Forums in Nigeria and Ethiopia bring together faith leaders, environmental activists and policy makers, and inspire real commitments.
In 2009, the British Council worked with the BBC World Service Trust to research attitudes towards climate change and understanding of the issues among people across Africa. This work, the first of its kind, talked to thousands of people across ten countries, taking in rural and urban, rich and poor, educated and marginalised.
One of the key findings was that many Africans framed their view of the environment and their relationship with it through their faith. “The secret is with Allah. Allah brings the rain. The one who causes the drought, who sends us the drought is Allah”, said one Afari (rural Ethiopian) woman – a typical response from people of all faiths.
Colleagues across the continent began working on a programme that would draw on what we had learnt, by educating African faith leaders about climate change and inspiring them to engage with the issues. Two forums, the first in Nigeria in February 2010, and a second in Ethiopia six months later, brought together faith leaders, environmental activists and policy makers to learn from each other.
At the first event, the delegates crafted a declaration on climate change, in which they charged themselves with taking on the issue. They backed this up with a series of pledges, from preaching to their followers about the importance of the issue, to taking practical steps to green their places of worship. One delegate, Sheikh Kabara, leader of the Qadriyya movement for Nigeria and West Africa, subsequently addressed a group of three million regional followers and made climate change one of his central themes.
In Ethiopia, the leaders reconvened to showcase their work, share what they’d learnt and make longer-term plans – which include expanding their network, working with non-faith agencies interested in climate care, and collaborating across borders.
While the British Council’s formal project has ended, the network is still functioning and working with partners such as ARC and the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences in the UK. The faith leaders recognised the importance of the work and the value of their role. As John Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, notes: “All of us here are probably doing a lot in our respective faith communities on climate change. But there is a considerable added value to whatever we say and do together.”
Christine Wilson is an Adviser in Education and Society at the British Council.
Photo: lingbeek / istock