Over the past decade, an expanding body of social scientific research has examined the relationship between religion and climate change.
The main trunk of this research examines the degree to which various empirical measures of religiosity predict people’s opinions about climate change.
On a global scale, vulnerability to climate change tends to be greatest in parts of the world where religion is most important in daily life.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, while Africa has contributed negligibly to the changing climate, with just about two to three per cent of global emissions, it stands out disproportionately as the most vulnerable region in the world. This vulnerability is driven by the prevailing low levels of socioeconomic growth in the continent.
A panel of experts met recently to share strategies focused on what religious communities and people in Africa can do to combat the climate crisis and achieve the UN Sustainable development goals.
At an online event under the theme “Africa, Religion and Climate Change”, hosted by Africa Centre for Religion and Society, a UK based think tank, the experts emphasized the need for a multisectoral, multi-disciplinary and a multi-faith approach to achieving climate justice.
The economic costs to African nations vulnerable to extreme climate patterns is projected to grow from $895 billion in 2018 to about $1.4 trillion in 2023.
A great number of Africans still have little or no knowledge of climate change and the ecological crisis that affect us. A 2019 survey by Afrobarometer found that four in 10 Africans are unfamiliar with the concept of climate change.
Only about 3 in 10 are fully “climate-change literate,” combining awareness of climate change with basic knowledge about its causes and negative effects.
Meryne Warah, Co-facilitator and coordinator of Green Faith International Network, said that faith communities are front and centre of the work against climate change and the issue cannot be left to just politicians or academicians. She urged faith leaders in Africa to take climate justice as seriously as the activists.
“It is the sole responsibility of people of faith to speak about the climate change agenda. We need to build the capacities of our religious leaders so that they can talk competitively and confidently talk about these discussions. Religious leaders are our wildcards in this issue.”
On his part, the Ven. Dr Stanley Nweze of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka encouraged priests and religious leaders to use their privileged access to politicians and traditional leaders to enlighten them about the effects of climate change on local communities.
The impact of climate change is being experienced in deforestation, rising sea levels, more floods, droughts and severe weather patterns felt most strongly in rural communities of Africa.
The panel stressed the importance of harnessing indigenous knowledge to the scientific knowledge so the rural communities can be in a position to adapt and mitigate on their own.
Joram Tarusarira, an Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen added that “the average African might not explain climate change but they have their own knowledge systems.”
On her part, the Special Adviser to the Lagos state governor on SDGs and Investment, Solape Hammond, highlighted the work of the State in helping the people live sustainably.
She called for more support and partnership with our brothers and sisters of faith and the Lagos state volunteer corps.
Speaking further, Tarusarira said, “we need to go beyond the technical, scientific and economic approaches. Climate change is also a moral issue. We need to go into the moral motivation of people and this is where religion comes in to play”.
Identifying effective ways to communicate environmental issues and risks within faith traditions, and encouraging inter-faith and religious-nonreligious collaboration, will be important for addressing future global environmental challenges.