Joe Gunn

November 14, 2011

In an historic declaration last month, some 26 communities of faith in Canada, joined by another seven faith-based organizations, stated that climate change represents a moral crisis. They also recognized that solutions to this crisis will not be found without relying on the spiritual resources of the world's religious traditions.

Canada's faith leaders went further. They debunked the bogus argument that climate change is not caused by human activity. The faith leaders correctly named "the unprecedented human contribution to climate change."

Further, they defined this climate crisis as "symptomatic of a spiritual deficit" provoked by "excessive self-interest, destructive competition and greed" which have given rise to "unsustainable levels of production and consumption."

In a remarkable statement of self-criticism, the faith leaders recognized that while all the world's religious traditions teach us to look beyond ourselves, we have not always acted in ways that reflect our beliefs.

"Personal and collective awareness and transformation" is urgently required so that faith communities serve the common good, respecting the rest of humanity, future generations "and the earth itself."

The religious leaders spoke on Parliament Hill, to politicians as well as the public, one month before the Nov. 29 to Dec. 9 United Nations Conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa.

Prospects for signed, binding agreements at this conference remain depressingly dim. The main negotiator has stated that to get a new post-Kyoto Protocol consensus, the international community may have to move forward without three countries that are blocking progress. She named those countries as Japan, Russia and Canada.


The international development organizations of Canada's major churches, like Development and Peace, have heard the cries of their partner organizations in the Global South. They recognize that those who have contributed the fewest greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere are the global poor.

Yet these are the people who will suffer most from climate change. The faith leaders say, "Justice demands that our governments shoulder a greater share of the economic burden of adaptation and mitigation . . . because of access to greater means, but also because of an historic role in contributing to its causes."

Finally, the leaders insist Canada do its fair share to lower greenhouse gas emissions. "We cannot wait for others to act but instead must lead by example." This is an important statement, for Canada is the only country in the world that returned from the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference and lowered its emission targets.

The leaders' statement ended with three major demands:

  • A binding international agreement replacing the Kyoto Protocol that commits nations to reduce carbon emissions and set clear and fair targets to ensure global average temperatures stay below a 2C increase; (a target Canada has already agreed to);
  • Commit to national emission targets and a national renewable energy policy;
  • Design the Green Climate Fund under UN governance, contributing public funds to assist the poorest and most affected countries to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

It is now the work of members of the various faith communities, Christians, Muslims, Baha'i's, Hindus and others, to ensure their communities are aware of this challenge, and encourage governments to act accordingly. Faith communities are planning strategies, petitions and educational events to highlight their willingness to provide action to accompany this Call to Action.

While we can rejoice that so many of Canada's religious leaders have spoken together on this pressing issue, there is a painful omission in the statement: the largest Christian community in the country is noticeable by its absence.


Two staff members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops participated in preparatory discussions last summer. Apparently some revisions were recommended to the first draft, which were included and much improved the text.

But in the end, the bishops' conference did not sign. When I asked officials at the CCCB if they could explain this, I was graciously promised a reply. Five days later I received this single sentence: "The climate change is an issue in which the Church and the conference are keenly interested."

I am reminded of the stark challenge posed by theologian Daniel Maguire: "If current trends continue, . . . we will not. If religion does not speak to this, it is an obsolete distraction." Faith leaders who signed this call to action and who see climate change as posing a moral challenge to humanity are deserving of our admiration and support.

(Read The Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change at

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)