How did it begin?
In 2008, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) inaugurated an international programme in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The intention is to help all key religions launch major new initiatives as a contribution towards protecting the natural environment and addressing issues such as climate change. The idea was to create long-term plans to embed care of Creation/the Natural World into the way that members of faith behave for many generations to come. The latest guide to these initiatives, with examples of how the initial faiths have conceived their own plans .
The Windsor Celebration will be the occasion when faith leaders around the world will gather together to announce their own commitments to protect the natural environment and work to reduce the carbon impact of their own organizations, of their followers, and of the countries in which they are based. This important event will also send a message to Governments and the UN Secretary General – who will be attending – that this major element of civil society believes that care for the natural environment is not a luxury, but that it is at the core of what most of the world believes and wants. It will also, more importantly, start chains of activity going which will protect the environment for generations, regardless of what the governments decide at Copenhagen.
Who is coming?
Invitations are currently going out, and being accepted. We can however confirm that the event will be attended by the UN Secretary General HE Mr Ban Ki-moon, senior members of UNDP, the World Bank and UNFPA environment and climate change departments, high ranking Daoist abbots from China, bishops, Archbishops and Patriarchs from around a dozen Christian traditions, senior Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Shinto clergy and priests, as well as Hindu, Baha’i and Sikh leaders. We have very positive responses too from NGOs that have already made a firm commitment to work with the faiths on these issues. Only groups, organisations and faiths that are willing to make new commitments, publicly, will be invited.
Windsor will be a major networking opportunity, with leading representatives of many of the faith groups around the world who are engaging most keenly with issues of climate change and the natural environment, as well as leading decision-makers from the governmental, intergovernmental and NGO worlds. It will be a chance for senior faith leaders to compare best practice with each other, and to enable stories of what is happening, why and how to be shared with others through the media and through conversations. It will also be a market place for serious faith ventures on the environment to find committed partners in the secular NGO and governmental worlds.
On Tuesday, 3 November delegates have been invited for a special vegan lunch hosted by HRH The Prince Philip at Windsor, the state apartments of which will be closed that day. During the lunch those who represent a religious tradition that has made a firm long-term commitment to protect the environment will be honoured. United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon will offer a keynote address to the Religious delegates. This will be followed by a special celebration event which will take the audience through dance, song, drama and meditation on a journey to hear the voices of creation as they rise at the beginning of time, go through crisis, and rise again. It will be an unforgettable reminder for those who are attending, and for those who listen on radio or view on video that the solutions to the environmental crises are not just about looking outside, at numbers and negotiations. They are also about looking inside, and each one of us making practical changes that we believe in.
The Windsor Celebration will also be the occasion for launching ARC’s new internet portal religionsandconservation.org, enabling groups around the world to tell their stories through text, video, audio and pictures, and to be linked together to inspire others. On Wednesday, 4 November, after the Windsor Celebration has officially closed, some of the delegates will attend a public meeting for some 1,000 people at the Quaker Meeting House entitled: “Many Heavens: One Earth – Faiths, the Environment and Copenhagen”.
What experience has ARC had in this area?
In 1986 ARC’s now Secretary General Martin Palmer worked with WWF to create an historic event in Assisi in which five key faiths were invited to “come proud of what they believe and humble enough to listen to others” and discuss what they each believed about the human relationship with the environment. This meeting was one of the key moments in the beginning of an alliance between faiths and conservation (an area that then, for many people, was almost incomprehensible), and ten years later it led to the formal founding of ARC at a ceremony at Windsor. In 2000 ARC organised the groundbreaking Kathmandu Faiths and Nature event, with WWF, which led to the dedication of dozens of Sacred Gifts around the world. The Windsor event is the most significant event that ARC has organised, and it is the first time UNDP have partnered in this way with the faiths.
Why are people flying in from overseas to a meeting which is about reducing carbon emissions?
This question has been at the core of our thinking. Firstly, where it is appropriate – for example, with the Jesuits and many from the secular world – we have invited UK-based people to be representative of a worldwide movement. We have also reduced our own travel budget by holding this in the UK rather than overseas.
If you think that international flights are the worst possible contributors to the deterioration of the natural environment, then perhaps it makes sense just to cut them. But if you think there are other factors involved in climate change and protecting the natural environment, and that these factors need to be discussed as part of a long-term strategy which involves cutting down travel but also examining many other areas, then travel is needed as part of the process of change.
We, and many of the faiths, are arguing for travel to be done mindfully, but not for it to be not done at all. ARC has in the past three years cut its travel by half; however, much of our work is about bringing people together and sometimes that has to involve bringing people together physically.
We have offset all the carbon emissions – and more – generated through flights for this Celebration through supporting tree nurseries and planting by Christian- and Buddhist-run projects in Zambia and Sri Lanka.
In addition, all food at the conference will be vegetarian and free-range, most will be local, organic and fair-trade. The lunch at Windsor Castle itself will be vegan – the first time that the Castle caterers have organized a vegan meal for a Royal banquet.