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Local Quaker leader among those appealing for climate change action at UN conference

woman in black speaks at a microphone as the pope and four other religious leaders look on.
Divisione Produzione Fotografica Divisione Produzione Fotografica
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Vatican Media
Earlham School of Religion Dean Gretchen Castle speaks at “Faith and Science: Towards COP26” at the Vatican.

Representatives from religions across the globe are calling on government leaders to take serious action to curb climate change. They've issued an appeal ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) set to begin Oct. 31.

The dean of Earlham College's School of Religion, Gretchen Castle, is among those who formulated the document. Earlham's seminary is founded on Quaker values.

Castle spent the last year meeting with faith leaders as part of the "Faith and Science: Towards COP26" initiative sponsored by The Holy See and the Italian and British embassies. She recently returned from the Vatican where she met with some of those leaders, including the pope.

"The point of it was to share our different faith approaches to the whole problem of climate change," Castle tells WVXU. "It was remarkable how similar - I'm talking with people from Japan or China, Buddhists or Hindus - who all carry the same climate concerns as people I work with."

The result is a document asking for countries to commit to lowering their carbon footprint and respond to the "unprecedented ecological crisis."

"We have not been able to be kind to the earth," Castle says. "It's a faith issue, it's a spiritual imperative for many, many people of faith across the world to be kind to our earth."

The five-page appeal declares "Now is the time for urgent, radical and responsible action."

They're asking all nations to take ambitious short-term actions toward reducing emissions and lowering the "global average temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels."

The appeal continues, "We beg those nations with the greatest responsibility and present capacity to: step up their climate action at home; fulfill existing promises to provide substantial financial support to vulnerable countries; agree on new targets to enable them to become climate resilient, as well as to adapt to and to address climate change and loss and damage, which is already a reality for many countries."

The faith leaders also pledge to take action themselves by - among several items - encouraging members of their faith traditions to care for the earth; follow the science and encourage cultural and political institutions to do so as well; and support actions that reduce waste and emissions while promoting sustainability.

"Climate change affects people in the world differently, and those who are least responsible - who use the least resources - are those most affected," Castle says. "For me ... coming from a privileged, wealthier country, I feel a great need to speak about this; to help religious groups really step into it very fully; and for all of us to take seriously both our individual behaviors that can change things as well as working toward systems change."

The "Faith and Science: Towards COP26" initiative includes representatives from Christian religions as well as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism, according to Reuters.

COP26 opens Oct. 31 and runs through Nov. 12.

Earlham is a liberal arts college in Richmond, Ind., founded by Quakers in 1847. About 5.5% of students are Quaker. Before joining Earlham's School of Religion, Castle previously served as the General Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation, the Quaker world office, in London.