During the Article 17 dialogue “The European Green Deal. Preserving our Common Home”, the participating FBAs notably emphasized two norm clusters that have the value of responsibility for creation at their core. Indeed, the degree to which FBAs present a homogenous picture in this regard is striking. On the one hand, they accentuate a responsibility towards nature. On the other hand, they stress a responsibility towards other humans and aspects of justice that are connected to this. Hence, the similarities in their points of view, religious-based values and duties could easily facilitate synergetic climate norms.
Responsibility towards nature
The statements made by the FBAs problematize climate change and point out its human-induced character. From their perspective, the existing economic and societal system enables over-consumption, materialism, and emissions and leads to the destruction of nature. Some of the statements further divide the problem into two: a systematic aspect and an individual aspect. They consider the economic system to be responsible for climate effects but also highlight problems arising from personal attitudes and behaviour:
There is a lot of talk of decarbonization and the poison which carbon represents vis à vis the atmosphere, but we don’t say what the Buddha said was a big problem of humankind 2600 years ago: Greed. Avidity. And that’s why we got to solve the problems of greed and cupidity. (Representative of the French Buddhist Union)Footnote 4
In order to end mankind’s destruction of nature, the FBAs unanimously promote change on both levels. On the systemic level, they call for political action to affect a paradigm shift and, on the individual level they demand a change of attitudes. They connect the latter to a conversion to a faithful way of living and acting according to one’s knowledge. According to their arguments, just talking about a climate emergency would not be enough. Rather, religiously inspired change in our way of life is what matters: “Calling ourselves Muslim is not enough. It says in the Koran several times, it’s about believing AND doing good deeds” (Representative of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science).
At the same time, all FBAs who participated in the dialogue advocated for taking immediate practical action and leading by example. Furthermore, the Muslim and Christian representatives harmoniously stress the importance of hope as a specific faith-based resource. They argue that, their faith inspires them to act in the right way, even if situations seem hopeless.
The statements by FBAs connect both problems and required actions to underlying values. In the FBAs’ views, deep-rooted values, faith, and religious traditions can motivate the radical change required to successfully tackle climate change. They promote the protection of nature as God’s creation and highlight God’s command that humans should care for his creation. Nature is presented as an expression of God’s work that has an intrinsic value. Consequently, living a faithful life should also involve loving God’s creation and therefore respecting planetary boundaries. The representative of the Vatican, as well as the Buddhist FBAs in particular, strongly emphasize the need to have compassion for nature:
You cannot care or protect […] what you don’t love. […] If we want to care for our common home, we need to start loving it. And loving is to discover how it works, the marvelous nature, I think as religions, we need to connect people with God as creator or God’s creation and in the contemplation of nature. All our religions are based on nature. And we have disconnected a little bit. We are responsible for that, but we have to start promoting it. Because if we love nature, it is impossible not to care about it. (Representative of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development)
However, the FBAs do not only mention positive emotions like hope, love, and compassion as specific faith-based resources in this context. Some of them also refer to negative emotions such as guilt and fear, if less frequently. The Muslim and Orthodox representatives stress that people will be judged depending on their deeds at the end of life, thereby reminding everyone of the need to live according to the requirements of faith.
Responsibility towards other humans
The second norm cluster brought forward by the FBAs during the dialogue focuses on responsibility towards humans. Here the statements highlight aspects of procedural, intergenerational, and global justice. The faith-based representatives underline that social factors must be at the centre of each political decision. Policies should rely on the values of responsibility and justice towards other humans, solidarity, and the participation of affected people. Statements by both Christian and Muslim representatives show that aspects discussed in the previous section on responsibility towards nature, such as the divine command to do good deeds and the warning of a judgment at the end of life, apply similarly here. These values add social weight to the problems the FBAs identify in relation to climate change and the social impact it imposes on humans. The Jewish representative even actively differentiated between divine and human-induced actions, stating that the problem of climate change is a consequence of the latter.
The FBAs promote comprehensive action that considers social aspects, or even prioritizes them, when tackling these problems. Concerning procedural justice, the FBAs draw attention to the social effects of climate-friendly adaptation measures (e.g., unemployment of coal miners). To face this challenge, they promote facilitating the participation of those affected in political deliberations. In their view, politicians should enable dialogues with diverse societal groups and listen to their concerns. Moreover, the faith-based representatives stress the importance of bringing people on board with climate adaptation measures.
