Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana Wins International Award for Work on Climate Change
I was privileged two weeks ago to represent my faith entity, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, at a United Nations sponsored programme on Climate Change in the United Kingdom where I received an International Award on behalf of the EPC for her leading work on Climate Change from the UN General Secretary.
The Windsor ARC-UNDP Celebration
I was privileged two weeks ago to represent my faith entity, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, at a United Nations sponsored programme on Climate Change in the United Kingdom where I received an International Award on behalf of the EPC for her leading work on Climate Change from the UN General Secretary. The November 2-4, 2009, meeting brought faith leaders from around the world and we met at historic city of Windsor. The event was hosted by HRH the Prince Philip and attended by the Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon. The aim was to launch and discuss our long term initiatives meant to protect the Living Planet. The many religious leaders, faith organizations and others present were given the opportunity to announce their Plans locally for specific periods in the years ahead. The Celebration came just over a month before the Copenhagen Climate Change talks in December.
The issue of climate change has not only become topical globally but also a very essential cross-cutting subject in all socio-economic sectors of the economy and governance. It therefore needs to be addressed by national institutions including religious organizations all over the world. Although governments may be in the forefront of addressing the concerns of climate change in some countries, Faith- Based Institutions need to complement the efforts of governments by reaching a wider section of the population especially those at the grassroots.
The Windsor event, accordingly, marked the largest ever commitment by the faiths to environmental action. To partner with them the Alliance of Religions for Conservation (ARC) and UNDP invited key secular environmental organizations to commit to work side by side with the faiths. The Alliance of Religions and Conservation was founded by HRH Prince Philip in 1995. It is a secular body helping the world’s major religions develop environmental programmes based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices. It also helps secular environment groups’ work with the faiths to protect the natural world. Clearly, the destruction of the natural environment – including the impact of climate change – is probably the biggest challenge to the welfare of all life on earth. It threatens the survival of communities and puts the diversity and wonder of nature at risk. For many people, all over the world, this has created fear and anxiety about the future.
Our deliberations at Windsor confirmed that it is indeed time when the major religions of the world should take the lead by sharing our insights, and working with our faithful to address these issues for generations to come. The Celebration was therefore aimed to assist faith communities create long-term action plans, offering practical models of constructive engagement with these great global issues. It was emphasized that the key contribution the religions can make to the environmental issues of today is to develop programmes that will deliver responses based not on fear, guilt, or apprehension, but because they are true to what the faith understands.
The Role of Religious Institutions
The Windsor gathering agreed that Religious Institutions are uniquely positioned to develop programmers that will shape the behaviour and outlook of people for generations to come. This could be through teaching children to love nature; creating new prayers and songs; investing pension funds in alternative energy; managing farms, forests or commercial properties more ecologically; encouraging faith media to discuss these issues; encouraging simpler lifestyles; persuading governments to act on illegal logging or river pollution. It is hoped from this sort of approach, others will be encouraged to develop their own plans worldwide, and we will be able to make a significant contribution to the Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference at the end of 2009. This will also create local, provincial, national and international celebrations to highlight specific commitments and in the process we would be linking faith communities world wide as community after community, in country after country, announces its Strategic Plan on Climate Change.
The Ghanaian Situation
In Ghana, a nation on the West Coast of Africa, the problems associated with the adverse effects of climate change, like the rest of Africa, are already obvious. The effects of climate change are manifesting in high tidal waves along our coastal belt, which is displacing lots of rural people, fisher folk and households. Erratic and unpredictable rainfall in the savannah and forest belts, low agricultural yields due to climate variability and malnutrition in children due to poor soils is also prevalent. In northern Ghana, the threat of desertification is also real with the continuous advance of the Sahara southwards. The impact of climate change therefore on agriculture and its implication for food security and good health of citizens cannot be over-emphasised. In effect, climate change has directly and indirectly exacerbated the incidence of poverty. The economy of the state is therefore greatly affected.
The E P Church’s Role
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana (EPC), which I serve as the chief servant, has over 150,000 members. It works in 138 districts throughout Ghana with 834 congregations and almost 250 pastors. It runs 2 Colleges of Education, 5 Senior High Schools, 95 Junior High Schools, 372 Primary Schools, 204 Kindergartens, 8 Hospitals and Clinics, 6 Agricultural Stations, 4 Vocational Training Centres and 23 Self help Projects. It also runs the Evangelical Presbyterian University College, a Church based institution with special emphasis on agriculture, business management, and Agricultural Extension Services- giving technical guidance to farmers in rural areas in order to help them increase their productivity All Programmes at the University are Information Technology or Computer-based, and community needs-driven.
