By Christine Campeau, Addis Ababa
There is an interconnectedness that flows through all life on Earth.
Failing to recognize this interconnectedness disconnects us from the rest of creation and leads to crisis; such as the global crises we are facing now with climate change.
This notion sets the foundation for discussions at the Ethiopian Catholic Church International Conference on Climate Justice – Integrity of Creation, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 02-04 June 2010 . All living beings share the universal duty to protect the common good for all and must be accountable for their actions in this precisely ordered system.
Climate change is not the wrath of God, said Sr. Aines Hughes, of Caritas Africa, who stressed that God is not a punishing God, but a loving God who’s given us the freedom of choice. He hopes that we will respect His creation through our choices and actions and safeguard these gifts with a sense of gratitude, not greed.
Inspired by this duty to protect, conference participants highlighted numerous on-going projects taking place within the Church. This attracted the attention of local media and also that of government representatives who also to part in the discussions.
The Church in Ethiopia is taking a proactive approach by drawing upon the large body of knowledge and experience at the diocesan level within local communities. Local communities have always aimed to adapt to variations in their climate and have coped with climate variability and extreme weather events. In practical terms, these efforts are reflected in the eco-tourism projects, the tree-planting campaigns, the terracing developments, the carbon trading schemes, the conservation agriculture programs – ‘farming God’s way” – and the use of homestead and keyhole gardens undertaken by several Caritas member organizations. The Church also raises awareness about climate change through education programs in schools based on creation spirituality and by leading by example. Recycling and composting spaces have been set up at local parishes and open discussions are organized with parishioners to inspire people to do the same in their own homes.
A community-led approach is at the core of Caritas Ethiopia’s work on climate justice. By owning the problem, communities can own the solution and ensure the sustainability of environmental programs. They can make certain that climate adaption strategies take into consideration the priorities, resources, needs, knowledge and capacities of the local communities. This allows the local communities to be stakeholders in the way forward.
Future actions agreed at this meeting are to establish learning spaces among the dioceses and Caritas members to facilitate the sharing of good practices. These gatherings would also help to network with stakeholders at the diocesan level and also with the regional dioceses and the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat. Another priority is to institutionalize climate justice and to mainstream it at all levels of the Ethiopian Catholic Church.
Faith communities have a particular insight into the climate justice debates because they focus on the moral, ethical and theological dimensions of the crisis. The crisis is not simply an economic or technological one. It’s a spiritual one that calls for change in lifestyle and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. A solution can only be found if we undergo a radical change of heart. In the words of Sr. Aine, “We need to act now, we need to act together, we need to act differently.”