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Paris climate summit 2015

Leaders of diverse religions should add their voices to Pope Francis' call for action on climate change

Ciara Shannon says those who lead the religions of the world are in the best position to speak out - ahead of the Paris climate conference - about our moral duty to act to save the planet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 2:53pm

Pope Francis' eagerly awaited ecological encyclical Laudato Si' was released to the world last week, putting the environment directly on the church's agenda for the foreseeable future.

At the heart of his message is the recognition of the urgency of the ecological crisis. The pope calls for a change in the models of global development, for a new social and economic system of universal solidarity - "one world with a common plan". He recognises that the threats arising from global inequality, such as poverty and the destruction of the environment, are interrelated, and describes this twin approach of helping the poor and the environment as "integral ecology".

He calls for a personal conversion, in which the good of the human person is guided by our universal common good.

Some might say the pope should leave science to the scientists, or that science and religion are in fundamental conflict with one another.

Yet, as Nobel laureate Joseph Murray noted: "Is the Church inimical to science? Growing up as a Catholic and a scientist, I don't see it. One truth is revealed truth, the other is scientific truth. If you really believe that creation is good, there can be no harm in studying science. The more we learn about creation - the way it emerged - it just adds to the glory of God."

Within the encyclical, Pope Francis strongly supports climate science by saying that "science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both".

He goes on to say: "Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realise that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality." To be able to remedy the damage humans have done, he says, "no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out".

It is also important to note that the Catholic Church as an institution funds, sponsors, and supports scientific research in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and in the departments of science found in every Catholic university across the world.

Unlike previous encyclicals, this one is directed to everyone, regardless of religion. Pope Francis calls on all men and women of goodwill, the whole human family, to care for creation, protect human dignity and safeguard our common home.

Many believe that the encyclical will influence people of all faiths and that leaders of diverse faiths globally will want to further amplify their own traditions' eco-teachings.

The Buddhist declaration on climate change, drafted in 2009 and signed by the Dalai Lama and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, among others, outlines Buddhist teachings and calls for us to accept our individual and collective responsibility to assist the survival of life on earth, and to have compassion for future generations and the other species that have no voice.

The Dalai Lama has also said: "Since climate change and the global economy now affect us all, we have to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity."

After all, who else but religious leaders can talk about our moral duty to respond to climate change? About the need for a change of human heart, a personal conversion - about our interconnectedness to all mankind, species and the wider universe and the need for mercy and compassion to act on climate change?

Given the critical importance of 2015, we look forward to all faith leaders continuing to speak out, urging world leaders to commit to a strong and legally binding climate agreement in Paris.

Ciara Shannon is co-founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, OurVoices Asia coordinator, and chair of the Hong Kong Interfaith Climate Network