By Kate Davies
“As people of faith, we must set an example and do what is right. We long for legally binding treaties that protect vulnerable People and Planet and strive for intergenerational equity for the community of all life on Earth. We call on world leaders and decision makers when they meet to deliberate on the Green Economy at Rio+20, to be guided by the spiritual and ethical principles of justice, equity, compassion and love for all life on the planet, and to treat the Earth with respect, resist disorder, co-operate and live in peace with one another.” … Read the full WHF Statement – Towards Rio+20 and beyond
Reflecting on COP17 and looking towards Rio+20, religious leaders from southern Africa participating in a We Have Faith conference in Johannesburg in May, unanimously agreed that the campaign should send a distinctive message from people of faith in southern Africa to the Rio+20 conference. The We Have Faith campaign believes that spiritual values should be at the heart of all sustainable development discussions because it is fundamental that ethics and moral principles underpin any decision making. With this in mind, members of the faith communities of southern Africa, met to discuss “A green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication” and prepared a campaign statement for Rio+20 and beyond.
‘When basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more rather than having more’. This is a concept articulated in the Earth Charter, a global initiative that was birthed at the Rio Earth Summit, two decades ago. This set of guiding principles, designed to ensure the security and sustainability of all life on Earth and which now has a mass following – a universal coalition of informed, responsible and active citizens (Mikhail Gorbachev, The Earth Charter in action 2005 KIT Publishers, Amsterdam), provided the foundations for the We Have Faith statement.
Sustainable Development was a concept coined by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. In the twenty years since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the language has changed and we now hear ‘sustainable development’ couched in terms of “The Green Economy”. This comes from the powerful voice of those with vested interests – the politicians, corporations, the World Bank, economists and technocrats. It is not the voice of the poor and marginalised nor is it nature speaking for herself. She has no seat at the negotiating table. The We Have Faith statement speaks for these marginalised and silenced voices.
Compared with our efforts invested at COP17 in Durban, the We Have Faith campaign was thin on the ground at Rio+20. However, with help from our partners, the campaign was able to support a small delegation to carry the We Have Faith flag and to share the statement at Rio (Gosiame Choabi from the SACC, from the Greek Orthodox Church and SAFCEI Board member, and Mandla Hadebe and Michelle Pressend from EJN).
From the pessimistic but perhaps realistic view of the New Scientist, we read that ‘the 49 page official text, The Future We Want commits no nations to anything. It calls for “urgent action” against economic activities that are “unsustainable”, but says neither what those activities are, nor what such action might involve.’ Jim Leape from WWF International, endorsed this view, describing the text, as a “colossal failure of leadership and vision”.
A more upbeat Caroline Spelman, the UK Environment Secretary, says: “We now have a global commitment to the green economy as a way to reduce poverty, sustain economic growth and use our natural resources in a more responsible way to protect them for future generations.”
Bill McGibbon of 350 saw this quite differently: “on Thursday we marched right out of the place that we were supposed to be: the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. World leaders had gathered yet again to forge a plan to address our planetary challenges – but they ended up failing us by producing another weak, non-binding agreement. So when youth leaders asked us to join a walk-out in protest of the summit’s disappointing outcomes, we were proud to join them — even if that meant breaking the UN’s rules.
Jacob Scherr, of the US Natural Resources Defence Council sent us this positive email:
“I want to call your attention to the other major output of Rio+20 – hundreds of unilateral commitments by governments, agencies, communities, colleges, companies, and civil society groups to take specific actions to meet global sustainability goals. The UN’s initial estimate is that these pledges are worth more than $500 billion. Take a look at www.cloudofcommitments.org<http://www.cloudofcommitments.org !”
Reports from people of faith in the civil society People’s space had a more human story to tell.
Bishop Francisco da Silva of the Anglican Church of Brazil wrote:
I’m at Rio+20 since Friday and it is a very rich experience sharing concerns as churches and social movements against destruction of environment. Unfortunately the powerful world are not looking for real changes or authentic transformation. Negotiations around a final document from the Conference are not effective in finding some consensus.
The People’s Summit, on the other hand, is affirming clearly that we need to stay firm and push the system to make concrete steps forward.
Prof David Morales a member of ACEN, the Anglican Communion Environment Network wrote:
The official negotiations at Rio+20 are over, but there is still much work to be done. Despite the fact that the official document has not been what we expected, there was a very positive outcome with respect to the Meeting of Peoples. There was a very big space dedicated to religions, with approximately 9 tents where we discussed different environmental issues and the role of the churches and civil society.
Also, we participated at the public manifestation in favour of the environment and environmental justice for the entire population. In this event participated more than one hundred thousand people from different countries. The Brazilian Primate Bishop Mauricio Andrade and the General Secretary Father Arthur Cavalcante represented the Anglican Church. Other Reverends from different churches were also present at the event. We must continue with our prayers and work to continue advancing in the care of God’s creation.
Comments and reflections on Rio+20 highlight our call from the We Have Faith campaign that the green economy and economic growth discourse is misleading. We know we need a language of hope and a new moral compass in the sustainable development discussions. We need to put spirituality and values at the core. For this to happen we must grow the groundswell of a ‘universal coalition of informed, responsible and active citizens’ that is articulated in the principles of the Earth Charter and that needs to be awakened in the communities of faith in our own neighbourhoods and around the world.
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