Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) One of the world’s biggest steps forward in youth climate advocacy will be happening this week in the American state of North Carolina, where Duke University has partnered with climate NGO, Faith For Our Planet (FFOP), to host thirty young leaders, from every continent on Earth, in order to forge a global climate movement.
Uniquely, what unites these young people is not that they are accomplished and dedicated to protecting the planet, but because all of them identify as persons of faith, who wish to bridge the – often momentous – gap between religion and science and pursue tangible climate solutions for their various communities.
And the timing could not be more critical.
Though Europe has made great strides on sustainability—such as the United Kingdom’s recent plastics ban—significant challenges remain. Last year was the hottest for Europe on record. This winter has already revealed unpredictable, even dangerous weather.
Of course, scientists have correctly predicted much of this, which leaves our failure to prepare even more frustrating. But this has also been part of the problem – us not addressing the limitations to science.
Because while science can explain why these horrible events are happening, it cannot convince us we must do things differently, which is precisely what the climate emergency requires. And something that religion can provide.
After all, most of the world’s population continues to identify with religious traditions, and Europe is home to increased religious diversity which is influencing decision-making and policymaking more and more.
And although the gap between faith and climate denialism is not as strong as it is in places like the US, young people still believe that faith leaders are not doing enough to address climate change in their sermons and orations, an issue which will be addressed at the “Youth Interfaith Leaders Fellowship on Climate Change.”
One of the Fellows, Abdoulie Ceesay, explains the significance of this. As deputy majority leader of Gambia’s National Assembly, and not yet forty, he insists, “addressing climate change is a priority for me, and it is inspired by my deep faith. But I am unsure if faith leaders back home understand the significance of climate change, and if so, lack the tools to explain this crisis, a problem which trickles throughout my community and beyond.”
For Ceesay, his remarkable career in West African and global politics, alongside his deep faith, drew him to the attention of Faith For Our Planet (FFOP), an ambitious global interfaith climate coalition founded by the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, who created FFOP with this issue in mind.
FFOP is already changing the world of climate advocacy through global programs and workshops aimed at transforming how the world’s religions tackle climate change. By bringing together faith leaders and climate scientists, FFOP injects scientific literacy into religious spaces, while also urging scientists to see faith communities as potential partners with tremendous resources.
And the Duke Fellowship will carry that work to the next generation. The young, diverse, and accomplished religious leaders have been selected to learn from one another and critical subject matter experts, including politicians, executives and theologians, who will plant the seeds of a faith-based, future-facing climate action network with global reach.
“Our mission,” Dr. Al-Issa notes, “is to build a global, faith-based climate action movement,” focusing on “a new generation of faith-based climate activists.”
After all, youth are quickly becoming the faces of environmental campaigning, calling out political leaders in powerful and novel ways. Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate – the future of climate action is in the hands of the world’s youth, who often disagree with how their elders are handling the crisis.
However, with this reality comes obstacles. For one, youth often lack notable platforms to engage each other on a global scale, something which the most recent COP27 summit tried to address. For another, the platforms which do exist tend to isolate those from the Global South, who are already disproportionately affected by climate change.
Ultimately, Europe’s climate leadership is undeniable. But Europe can do more; the progress that Duke, the FFOP, and the Youth Fellows are making suggests that it will be important for Europeans to imagine empowering leaders beyond the spaces we ordinarily focus on.
“This young cohort,” Dr. Al-Issa insists, “are the future of not only the climate movement, but of this world.”