Agenda 21 is one of the development programmes of the EPC focusing on sustainable development. It has a poverty reduction project in three districts in Northern Ghana with emphasis on nutrition, environment and sanitation and has established sanitation clubs in secondary and primary schools equipping them with basic hand tools to facilitate cleaning of the environment and to carry out best practice demonstrations.
The EPC’s Future Projects
In line with the strategic focus of the church and in view of the enormous harm that the effects of climate change are manifesting in Ghana and Africa in general, the EPC has readily positioned itself and is ready to collaborate with any willing and capable partners to carry out mitigation and adaptation measures that go to address the effects of climate change. The EP Church envisages that in the next 5-7 years, it will conserve a total of 300 acres of degraded land throughout Ghana with adequate support. The 6 agricultural stations of the church will each embark on a massive tree-planting campaign to conserve a minimum of 10 acres each year. This will be done through intensive community mobilization and education, training in nursery and forest management and the organization of farming groups.
A novelty project that is peculiar to the EP CHURCH is the training of community fire volunteers as an integral part of our reforestation projects. In the past 4 years, we have trained a total of 125 fire volunteers in northern Ghana where bush burning and land degradation is endemic. These volunteers who are members of their communities became the guardians of replanted areas and ensured that no bush burning occurred within their jurisdiction. This was achieved through intensive education on the effects of bush burning on their environments and its implications for livelihoods and the possible threat of desertification that could result from their actions. These conserved areas regained their soil fertility ratios and became prime areas for the cultivation of cereals and tuber crops, especially yams. The subsequent improvement of their income through the sale of good farm yields served as good enough incentive towards the replication of their effort in other adjoining communities and the increase in farm sizes.
The E.P. Church, therefore, is ready to seize any opportunity that might come its way to conserve degraded lands through re-forestation intervention and income generating activities. The church is known and credited with intervening in poor, marginalized and vulnerable communities in Ghana and assisting rural communities as part of its social responsibility and call. We are therefore in a position of strength and experience to partner the ARC and other like-minded entities to embark on any massive project in land or forest conservation in Ghana. The EP Church has the necessary experience, human-resources and infrastructure in partnership with other key players to undertake these activities successfully. The E.P.CHURCH is consequently ready and poised to deliver on this new partnership with the Alliance for Religions and Conservation and her partners, the Inter-Faith Power and Light Ministries of the USA who are interested in developing eco-twinning projects with congregations in Africa as part of a ‘carbon covenant’ project and as their contribution towards addressing the effects of Climate Change.
The E P Church’s Commitments
The E P Church, as stated evidently above, is committed to help mitigate the effects of climate change. It will as a result continue to raise awareness about climate change in its congregations with particular emphasis on the need to conserve forest resources. Educational institutions, radio discussions and other public meetings will to be used to help achieve this. It will also target rural church communities to communicate basic information on climate change. The Church will work towards integrating the theme of climate change into its worship, liturgy, preaching and into the curricula of it’s theological institutions and establish eco-congregations at all levels. It will also engage the government of Ghana through the Christian Council of Ghana to advocate policy that mitigates the effects of climate change.
For the fact remains, as affirmed by Olav Kjorven, Assistant Secretary-General UNDP, “the world’s faiths joined together in this cause – if viewed in terms of sheer numbers of people – could become the planet’s largest civil society movement for change. With their unparalleled presence throughout the world, the world’s religions could be the decisive force that helps top the scales in favor of a world of climate safety and justice for future generations… this event will be one for the history books”.
It is therefore recommended that religious leaders and their institutions take a positive position on the National Climate Change discourse and lead a concerted effort in a massive advocacy campaign locally and internationally that will lead to
- Compliance with emission reduction measures and quotas by the polluting countries adopted by international conventions and protocols.
- Play a watch dog role by ensuring that national adaptation and mitigation projects are budgeted for and duly executed.
- Ensure that adaptation and mitigation policies and appropriate regulatory and financing mechanisms are formulated by our parliaments.
- Advocate for the inclusion of civil society and faith-based institutions in the implementation and monitoring of national projects.
- Work towards the creation of a joint national platform by the Faith-based institutions, government institutions and other secular institutions to proactively pursue the right policies and programmes on Climate Change.
- Advocate for the financing of capacity building programmes for all key players.
- Collaborate with all the relevant state institutions like Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Environmental Protection Agency, and the universities to advance the cause of climate change mitigation.
In so doing, the Religious Institutions will be fully engaged in the process nationally and use their various structures on the ground to efficiently disseminate and communicate the issues of climate change to majority of citizens and thus lead to a very concerted effort aimed at safe-guarding the integrity of God’s good creation for posterity.