The South African Council of Churches (SACC) has recently launched a document citing the challenges climate change poses to churches in South Africa and the response that is needed. Churches, as with multiple public and private sector organisations and associations, are critically analysing their part in tackling climate change.  In light of this many church groups have become highly engaged and vocal in their commitments to tackling climate change.

The document released by SACC refers to the importance of the Conference of the Parties meeting in Copenhagen in December and the need for direct leadership and impact on climate change.  This follows on from the work of the All Africa Conference of Churches at the Bali Conference in 2007, calling for ‘responsible church leadership’.  The momentum in church leadership on the issue of climate change has grown exponentially, especially in lieu of Copenhagen.  The Lutheran World Federation is currently holding their annual summit in Nairobi, with climate change being a key issue.  This follows on from a mandate from the World Council of Churches encouraging discourse on significant climate policy issues.

The impact of engagement by the church in climate issues should not be understated, especially in developing countries. In terms of total congregation attendees, South Africa is fourth highest in the world and associations like the World Lutheran Federation have wide global presence. Countries like Nigeria, with huge emerging populations, and over 16 million Catholics alone, can utilise the Church as an effective method of education and support for pro climate policy and incremental changes.  The value of information from the church, illustrated by the SACC’s most recent documentation, is the emphasis placed on the individual and the impacts consumer change and individual behaviour can have.  

South Africa is not alone in targeting climate change action through religious entities. ‘Eco-Congregation’ in Scotland has just published a report ‘Climate Change: managing your carbon footprint’.  The aim of the document is to initiate enthusiasm across congregations in Scotland and to educate them on the Climate Change Act (Scotland). The Church of England is also engaged in a ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ initiative, which through the Climate Justice Fund encourages parishes and diocesans to calculate their carbon footprint.  The United Church of Canada is another example where positive climate change lobbying is occurring. The Church is currently engaged in promoting its’ Kyotoplus petition which calls for the Canadian government to make strong commitments to climate action in the run up to the Copenhagen negotiations. The church has also been proactive in chairing a ‘Week of Action’ which takes place from the 17th – 26th October and aims to highlight linkages between justice and climate policy.  

Although church attendance continues to drop in many Western countries, the opposite trend is occurring across many developing nations, where the church is hugely influential. Consequently much value can be gained through these activities, as the message often given through the church is the need for a metanoia, a fundamental change of mind.  Key Policy makers would do well to take heed of this message at Copenhagen if any of the expectations are to be fulfilled.

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