Access, participation is all what it is about. Without having access to and participation of people, there is no way that we can address the targets of the sustainable development goals. (Representative of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development)
Policies and laws, even if important, they are not enough. They need to be properly explained and people need to be brought on board. People need to understand that caring for the environment is not against them, but for them. (Representative of the Conference of European Churches)
As another aspect of responsibility towards humans, the FBAs focus on global justice. In their view, climate change cannot be regarded solely on a European level. Instead, its effects must be considered on a global scale. Accordingly, actions for tackling climate effects must integrate the global perspective by, for example, providing more affected countries with funds.
Finally, the faith-based representatives also talk about intergenerational justice. They call on politicians to take immediate measures because the (lack of) action today will have irreversible effects for future generations. Future generations should not have to live with the environmental damage we cause today through our way of life. Thus, the FBAs declare climate change an emergency and highlight the task of integrating the losses of future generations into political considerations. The Islamic representative again connects this aspect with a moral appeal:
Maybe you should reconsider your path and behave a bit better so that indeed the aims of Sharia’h can be achieved, also for future generations. (Representative of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science)
Potential for agreement
The exchange of opinions between the members of the panel demonstrates their effort to emphasize the unifying aspects of their different points of view. Hence, they construct and shape the dynamics between norms by adding religious meaning based on a shared understanding of the problems and desired action. The dialogue’s title, “Preserving our Common Home” already indicates a focus on joint interests. It also links back to the title of the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” Perhaps not surprisingly then, the metaphor of the “common home” evolved as a central theme within the various statements: the political, humanist, scientific, and religious representatives emphasized that in the light of climate change, there is a common challenge to face, a common goal to achieve, and related courses of action to take.
The noted commonalities notwithstanding, the speakers’ contributions also illustrate that there is an awareness of differences in their approaches. In part, they have different backgrounds and offer different responses. This applies to the representative of the European Humanists Federation and the liberal Renew Europe Group in particular, as they expressed the greatest ideological distance from any religion during the dialogue. However, these differences did not seem to hinder agreement, rather they were perceived as a natural and legitimate circumstance in a pluralistic society. In particular, the representative of the liberal Renew Europe Group seems to allocate religion a role as a mediator able to reach conservative people and motivate them to act in an ecologically friendly way.
In this vein, different actors highlight the potential contribution of various sources addressing specific aspects of climate politics. For religion, as one of these sources, the participants see a particular potential to articulate moral elements and appeal to intrinsic motives. The FBAs themselves refer to their collective potential to motivate people to change their way of life and act, even in hopeless situations, to do something good. From their point of view, religions can give hope and appeal to deep values. Thus, FBAs advocate cooperation and mutual learning between religions and between religions and other actors to realize this potential on a broader scale. Likewise, non-FBA participants recognize the potential of specific religious contributions to the environmental discourse in their contributions to the dialogue. They agree that a different way of life will be necessary to fight climate change and that this goal will only be achieved if people are inherently convinced. They ascribe this task of convincing and motivating individuals, in part, to religious organizations. The speakers emphasize the religious potential to address climate-related problems through “deep values,” which means that they can give commonly shared ecological values a deeper meaning through their specific worldview (e.g., references to God’s creation). This seems to apply to questions concerning the relationship between humans and nature in particular, as well as to associated questions of justice:
Your work and advocacy have allowed the promotion of a comprehensive, holistic approach to ecology. You have in the past and you will be continuing in the future to ensure that the spiritual, ethical, the social dimension of ecology are better understood and taken into account when talking about the environment. […] Your voice is a particular voice, and it needs to be heard by politicians and by society at large. (Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of the Art. 17 dialogues)
In some cases, the speakers even report on occasions when they have already experienced this potential:
I know from experience that faith groups and leaders […] played a big role and have a big role to play. I can testify leading the negotiations for Paris how much the Pope’s publication Laudato Si’ has played a role. It has resonated with many. Even beyond, much beyond the catholic sphere. And on a day-to-day basis, as communities transition away from fossil fuels, my organization is very invested in Poland as well, we have seen the church playing a really big role in countering the narrative that seeks to undermine the idea of alternative pathways towards cleaner and decarbonized societies. I will always remember before the COP in Katowice, how the Church in Poland have published a prayer that was really putting climate change and action at the centre of their activities. It has created a total difference around the COP 24 in Katowice. (Representative of the European Climate Foundation)
Also, some politicians experience religion as a source of inspiration or motivation in climate politics themselves. For example, a Representative of the Renew Europe Group indicates this when reporting that a member of the European People’s Party (EEP) had identified the Pope’s appeal as a reason for her vote on climate change. The same EPP member also referred to the emotions of love for nature and guilt for acting in a non-sustainable manner—which the FBAs had raised earlier in the dialogue—as a motivating force. Another indication is given by another member of the European Parliament from the EPP parliamentary group, who indicates that he was “[p]ersonally […] very much inspired by the encyclical Laudato Si’ from Pope Francis” (Representative of the Committee on Environment, Public, Health & Food Safety, European Parliament). While other participants underline the potential of religion to motivate and reach others in climate politics, these two members of the European Parliament show that religious values may also reach the political process via channels other than FBAs.
