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Climate change begs for interfaith action in Asia

Crisis offers Church an opportunity to promote pope's integral ecology that gels well with most Asian religions
A man wades across a flooded area while carrying a packed tent for shelter in Fazilpur area following heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan's Punjab province on Sept. 3

A man wades across a flooded area while carrying a packed tent for shelter in Fazilpur area following heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan's Punjab province on Sept. 3. (Photo: Arif Ali/AFP)

Published: November 04, 2022 03:50 AM GMT
Updated: November 16, 2022 09:59 AM GMT

When the representatives of governments gather at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Nov 6 for COP27, they will talk about climate change and will make pledges. They will return to their respective countries, and their governments will continue to do what they do, exacerbating the catastrophe of climate change.

As the track record of these meetings shows tardy progress in addressing climate change, few people take COP27 seriously. Greta Thunberg, for example, is one of them. The teenage eco-warrior has described the high-profile gathering as “greenwashing, lying and cheating.”

“As it is now, COPs are not really going to lead to any major changes, unless of course, we use them as an opportunity to mobilize,” Thunberg said at the London Literature Festival on Oct 30.

People like her have a reason. Ever since the first UN climate talks were held in Germany in 1995, nothing concrete has been achieved. At the historic COP21 meeting in 2015, nations approved the Paris Agreement to keep global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” That remained an agreement.

"Droughts, abnormally powerful cyclones, and erratic monsoons have made South Asia the most impacted by climate change"

The 26th conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last year, called for phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and paved the way for trading carbon emissions under Article 6. But rich nations, including the 27-member EU, are scouting for more fossil fuel in the Middle East, Central Asia and among the Mediterranean nations.

In 2009, at COP15, rich nations promised a US$100 billion annual adaptation assistance fund, to be paid by 2020, to help nations of the Global South shift their reliance on carbon to renewable sources of energy. However, at the time of the Glasgow COP26 meeting in November 2021, this commitment was not met.

Asia, particularly South Asia, has been hard hit by the impacts of global warming. Temperatures have hit almost 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in a few cities in the region, and dangerous floods have killed hundreds in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Catastrophic floods in Pakistan hit at least 33 million people and damaged properties worth at least $10 billion this year. Droughts, abnormally powerful cyclones, and erratic monsoons have made South Asia the most impacted by climate change.

A 2021 study found India was the seventh most impacted country in the world due to climate change.

People in different parts of the world are putting up with water scarcity, longer dry seasons, unprecedented fires and floods, mental health issues, and death from overheating.

Some 6.5 million people die globally each year from air pollution alone but oil firms continue amassing profits. Apparently, poor people are suffering due to the emissions of the rich. The US military is the largest institutional polluter and to maintain its more than 800 bases around the world, it consumes 395,000 gallons of oil daily.

"Current economic system encourages competition and individual self-interest, and individuals have been abandoned by the society they live in"

Despite all this, few people actively stand up to governments and big businesses because society is organized around consumerism. This structural addiction makes people unable to imagine life without fossil fuels or the over-production of unnecessary goods.

Plastic production, for example, has doubled in the past two decades, but people can’t get by without single-use packaging. Car sales have increased as people see it as a status issue instead of demanding functioning public transport.

The current economic system encourages competition and individual self-interest, and individuals have been abandoned by the society they live in. Though most people realize the enormity of climate change, they are often worried about other immediate and pressing issues, like financial concerns or ease of doing things. Short-term interests prevail over long-term existential crises.

So far, the world has seen climate change as an ecological issue. But Pope Francis has thrust the whole issue into a new perspective. He proposed “integral ecology,” where environmental and social issues are clubbed together to make climate change “one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” at the same time.

Maybe Laudato Si', the papal encyclical on ecology, and its call for the “care for our common home” can give a few tips to world leaders as they are set to gather in Sharm el-Sheikh shortly. It can save the climate conference from becoming mere armchair talks.

It is time churches in Asia took up climate change seriously and mobilized themselves and joined with people of other religions to effect social change. A changed attitude of considering society and the environment more important than individual interests is primary to mitigate climate disaster.

The integral ecology that Pope Francis speaks about involves connecting the environment with economic, social, and cultural activities and the daily life of individuals. It aims at the common good, and the concept of inter-generational justice, or the responsibility of preserving the riches of the earth also for future generations.

Concepts such as these gel well with most Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, whose teachings and cultures stress much on social well-being and the protection of nature. The Church’s work in promoting these concepts could become a stronger platform for interfaith action in Asia.

The climate crisis offers the Church an opportunity. Its leadership in promoting integral ecology may help it become closer to Asians and their religions while helping the world address climate disaster in an effective manner.  

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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