Addressing the climate crisis in Oceania and Asia will only be possible if Pacific and Asian communities work together and engage in meaningful dialogue that promotes shared learning and collaboration.
Community, Faith, and Nature: Voices from Oceania and Asia at the Forefront of Climate Reconciliation is a joint dialogue held in 6 July 2021, highlighting the interconnected roles of indigenous communities, faith, and nature in climate reconciliation. Hosted by Ecojesuit and the River above Asia Oceania Ecclesial Network (RAOEN), this dialogue is an official side event to the UNFCCC Asia-Pacific Climate Week.
Members of indigenous and local communities, faith groups, youth representatives, and other voices from Oceania and Asia shared their climate realities and the culture-based solutions they practice and apply in response, as they gathered online during an official side event to the UNFCCC Asia Pacific Regional Climate Week. Organized by Ecojesuit and the River above Asia Oceania Ecclesial Network (RAOEN) on 6 July, Community, Faith, and Nature: Voices from Oceania and Asia at the forefront of Climate Reconciliation highlighted the role of interfaith dialogue and accompaniment in supporting and empowering indigenous and local responses to climate impacts. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo (Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar) and Archbishop Peter Loy Chong (Archbishop of Suva, Fiji) shared the climate and community context as Reverend James Bhagwan (General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches in Fiji) and Dr. Fachruddin Mangunjaya (Chairman of the Center for Islamic Studies in Indonesia) each discussed the role of interfaith dialogue in empowering local communities in addressing the climate crisis. Ms Heather Ketebengang from the Palau Conservation Society presented current efforts in Palau in applying nature-based solutions. Three young women leaders – Amirah Azlan from Malaysia, Xyryll Gayagoy from New Zealand, and Novita Tongo from Kalimantan, Indonesia – shared their experiences and reactions to the presentations. Towards the end, Ecojesuit Global Coordinator and RAOEN Network Catalyst Pedro Walpole summarized the key points that emerged in the conversation as Bishop Allwyn D’Silva (Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Bombay, India) called out an invitation for further action in Oceania and Asia. Key points that emerged during the conversation: Nature-based solutions are culture-based solutions. Nature-based solutions, or NbS in the language of the climate change talks, are primarily learnt from culture, where indigenous communities naturally implement these solutions with a sense of care and relationship with their lands and waters. These NbS are in reality culture-based solutions that connect and do not recognize divisions among people and nature, among their communities and the natural world. And as Pedro Walpole SJ noted, “the focus of all speakers is the land, not the market. Nobody has highlighted the market as the answer…These voices from the land and oceans need to be heard.” Climate and ecological reconciliation begins with recognizing the cries and struggles of Indigenous Peoples, the wounded healers of our lands and seas. In his talk, Cardinal Bo underlined how climate change is an outcome of generations of injustices to indigenous cultures and lands. At the same time, he emphasized their role in climate action, referring to Indigenous People as the “wounded healers.” Archbishop Loy Chong called for climate reconciliation that begins with empowering and accompanying those who are vulnerable and marginalized. “Reconciliation begins with the victims and how you empower the victims to embrace the vulnerability and bring about conversion. How do you empower the victims so that they become the gate to bringing about conversion?” Care for creation is shared among all faiths and includes indigenous spirituality. There is a shared sense of responsibility among all faiths in reweaving the ecological mat towards an alternative paradigm of development that recognizes economic, ecological, and ecumenical aspects as integral. Reverend Bhagwan shared how indigenous spirituality is an expression of indigenous knowledge that cares for the land and seas. The role of faith communities is in engaging in a process of ongoing decolonization. “In this third decade of the 21st century, we – the churches, civil society, Pacific academia, conservationists, practitioners of traditional arts and culture – all call on our region to reweave the strands of the mat on which we sit, a mat which has become frayed. This involves removing toxic strands and weaving in those strands that colonialism, neoliberalism and all those “isms” replaced – and these are ecology, spirituality, caring, sharing.” Dr. Mangunjaya shared his experiences in working with multiple sectors and how faith communities in different areas are taking action to influence change from local, national, and regional levels. He gave the example of the the Indonesian Islamic Council which issued a fatwa (the highest ruling in Islamic law) in 2016 that described as a sin for people to deliberately burn forests to clear the land for growing crops. “Even though it cannot be enforced, the unprecedented rule sent a strong message to a country that hosts the largest Muslim population in the world, at 225 million. The government at the time said it hoped the moral impact of the fatwa would help reinforce laws against forest burning and prevent air pollution events.” Speaking