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A-Z workshop Sri Lanka

A to Z of Climate Change

Colombo, Sri Lanka – January 18,2016

Venerable Athuraliye Ratana Thero welcomed the International Union for the Conservation of

Nature (IUCN) Commission for Environmental Economic and Social Policy (CEESP), scientists

from Colombo, Sri Lanka, environmentalists, and religious leaders to discuss interfaith issues around climate change. A combination of 20 participants participated including Christians, Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus to consider the implications of the recent Paris climate negotiations on Sri Lanka. This post COP21 workshop included a panel presentation discussion that continued the issues presented during the December 2015, 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, France. COP21 was a significant event where world leaders hammered out a new agreement aimed at stabilizing the climate and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Key points made about Paris COP21:

  1. First major agreement in the UNFCCC to include moral and ethical issues within the treaty agreement. Paris COP21 agreed to include language on human rights, gender equality, intergenerational equity, indigenous peoples’ rights and other social justice issues;

  2. There was opposition to human rights in the Paris Agreement which was led by Saudi Arabia, China and South Africa, with some confusing messages from Norway and others. Eventually consensus was reached on including the human rights references in the preamble;

  3. The high profile of ethical and rights considerations appeared to have been supported by the release of the Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si, as well as other supportive climate justice statements from Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu networks;

  4. Paris COP21 agreed that the global target for slowing global warming should be below 2 degrees, ideally aiming for an overall increase of 1.5 degrees centigrade;

  5. The US strongly opposed any language making the outcomes of Paris binding on State Parties;

  6. COP21 received Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) pledges from all of the treaty’s member states. On the one hand, the INDCs are a tacit acknowledgement that no binding global decision can be taken at this stage, however, on the other hand, the INDCs mark a step forward in national action plans and targets. The analyses of the INDCs clearly indicate that they are inadequate to reduce global warming. The current targets (without considering whether they would really be achieved) would set the planet on a temperature increase of at least 4 degrees centigrade, a scale that would likely threaten the survival of most or all of humanity and many other species.

Human beings seem to have an insatiable desire for consumerism and commodities. This consumerism and desire for material goods is a fundamental driver, both individually and culturally, which contributes to poor treatment of the Earth, the natural world, and a disregard for the suffering it causes to others. Many humans are made to suffer as a result of meeting the production demands of growth-based consumerism (poor working conditions, poverty, environmental and health degradation, inequality), as well as many other species all of whom have no say in human behavior and the destruction of the planet. Within this mind-set of mindless consumption and production exists a mental state of feeling disconnected with other living beings and the environment. Disconnection and desire combine to weaken our inherent capacity to feel our interconnected and interdependent nature, in addition to compassion for others and ultimately for ourselves.

The current paradigm promotes suffering and obscures its causes and consequences. In contrast, a sustainable development paradigm invites FBOs and society to reconnect with life, to reawaken compassion and find meaning within livelihoods and sustainable stewardship of the planet. Science, the science of biodiversity, climatology, agriculture and marine conservation, for example, are all tools for understanding the cause and effects of our current paradigm, and to consider a more informed way of living. Ultimately, this shift in paradigm must be driven by a right understanding of the current causes and effects of human behavior, including the moral and ethical components that are taught within our religious and spiritual traditions.

The meeting explored how these major civilizational challenges are channeled into a UN treaty process, the UNFCCC, where State Parties are meant to provide global leadership on our responses to both science and ethics. It is not clear that the current political configuration at the UN wants to or is capable of honestly addressing the problems we are creating. The economic paradigm that is killing the planet is still considered to be normal and acceptable within such forums.

One of the major tensions visible in Paris, and, generally, in the UNFCCC is that high level politics eclipse common sense. The most evident competition at the UNFCCC is between the industrialized Western nations (some of which were once colonial powers) and the block consisting of China and the Group of 77 – the bulk of countries making up the South or countries which liberated themselves from colonial control.

Some of the delegates questioned whether the political and economic competition between

Beijing and Washington was in the interest of the peoples and the nations of the South.

Clearly, national climate change policies can be developed from the grassroots, but these voices are not easily heard in the climate negotiations. Indeed, workshop participants drafted the following precedent setting statement entitled “Agreeing to Sustain Life: Our Ecological Conversion,” which has been accepted by the Sri Lankan Parliament. It was also read to the entire audience during the INEB conference’s opening symposium. NGOs in the Colombo meeting expressed their despair at the UN process of negotiating the treaty. Their fear was that Paris COP21 offered false hope and that it was covering an attitude of ‘ business as usual. ’ There was concern that multinational corporations and those who benefit from the fossil fuel economy are more influential than civil society, and that the outcomes are not going to be pursued. It was noted that there is a constant risk of despair when dealing with such serious matters and the frustrations of the negotiations processes.

Scientists noted that Paris was the first COP in a number of years to show some cooperation and progress. The INDCs and the new temperature target are beginning to show a more serious engagement with science. Climate change cannot be reversed, but a serious and sustained engagement with changing our energy systems, conserving the environment and changing human behavior can substantially mitigate the impacts.

Faith leaders observed that it is their duty to speak about issues of climate justice, sustainability and our relationship with creation/the natural world. All religious traditions have an ecological component in their scriptures, and, moreover, they insist on equity, justice and the taking of responsibility for our actions. The faith leadership acknowledged the importance of having an interfaith/multifaith approach.

Many worrying trends towards the misuse of religion and fundamentalism are contributing to human suffering. Universal solidarity between different faiths is part of the antidote to the contemporary crisis. Religious leadership needs to be well informed about the climate and environmental crises, as well as continue and strengthen their leadership and encouragement both with the general public and with those who hold political office.

Religious leaders noted the importance of the Papal Encyclical and embraced the notion of an Ecological Conversion which speaks to social justice, economic equity and environmental sustainability.

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