As the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) approaches in the United Arab Emirates, an unprecedented addition takes center stage — the inaugural “Faith Pavilion.”
Scheduled from November 30 to December 12, this event will not only bring together political leaders worldwide but also feature religious officials, with Pope Francis, the head of state and leader of the Catholic Church, set to deliver a speech and participate in bilateral meetings from December 1-3.
The Faith Pavilion, hosted by the U.N. Environmental Program, the Muslim Council of Elders, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, the Episcopal Diocese of California, and various other faith-based groups, marks a significant step in integrating faith into climate change discussions. Bishop Marc Andrus, leader of the Bay Area-based diocese, emphasized the long-standing effort among faith bodies to have a physical presence, asserting that the pavilion symbolizes their commitment to actively engage in climate change work.
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, executive director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, expressed excitement about Pope Francis’ involvement in the pavilion’s inauguration. The facility, accommodating up to 100 people, will host 65 sessions highlighting how major religious groups are addressing climate change. Represented religions include Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Indigenous religions, and Zoroastrianism.
Situated at the heart of COP28, near the World Climate Action Summit and negotiation areas, the Faith Pavilion underscores the significance of the interfaith movement in addressing the climate emergency. It provides a unique platform for faith-based engagement with key stakeholders, including political decision-makers and negotiators.
The pavilion’s lineup includes high-level faith leaders such as Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Kingdom, Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance, and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, president of the Divine Shakti Foundation. These leaders, along with others, signed a statement urging decisive action at COP28 to address urgent environmental issues and uphold the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
In their joint statement, the faith leaders committed to guiding their organizations on environmental issues and changing consumption patterns to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The Episcopal Diocese of California, a pioneer in environmental initiatives, showcased a “carbon tracker” app during Climate Week in September. The app helps users reduce their carbon footprint by assessing factors like travel, heating sources, and dietary choices.
The Faith Pavilion aims to be a platform where representatives of different faiths can share examples of their efforts to replenish the Earth and reduce negative environmental impacts. From Sikhs creating “small sacred forests” in India’s Punjab region to Ethiopian Orthodox Christians surrounding their churches with forests in desert regions, the pavilion will showcase tangible actions taken by various faith communities.
Andrus and Neril, along with other signatories, hope to see the inclusion of faith-focused pavilions at future U.N. climate summits, emphasizing the importance of engaging high-level religious leaders in climate discussions. Neril highlighted that while a significant portion of the world’s population affiliates with a religion, senior religious figures have rarely participated in previous COPs.
The Faith Pavilion at COP28 seeks to change this trend and pave the way for continued interfaith involvement in addressing global environmental challenges.