from the context of her work with communities in Palau, Heather Ketebengang emphasized the need to foster a culture of caring and collaboration with communities. Her work with the Palau Conservation Society promotes partnership with communities in caring for the natural environment by using traditional knowledge. Conservation efforts not only yield ecological and economic benefits but also contribute to sustaining food security and the traditional way of life for communities. The youth must be accompanied and given a voice in taking climate challenges forward. The inputs and insights from the young women leaders Amirah Azlan from Malaysia, Xyryll Gayagoy from New Zealand, and Novita Tongo from Kalimantan, Indonesia focused on the ecological concerns they experience and also the actions taking place in their communities, highlighting the role of intergenerational action, community, trust-building, and the value of youth platforms for their voices to be heard. Amirah talked about her work in GEMA, a youth organization in Malaysia that advocates environmental awareness and action, and how she views environmental work as a blessing and a shared responsibility where we, as “caretakers of this earth,” are accountable. Showing examples from New Zealand, Xyryll spoke about the strength of collective action and having the voices of the youth included in the shaping of policies. She mentioned the Nationally Determined Contribution of New Zealand and its role in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of the country. Novita talked about healing the land and bringing community together in responding to the impacts of drought and water contamination […]
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo https://youtu.be/wNhGUh_WGz8 Dear friends, greetings from Myanmar. Mingalarbar. It is with great joy that I wish to be part of this great deliberation on Community, Faith, and Nature: Voices from Oceania and Asia at the Forefront of Climate Reconciliation. I address two major issues. One is on how Asian communities experience climate change and what lessons on reconciliation and hope can we draw from these community experiences. And the second is on what changes and critical actions do Asian communities need to see as we move towards COP26 and beyond. Time is running out. As pointed out by the organizers, science tells us that we only have until 2030 to drastically reduce our emissions. Oceans produce 70-85% of the world’s oxygen, and in Oceania and Asia, we have the Pacific Ocean which is the biggest climate determinant. Ocean and forest communities, especially Indigenous Peoples in Asia and Oceania, are at the forefront of the impact, action, and the response to the climate crisis. Covid is teaching us a grim lesson. Respect nature or perish. It is not theoretical gymnastics when we saw thousands dying, with the lack of oxygen as the problem. Oxygen that was once freely available is now monetized. Out of the five elements – air, water, light, land, and space – three have already been commodified. The ruthless exploitation has made life intolerable to millions, impoverishing millions and endangering inter-generational survivors. So, this meeting in Asia is very important. I’m happy that the role of Indigenous communities in protecting and promoting the health of the nature is brought to greater attention. Pope Francis has shown that the Indigenous cultures have so much to teach us in the “modern” world in protecting the only planet of life we know. Asia has a great role to play in this and is one of the continents where a huge number of Indigenous Peoples live. From the shores of the South China Sea to the central parts of India, there’s a huge mass of land once occupied by Indigenous Peoples and that land was once called Zomia. (Editor’s note: Zomia is a region described by James C Scott in his book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia [Yale University Press, 2009].) Living among the most vibrant rainforest areas, these people were the guardians of the lands of Asia. Their plight today is miserable, exploited by the market economy, ideologies, and authoritarian discourse of civilization. These communities have been reduced to ecological refugees, stripped of their living systems and their survival space. Call it ecological genocide, but the bleak fact remains that a violent injustice was inflicted on these people by nation states in collusion with the market forces. Asian Indigenous Peoples are the wounded healers. Covid was a siren, warning us that the continued disturbance of the ecosystem will boomerang. As many sources pointed out, Covid jumped from animal sources to humans and have affected at least 30 species in the animal kingdom. The third strain is wreaking havoc even in rich countries. The plight of poor countries especially Asia and Africa is a visceral agony. Asia’s countries have invested more in arms than in health and have more soldiers than health professionals. Pope Francis has shown a powerful light on the ecological and inter-generational injustice that prevails. A craven generation steals from the present poor and the future generation. An “ecological” model that abuses nature and does not consider generations to follow is perpetrated by a minority. As the world continues to bury more than three million people, it has failed to learn lessons from the voices from the graves. Covid is just a window dressing of a huge natural disaster including pandemics waiting to happen. The link between ravishing the biosphere and the virus outbreak is becoming