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Representatives of nine of the world's major religions, including Judaism, are meeting in Windsor, England, this week to unveil plans to deal with climate change.
The initiative by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the United Nations Development Program has presented what organizers have referred to as a bright spot in the run-up to climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month.
Even as hopes dwindle that a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol will be hammered out in Copenhagen, ARC officials and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the willingness of the world's religions to create plans for their followers regarding climate change was a good way to inspire the world's political leaders to "act more courageously."
"The secretary-general of the United Nations goes to Copenhagen not just with the prayers and best wishes of every major faith tradition in the world, but with the knowledge that if, God forbid, the nations of the world are unable to rise to the occasion at Copenhagen, the faiths will - and already have," ARC head Martin Palmer said in a statement Tuesday.
"It may well be that it falls to civil society to have the energy, the vision, the strength and the will to go where no major national government will go," Palmer continued.
"Nothing would give us greater pleasure than for the governments of the world to walk side by side with the faiths, but if they cannot, then we and many other sectors of civil society will journey on and hope that at some point in the future they might catch us up."
He added, "We hope and pray that those nation-states that are timorous will likewise be encouraged by the fact that we have already gone on before them and will support them if they are bold enough to join us in making peace with the planet."
Ban told the roughly 200 representatives gathered at Windsor that their potential reach was very long.
"The world's faith communities occupy a unique position in discussions on the fate of our planet and the accelerating impacts of climate change," he said in his keynote address on Tuesday.
"You are the leaders who can have the largest, widest and deepest reach. Together the major faith groups have established, run or contribute to more than half of all schools worldwide. You are the third-largest category of investors in the world. You produce more weekly magazines and newspapers than all the secular press in the European Union. Your potential impact is enormous," Ban said. "You can - and do - inspire people to change."
On Monday, UN Assistant Secretary-General Olav Kjorven said the Windsor gathering could not have come at a better time, as negotiators were meeting in Barcelona this week ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference next month.
They would, he said, continue "the age-old rite" of climate-change negotiations in which each participant would try to secure the best deal for his or her country and leave the others with as much of the bill as possible.
"Action is considered expensive, and there is [a] scarcity of hope, resources and will on all sides," he said. "But not here. You have come to Windsor with the opposite mentality - that there is an abundance of possibilities and 'let's offer as much as possible, let's come up with as many commitments as we possibly can.'"
This mentality of possibility, abundance and hope was exactly what was needed in the Copenhagen conference, said Kjorven.
Also Monday, Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Ali Goma'a said Medina, Islam's second-holiest city, would become a green city, as he unveiled Islam's seven-year climate action plan.
Sala in Morocco and the grand mufti's city of Dar al-Ifta would also be "greened," and a new organization, the Muslim Association for Climate Change Action (MACCA), would be formed to pressure Islamic governments to take action.
A delegation of Jews is also attending the event to present the Jewish Climate Change Campaign, which was launched two weeks ago. The plan calls for action on a variety of fronts before the next shmita year in 2015.
ARC was created by England's Prince Phillip in 1995.