What could hinder agreement? Scepticism and conflicting values
All in all, the statements made by the main speakers during the dialogue have a very diplomatic tone. They stress commonalities and the specific role of religion in climate discourse, which they see, primarily, as the provision of “deep values.” Nonetheless, there are also moments in the dialogue where participants, from the audience especially, raise issues that could hinder agreement. This demonstrates that conditions for facilitating understanding may differ across religions. In particular, there is some concern regarding a lack of familiarity with non-Christian faiths. The Muslim representative’s statement emphasized that this results in a higher pressure to justify Muslim approaches in public:
[F]or some reasons Islam seems to be getting less positive reviews in the news than some other faiths. I am not encouraging, or I am not expecting you to convert, but let’s show some curiosity in each other’s faith-centred approaches, opportunities for intrinsic motivation to work together on the current climate emergency. […] Let’s go for a joint Jihad. Yes, I am using that word purposely because it actually means: striving for good. And by using that word also reclaiming the hijacking of that word of this term by extremists and Islamophobes. (Representative of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science)
The subsequent reaction from the political actor who chaired the discussion acknowledges a lack of knowledge of prevalent Islamic concepts:
That was quite interesting, especially for me to listen to a very positive interpretation of Sharia’h and Jihad. We know that it was abused, but I was not aware that we can use it in such a positive way. (Representative of the Committee on Environment, Public, Health & Food Safety, EP)
In addition, speakers from the audience openly address conflicts between FBAs and other actors that could hinder agreement on climate change. Whereas the main speakers at the meeting emphasized commonalities, questions from the audience problematized religious “conservatism”. For example, one speaker from the audience drew attention to conservative religious values concerning family planning and conception. He argued that—in the context of an exploding world population—these traditional values may hinder progress in climate protection. Another audience member highlighted a contradiction between the FBAs’ statements and what he believed he knew about God’s commands to humans in Genesis:
Can I suggest that there is a contradiction here somewhere. In the Bible, without claiming to be steeped in these things, without being an expert, but in Genesis, it refers somewhere, I don’t have it off the top of my head, but it’s about fish, birds and all the creatures that live and crawl and die, it talks about them/it’s really a command to human beings to exercise dominion over creation. And I think that is contradictory to the injunctions we have been hearing around the room this afternoon. (Person from the audience)
The Catholic representative acknowledged that he is aware of this and that, in his view, this significant misunderstanding of Genesis has been used to legitimate an anthropocentric worldview. He argues, however, that this interpretation is not valid as, in a Christian understanding, it is not humankind but God who is at the centre of everything (Representative of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development). Furthermore, the Muslim representative argued that there is an equivalence of every species in the Koran. Therefore, from the Muslim perspective, humans may not abuse nature because it is a manifestation of God’s divine actions. They should learn from the creation about God’s will and his work, just as they learn from the verses of the Koran (Representative of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science). However, the Jewish representative argued that there is still a hierarchy of humans over nature, although this does not mean that humans have the right to abuse nature (Representative of the Central Israelite Consistory of Belgium).
Both examples, by demonstrating a lack of knowledge about Islamic concepts as well as scepticism towards Christian and/or Jewish values and conservatism, reveal the potential for open and hidden conflicting norm dynamics. In both cases, non-FBAs perceive religious values and concepts as part of a problem (whether the climate crisis or religion in politics in general), while the FBAs underline their role as a part of the solution. By explaining their religious values, some FBAs try to bridge those perceived divergences in the content of the norms.