People honour “Cookie”, the slice of a felled Douglas Fir from Fairy Creek, BC brought to COP15 to illustrate biodiversity loss in Canada. Photo credit: #Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek Blockade
In December, MLSM Canada’s Agnes Richard and Karen Van Loon were in Montréal during the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15. They reflect on their experiences at COP15 and parallel events in a 5-part blog series.
Authors: Agnes Richard and Karen Van Loon
Acting Nature Positive
Let’s go back to the beginning. Do you know a Monarch caterpillar completely dissolves inside that chrysalis before it transforms into a butterfly? What if we humans had the courage to look at ourselves, the changes we’ve imposed on the planet and began the process of transforming ourselves and our relationships with the natural world? It’s not a new idea.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America describes metanoia as a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of man's vision of the world and of himself, and a new way of loving others and God. This is the work we as people of faith are called to continue now that COP15 is over.
Difficulties at COP15
When I arrived at COP15 everyone I listened to seemed to be saying the same thing. Most were all calling for:
- ambitious outcomes to halt and reverse biodiversity loss,
- solutions that respected and included Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities,
- women and youth to be involved and thrive,
- a blueprint for equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity,
- implementable tools to achieve these goals.
Combined with an atmosphere of urgent collaboration I thought surely it shouldn't be difficult to agree on the final text of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) if we are already all on the same page!
But it became apparent that difficulties arose on how the goals should be achieved. Biodiversity and environmental concerns, systemic barriers, economic agency, government structures, and citizen engagement differ widely from place to place. The specifics of regional concerns threatened to derail all the goodwill I’d seen earlier in the week.
At one point 60 countries walked out of the negotiations. Countries of the global north needed to truly listen to countries of the global south; Africa, South America, Asia-Pacific nations, and those in the civil society caucuses. And to not only listen, but take to heart what was carefully, passionately and with mountains of evidence, presented by those voices and then incorporate their needs into the final agreement.
And listen they did! Language was brought back into the text of the GBF to accommodate the concerns of the global south and the caucuses. And so, everyone came back to the negotiation space, and we can celebrate that we have a tool to move forward with.
What is our role now?
Folks at the Multifaith pavilion reflected on next steps. I agree with Gopal Patel, "Let's all read the GBF text, understand it and share it with our communities." Amy Echevarria reflected that in many ways we are already doing this work. “Being witnesses is a long-term commitment. Living in patient persistence, active on the ground, is what we as people of faith can contribute.”
Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Vatican ambassador to Canada, urged nations to engage all parts of government and society to address drivers of biodiversity loss, like deforestation, pollution and exploitation of land and waters. "Our common endeavor has to be grounded in the respect of inherent human dignity . . . and put forward solutions based on global solidarity. Indigenous peoples' rights, including free, prior and informed consent, must be appropriately protected" he said.
Our task is to make these ideas work locally, rethinking political, economic and societal structures that damage life to build systems that help all life thrive in our homes, communities, cities and provinces.
In a hall at COP15 a very dramatic reminder of one area of biodiversity, among many in Canada, that needs our immediate attention was on display. Cookie, a slice from a Douglas Fir over 750 years old, was brought from Fairy Creek, BC by Indigenous forest defenders, the Dzunuḵ̓wa Society. Their #Ada'itsx/Fairy Creek Blockade page offers the declaration United We Stand and invitations to participate in solidarity.
What else is needed from individuals and faith communities?
(continued from blog 4 by Karen Van Loon)
Valérie Courtois calls the relationship Indigenous Peoples have with the land “a mutual love story.” This love relationship, and millennia of knowledge, struck me while listening to other stories at the Indigenous Village. I remember thinking who better to lead this than Indigenous Peoples who have such depth of love and knowledge of the land? An Indigenous-led conservation movement is growing.
Supporting this work helps to address the biodiversity and climate crises while moving us forward in healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Valérie Courtois outlines ways to be supportive, similar to those found in How to Be an Ally of Indigenous-led Conservation, and statement, which we can signed.
Boreal forest wetlands store carbon, helping to fight climate change
This experience led me to reflect on questions like: How are we as people of faith living our love relationship with our common home? What might be our crucial role in protecting our planet and humanity?
Faith leaders have spoken on this. Around 40 leaders from the world’s religions signed a joint appeal at a meeting hosted by the Vatican on October 4, 2021. The joint appeal called world leaders to greater ambition including a 1.5°C limit to global warming and no more biodiversity loss. They urged everyone on the planet to join in healing our common home.
They also committed to taking greater action within their own religious traditions, recalling that “care for the earth and for others is a key tenet of all our traditions.”
The crucial roles they outline for people of faith to play include:
- helping a shift away from consumerism towards a culture of care;
- strengthening integral ecological education;
- instilling “deep-rooted virtues to sustain” the required ecological transformation;
- working with our neighbours to build “sustainable, resilient and just communities”;
- embracing “simple and sustainable lifestyles at home”;
- “Participating actively and appropriately in the public and political discourse on environmental issues, sharing our religious, moral and spiritual perspectives and uplifting the voices of the weakest, of young people, and of those too often ignored, such as Indigenous Peoples.”
These faith leaders heard the warning from scientists that “there might be only one decade left to restore the planet” and named this “a time of grace, an opportunity that we cannot waste.” Every action matters.
There are wonderful examples of actions, networks and movements where people of faith are coming together to care for our common home, including through Laudato Si’ Movement, Faiths at COP15, and For the Love of Creation. Some are featured in this blog series.
Imagine if the vast numbers of people of faith more broadly began playing these crucial roles and coming together. Love invites more from us.