in |crisis".

"Will the grandchildren of our children's grandchildren continue to find home on the earth? These are the questions that we as faith community leaders need to confront," he said.

Recalling his own childhood, having been raised in the city and countryside, he said that traditional wisdom often clashed with the rational lessons of a Western education.

"Whatever lessons I learnt from my grandmother about mutuality, co-existence, awe and respect for nature were thrown into disarray the more educated I became."

Davies said: "There are those who think that religious bodies are the only ones who can bring about the changes in attitudes and values that we need to get us in the right direction. Until now, most religions have said their responsibility is for the spiritual life of the person. Suddenly, people are waking up to the fact that the natural world is crucially important."

Sheik Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant, spokesman for the Muslim Judicial Council, represented the organisation at the summit. He has written a doctoral thesis on sustainable development, challenging Muslim leaders and governments to stop destroying biodiversity through development.

"From a Qur'anic perspective, Allah has given us the trust of looking after the environment," he said. "It doesn't matter which faith you belong to, we've got one issue - we must teach our communities the importance of the environment. …