clearer day by day. The warmest climate days in the planet are recorded in this year. Areas that knew no hot summer are roasting. The Arctic region is experiencing ice quakes as millions of tons of ice are melted. I am grateful to the organizers, Ecojesuit, the global ecological network of Jesuits and partners, and the River above Asia and Oceania Ecclesial Network (RAOEN), that proposed a joint dialogue event during the Asia Pacific Climate Week to highlight the role of interconnected Indigenous communities, faith, and nature in climate reconciliation. The role of faith-based organizations is recognized with great urgency and driven by the prophet of ecology, our Pope Francis and his trendsetting encyclical Laudato Si’. The world rises to greater awareness of the ecology. The modern youth lead the way in refusing to accept the exploitative commodification of natural resources. In this global struggle, all cultures need to learn from the lives and belief systems of Indigenous Peoples. The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has been working on mainstreaming the ecological concerns into the spiritual and the community consciousness of Catholic communities in various countries. We are aware that many of the Indigenous communities are also faith-based communities. Of the 16 dioceses in my country, 14 are made up of Indigenous ethnic communities. Pope Francis has always impressed upon the Church to learn from Indigenous communities and be grateful for their contribution. He met with the Indigenous Peoples in Peru in 2018 and thanked them, saying that their lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost. They are a living memory of the mission that the God has entrusted to us all, the protection of our common home. The first disposition of the Church in Asia is to listen to the Indigenous Peoples. Pope Francis organized the Amazon synod with a central theme – that the Church humbly hears the cry of the Amazon and its people. We need to be grateful to the people who protect the lungs of the earth. We need to move towards and beyond COP26. An ecological Covid has affected the lungs of the earth […]
Ecojesuit and the River Above Asia Oceania Ecclesial Network (RAOEN) are hosting a joint dialogue on 6 July 2021 to highlight the interconnected roles of indigenous communities, faith, and nature in climate reconciliation. Community, Faith, and Nature: Voices from Oceania and Asia at the Forefront of Climate Reconciliation is an official side event to the UNFCCC Asia Pacific Climate Week, in line with the thematic track Integrated approaches for climate resilient development. Extreme weather events and degradation of life systems in our oceans and lands have moved beyond risks and threats and are already happening. This event seeks to promote support for low-carbon actions and practices that many indigenous communities live out through agroecology as a Nature-based Solution (NbS) This natural local response that is not driven by technology draws its strength from a shared gratitude for creation and the environment that is in solidarity with local needs and the common good. These are the voices that faith-based organizations (FBOs) and movements are listening to in sustaining a reconciliation with the sea and the land. Science tells us that we only have until 2030 to drastically reduce our emissions (IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, 2018). Oceans produce 70-85% of the world’s oxygen and in Oceania and Asia, the Pacific Ocean is the biggest climate determinant. Ocean and forest communities, especially Indigenous Peoples in Oceania and Asia, are at the forefront of the impact and action in response to the climate crisis. They are leading in the struggle for NbS while living in areas where the worst impacts of the climate crisis are deeply felt. They articulate the most urgent need for climate adaptations and highlight the response needed to address the problem at the core, and their voices, not just global corporations, need to be heard more in global discussions. Addressing the climate crisis will only be possible if Pacific and Asian communities work together and engage in meaningful dialogue that promotes shared learning and collaboration. Oceania and Asia have a unique opportunity to set a global example in broadening the climate dialogue by leveraging on the diversity of cultures and faiths in the regions. In the process, voices from the ground are empowered, especially the youth, women, and Indigenous Peoples. They are the “disruptors” in the global climate conversations that FBOs are supporting through years of community accompaniment. This engagement also echoes the urgent call for a radical shift in the business-as-usual leadership in climate action by emphasizing local and indigenous voices, actions, and stories as solutions and ways forward, not just interesting anecdotes. As well, recovery from the interrelated COVID-19 and climate crises cannot happen without addressing the nexus of climate, water, food, biodiversity, and culture. The global response needs to be in the rapid reduction of carbon and climate action financing while indigenous communities need a reduction of their vulnerabilities in their social environment so they can focus on the local responses needed. Indigenous Peoples and FBOs have a capacity to respond as they are action-oriented with a shared gratitude for creation and a basic recognition of the common good. To register for the event, visit: bit.ly/APCWJointDialogue
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