Proposal for Interfaith Conference on Climate Change
For decades, conflict and turmoil in the Middle East have gripped the world and made the region an epicenter of international focus and concern. At this time, some wonder whether Jerusalem can be a source of anything but violence and hatred fueled by religious extremists. In this region’s persistent unrest, many attempts have been made to bring the two sides together. Most of the attempts focus on the differences between the sides and work toward resolving these differences. Yet the reality on the ground is that people of different religious, ethnic, and national communities tend not to have positive interactions with each other. Self-segregation is the norm, in housing, education, and elsewhere. A significant need exists to break down religious, ethnic, and cultural barriers and support a shared and collective approach.
Bringing the two sides to a place of respect and understanding by finding common areas for collaboration may prove effective in promoting peace. In Israel and Palestine, Christians, Jews, and Muslims live on a land many regard as holy, breathe the same air, and drink the same water. Environmental challenges transcend borders and religious affiliations and therefore exist as an arena of joint, urgent concern among people of diverse nationalities and faiths. Yet cultural and social separation poses a challenge when tackling issues jointly.
The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD) seeks to address some of the root issues underlying violence in the Holy Land, including ignorance of the other and lack of concern for one’s surroundings. Acknowledging that much of Jerusalem’s population identifies with a faith tradition, ICSD utilizes the influence of religion to promote coexistence and environmental sustainability. ICSD has identified effective approaches in bringing students and community activists together to transcend their differences in the name of environmental and social justice.
About the Conference
ICSD and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) intend to hold an Interfaith Conference on Climate Change for clergy and religious teachers. The purpose of the conference is to urge and empower faith communities in Israel and its neighbors to mitigate human caused climate change, as well as to bring together people from multiple sides in interreligious collaboration. Religious leaders will speak about religious imperatives for promoting environmentally sustainable practices and the use of renewable energy. Political leaders will speak about how government is responding at the national and local levels to climate change. Presentations by scientists will describe the current impacts and imminent dangers of climate change to the region. 2 Page
Workshops will provide participants with information about climate change and resources for additional learning and new developments. Opportunities will also be offered for participants to hone their ability to organize and convey scientific material clearly, speak effectively, motivate change, and integrate environmental preservation into the current responsibilities of their position.
The conference, which will take place over two days, will be held in Jerusalem at a date to be determined. It will be administered in collaboration with the Tantur Ecumenical Institute and the Swedish Theological Institute, and likely hosted at Tantur. Building on Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” and Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and other climate change declarations, speakers and group facilitators will engage participants in exploring how the leadership and members of faith-based communities can contribute to a movement for environmental sustainability. We will aim to distill from the discussion specific steps that can be acted upon in the near future, if not immediately. In addition, we will consider the question of why to act. We will aim to create a forum for open discussion for participants to voice their hesitations and concerns, to look in their faith traditions for the precepts of cherishing and preserving the earth, and to find in themselves the will to accept the challenge.
The conference will be structured in three parts.
• Part I will be devoted to climate change and its current and potential impact in Israel, neighboring countries, around the globe.
• In Part II, leaders of the monotheistic faiths speak about their own responses to the challenge of climate change.
• In Part III, participants will be invited to discuss how to achieve the actionable goals of the conference. One aim of the discussion is to produce ideas for further collaboration between scientists and clergy. The discussion will also look at practical steps that can be taken by communities and individuals.
The conference organizers will invite local authorities and government officials who are directly involved with climate change mitigation. The conference will be publicized in an online social-media such as Facebook and Twitter and in a press release to conventional media. In addition to attracting participants, publicity is intended to call attention to climate change, stimulate discussion, and motivate action among religious communities and in the wider public.
Goals of the Conference
• Strengthen the voice of pluralism, moderation and co-existence in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
• Use current environmental challenges as a platform to unite a range of people in Israel and Palestine around common values of environmental stewardship;
• Create opportunities for future relationships and cooperation among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Holy Land;
• Educate representatives of faith communities in the Holy Land about climate change and its current and impending consequences and enlisting their deeply held religious beliefs in the service of the earth and the life it supports.
Speakers from the sponsoring organizations introduce the theme of the Conference
• Plenary Session One
What are the dangers? Climate change and the Middle East — A Scientific Perspective
Scientists from the region well-established scientific evidence on climate change in a way that is accessible to the general public deal with the topic. What is their present position with regard to climate change in Israel and its neighbors? Have recent conflicts in the Middle East been partially triggered by climate change?
• Plenary Session Two
A moderated panel, followed by discussion, between Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim leaders, where they outline how their communities are responding to climate change.
[Lunch Break] • Musical Interlude: by the Jerusalem YMCA Interfaith Youth Choir
• Afternoon Workshops
Drawing on the morning’s presentations and on pronouncements by the Pope and other leaders of religious communities, the participants will divide into groups to discuss basic issues.
a. How can science and religion work together to combat climate change?
b. Religious Seminaries—How to increase the emphasis on teaching of faith and ecology when training emerging clergy?
c. Women and climate change
d. Greening houses of worship in Jerusalem and the Holy Land
e. How can faith communities, and individual, promote effective responses to climate change?
• Evening guest lecture
• Plenary Session 3
Presentation by political leaders on how government is addressing the climate crisis.
• Plenary Session 4
Structured discussion focused on what practical actions can be taken. Participants will be divided into groups and be asked to make practical suggestions, and the aim of the two hour session will be to produce an outline scheme for progress.
[Lunch Break – Second Day] • Plenary Session 5
Final plenary session –Organizers will prepare a summary of the outcomes, and the discussions, and share this with the participants at the end of the conference. [End of Conference] 4 Page
About the Co-organizers
The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development works to catalyze a transition to a sustainable human society through the active leadership of faith communities. Its work focuses on several projects. The Interfaith Eco Seminary Engagement Project promotes courses for seminarians on faith and the environment. Second, the Faith and Science Earth Alliance convenes virtual meetings and live events of clergy and scientists, and creates short videos from the events that are spread via social media to promote public awareness, political will, and action. Third, the Women’s Faith and Ecology Project engages women of faith in Jerusalem in seminars focused on religion, coexistence, and environmental stewardship. ICSD has also organized four interfaith environmental conferences.
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is a leading environmental studies and research program in the Middle East. Accredited through Ben-Gurion University, AIES houses academic programs, research centers, and international cooperation initiatives focusing on a range of environmental concerns and challenges. With a student body comprised of Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, and students from around the world, AIES offers students an exceptional opportunity to learn from leading professionals while forming friendships and developing skills that enable them to lead the region and the world in solving today’s most pressing environmental challenges.
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, ICSD executive director: firstname.lastname@example.org, +972-54-723-4973 5 Page