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9 November 2001

We hold the earth in trust for our children
WCC inter-religious colloquium at the climate summit in Marrakesh: an exchange of views between Islam and Christianity on the subject of climate change

Mirjam Schubert

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-39, of 26 October 2001

A special event was announced for 3 November on the daily calendar of events at the climate conference in Marrakesh. This was a day-long inter-religious colloquium sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The seventh climate conference, which ends today, 9 November, was being held in a predominantly Muslim country and the WCC delegation saw this as an opportunity to explore Christian and Islamic perspectives on climate change. More than 75 delegates representing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments took part in the colloquium, as well as members of Christian and Muslim faith communities in Morocco.

David Hallmann, the coordinator of the WCC climate change programme, stresses the importance of dialogue between the faith communities: "I think it is very significant that we are here together discussing a subject that concerns us all - the effects of climate change on our world."

To facilitate the exchange between the different faith communities and nationalities, simultaneous interpreters for French, Arabic and English were on hand throughout the colloquium, so that participants could use the language in which they felt most at ease. For David Hallmann this was a mark of hospitality and respect: "It shows that we in the WCC are serious about dialogue."

The morning started with a presentation by Professor Ahmed L. Khamlichi, an Islamic scholar from the Royal Moroccan Palace, who explained Islam's position on climate change. "The Koran states that God allows human beings to enjoy everything necessary to satisfy their desires, such as food, clothing, housing, transport and every other ornament or means of enjoyment - but with balance and moderation and no excess or overuse." For Khamlichi, maintaining balance is also existentially important for the earth's climate, for the earth was created as a balance system. To counteract climate change, every individual must contribute actively to restoring and maintaining this balance. For, as he said, "each generation will only live for an allotted time. The environment is not something that can be owned by anyone here and now. The environment and the climate belong to coming generations."

Father Henri Madelin, a Jesuit priest and university professor from Paris, outlined some elements of a Christian approach. He pointed out that, in the past, the Christian churches had concentrated too much on the role of human beings in history. The ecological context had been disregarded. "It is time to return to a concept which inserts humanity within the biosphere, going from the anthropocentrism of modern culture to the biblical, cosmological theocentrism." A theology of this kind must inevitably lead to an ethic of responsibility, Father Madelin said, and this has implications both for individual actions and collective political decisions.

During the discussions and conversations it became apparent that the positions of the two religions on climate issues are very close to one another. Preservation of the creation for coming generations is a prime concern for both. The Moroccan delegate Abdelkader Allali stressed that religions can help to address environmental and climate issues by using a "language of the heart". He urged that this should be given a much greater role in climate negotiations.

Addressing the colloquium, Michael Zammit Cutajar, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressed appreciation of this inter-religious dialogue sponsored by the WCC. He emphasised that "sustainability is not simply a matter of living together in harmony with nature, it also means living in harmony with human beings".

In the ensuing panel discussion among representatives of the Swedish, Irish, Argentinian and Moroccan governments, H.E. Ambassador Ral Ostrada-Oyuela from Argentina again noted the commonalties between the religions when it comes to protecting the earth for future generations. Outlining his expectations of the religions in relation to climate issues, Stefan Edman of the Swedish delegation said, "they can help us to recapture a sense of the sacredness of creation, for nature mirrors the beauty and love of God. We have to develop a new attitude of humility towards nature." The churches, he said, also have a duty to show solidarity with the poorer countries which are already suffering the effects of climate change. "The industrial nations are practising a new kind of colonialism with the stratosphere and we have to put a stop to that."

Lucy Mulnkei from Kenya presented the position of the indigenous peoples: "For us Mother Earth is sacred. The land and our environment are the very basis of our existence and our culture; they are our pride and joy, our life. But our living space is being altered by climate change. Our sacred places of worship are disappearing. The religions must help us to understand what is happening - and what we can do in our local communities."

The colloquium made a deep impression on all the participants. Ahmed Sad, a university lecturer from Marrakesh, said, "I'm going to use Ramadan to re-read the whole Koran and study all the passages referring to the environment. I want to make my own contribution to preserving creation and this will be a first step."

As they left their booths at the end of the colloquium the interpreters, too, were impressed. "Your words have touched our hearts," they said. For the WCC delegation one thing is clear - this is only the beginning of the dialogue between the faith communities on climate issues.

The German journalist Mirjam Schubert accompanied the WCC ecumenical team at the 7th climate conference (COP 7) in Marrakesh, Morocco.

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter
WCC Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
tel.: (+41 79) 284 5212 (mobile);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.