Date of Meeting: 4 June 2018

Meeting Organizer: The Toronto Parliament of the World's Religions

ISJC Staff Present: Jacob Hevenor

Reporter: Jacob Hevenor

Which SDG does this topic cover? 7, 11, 12, 13, 17

Type of meeting: Panel presentation; part of full-day seminar

Brief summary of presentation of information made

This session, part of the full-day seminar on faith-based organisations (FBOs) and climate change, was titled ‘The Meaning of a Public Commitment’. The speakers broadly focused on how important it is to make a clear promise to cut emissions and go green.

Gopal Patel, Director of the Bhumi Project, a Hindu environmental program at Oxford University, shared his view:

  • Making a public commitment to a greener lifestyle sets a precedent. It also helps to avoid hypocrisy – we are in no position to advocate for meeting the Paris goals if we have not committed to certain targets for ourselves.
  • We make commitments in public all the time; it is a necessary part of living within a social society and taking part in a community. Therefore, it should not be scary to make one on going green. Especially as people of faith, we are used to making public commitments.
  • People working with the Bhumi Project have publicly committed to a ‘1.5 Lifestyle’, which is a lifestyle aimed to help keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5˚C.
    • This includes a plant-based diet, less air travel and simple things such as less energy consumption regardless of the energy source.
  • The main takeaway is to first practice, and then preach. Hypocrisy is the last thing you want when it comes to climate change.

Rajwant Singh, President of EcoSikh, a Sikh environmental group, touched on similar ideas:

  • Our public display should be an exact reflection of who we are – fully committed to justice, whether it be in climate issues or elsewhere.
  • EcoSikh launched in the aftermath of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, which was a largely unsuccessful UN Conference on climate change. Singh saw the disarray at the macro level, and decided to start organizing at a much smaller scale.
  • EcoSikh coordinates a worldwide Sikh environment day, which last year had over 4,100 Sikh organizations onboard.
  • In India, the number of people that can impact the climate is enormous. This can be good or bad – so EcoSikh wants to make India a major player in mitigating climate change.
    • For example, a large soup kitchen run out of a temple in Delhi serves 500 meals every 20 minutes. They have committed to using only organic food and absolutely no Styrofoam. The effect of this is huge.
  • Nature care has served as a bridge between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims in India. It is a commonality around which all can unite.

The next speaker was Rabbi Glenn Jacob, of the New York Interfaith Power and Light at Adelphi University.

  • The UN’s Climate Solutions Caucus is a result of faith-based advocating – faith-based groups first recognised the need for climate cooperation, and Rabbi Jacob made the first calls to unite organisations and states that shared the same goals.
  • Faith-based organisations have a tool that no other environment groups have – moral authority. FBOs teach humility, but sometimes in the public square, establishing a firm moral authority is necessary for action.

Bruce Knotts, the Director of the Unitarian Universality United Nations Office, spoke about his experience in the field.

  • The world’s religions probably don’t agree on much. But we all certainly value human life, and we must stand up for it. Moreover, we cannot afford to stay silent, because silence is complicity, and mitigating climate change requires breaking away and taking a stand.
  • A good place to start could be ethical eating. A plant-based diet is one option for this. January 11 (1-1-1) is ethical eating day.


The panel then took questions from the audience. They made the following interesting points:

  • Many of the panellists expressed support for socially responsible investing (SRI), which involves divesting from (among others) environmentally harmful assets and reinvesting in green businesses and organisations.
  • Make an impact within your religious community. Approach your clergy/pastor/imam etc. and ask them to speak about climate change – but make it clear that you will support them. Climate change can be polarising and risky, so having the support of the worshipping body makes it much more feasible.
    • Many people of faith have no affiliation, and they are searching desperately for a message that connects with them. Climate action could be the starting point.
    • Therefore, we ought to teach on how to preach about climate change.


What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

Climate change has everything to do with social justice. It disproportionately affects the marginalised. People in slums are more prone to the effects of natural disasters and rising sea levels, developing countries face more threats to their agriculture industries, rising temperatures exacerbate inequality as a whole. If The Salvation Army is to seek justice together, it cannot ignore the knock-on effects of climate change.

However, traditionally, the Army as a whole has not been heavily involved in environmental matters. The internal workings of the Army are not in place to make a huge push around environmentalism, especially when it has specialised in and channelled its resources toward other social justice issues. With that in mind, The Salvation Army ought to consider supporting the climate initiatives of like-minded organisations that have more experience and connections in the area, rather than reinventing the wheel. Collaborating with or supporting other organisations not only amplifies their voice, but also allows for a more efficient allocation of resources.


Web links for more information

Read about the 2016 Paris Agreement, the UN’s most recent step towards unifying the world’s efforts to mitigate climate change:

Tags: United Nations, SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG13: Climate Action, SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals