Faith Communities and their key role in promoting Adaptation Strategies

By Mncedisi Masuku

Around the world, scientists are assessing climate change and helping us to understand what we need to do in order to mitigate (reduce the impact) and to adapt (build up resilience to) the impacts. This analysis is based on peer reviewed articles – articles published in journals which have been reviewed by other experts in the field – meaning that there is already consensus on and support for the published journal entries. Every five years, this scientific review culminates in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report (AR). The last report, produced in 2014, is known as the AR5 (Fifth Assessment report – available, and was based on the review of inputs from over 8000 scientists.

Scientists are now working on the sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be published in 2023 – in time for the first global stock-take by the UNFCCC under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Often non-profit organisations (NPOs) that combat climate change issues are based in Europe, where the role of religion is weaker and a more secular dialogue dominates. When one looks at the scientific articles being produced, the role of faith is not often considered, even though faith can play a large role in behaviour change (mitigation) – indeed, belief systems can often drive individual, community, and even corporate change, from a personal to cultural level. In addition, faith communities are usually prevalent in the countries most vulnerable to climate change, and thus can play an important role in aligning with necessary adaptation activities. Positioning religious and traditional leaders as climate change ‘champions’, changing the framing of climate change to appeal to cultural values and integrating science with traditional knowledge are all ways in which to bring climate change into religious and traditional narratives.

At Adaptation Futures 2018, held in Cape Town, South Africa, the Green Anglicans (the environmental network of the Anglican Church in southern Africa) had a session on “Faith-Based Organisations and Adaptation to Climate Change”, which looked at the role that faith communities can play in confronting climatic issues generally, and more specifically, the work of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, with a case study in Swaziland.

Indeed, one of the significant contributions to the debate was focused on holding this international conference on African soil, where faith communities are well-established and widespread. The winning poster at the event was granted to Julia Davies of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project. Her poster was based on an upcoming publication, which looks at the role played by tradition and religion in the variable levels of uptake of climate smart agricultural (CSA) practices among some farmers in the semi-arid, north-central region of Namibia. The research argues that, because traditional norms and religious beliefs play such a pivotal role in agricultural decision making for some Namibian farmers, these value systems should be seen as a key platform through which to promote the dissemination and uptake of climate change information in general, and CSA in particular.

Organisations such as the Green Anglicans, which aims to fulfil God’s call to be Earthkeepers and to care for creation, can play a key role in this regard,” explains Davies. The research will be published later this year in a book entitled ‘The CSA Papers: Investigating the Business of a Productive, Resilient and Low Emission Future’

At the final plenary, innovations from the conference that would be taken forward for further study were presented, one of which was “Chapter 7- Faith communities can help with promoting adaptation strategies”. This means that this very important subject will be studied further and, it is hoped, will end up in the final IPCC AR6.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Julia Davies for your excellent and timely research, and for bringing international attention to this important topic at Adaptation Futures 2018.

As Green Anglicans, we are hoping for more research to harness the role of faith community in Climate change Adaptation. Please contact Mncedisi Masuku for further information.