Striving "to safeguard the integrity of creation" and urging all provinces to get involved, the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN), meeting in Canberra, Australia, April 17-22, addressed the church's response to global warming and related issues such as rising sea levels, droughts, and increased storms and floods.
"It's a matter of continuing the education," said Martha Gardner, the network's Episcopal Church delegate and a consultant in the Episcopal Church's Office of Peace and Justice Ministries. "People of faith are becoming increasingly concerned about protecting the Earth and its people."
Becoming a major player
Hosted by Bishop George Browning of Canberra and Goulbum and organized in association with the Anglican Communion's U.N. Observer's Office, the meeting featured reports on issues affecting individual provinces, as well as current and planned local initiatives.
The network noted that current global CO2 levels have not been experienced for more than 400,000 years and average global temperatures rose by almost 1°C during the twentieth century.
Delegates from Polynesia and Melanesia described how "low-lying atolls in Tuvalu and Kiribati are experiencing coastal flooding and contamination of fresh water," and that current sea-level is rising at 6 cm per decade. Delegates from Kenya and the Philippines reported an increase in the range of mosquitoes, resulting in more widespread malaria -- a concern that is attributed in part to rising temperatures.
Longer and more severe droughts were reported in Australia and Africa which, "in the case of Kenya, are also coupled with uncertainty over the length and timing of the rainy season," the network noted. "Prolonged droughts across Africa are already affecting local food security, causing increased poverty and suffering. This trend is set to intensify under projected temperature rises."
Delegates from the U.S., Canada, Oceania and the Philippines reported increased storm activity severely affecting vulnerable coastal populations.
"The Anglican Communion has a really exciting opportunity to become a major player in grass roots understanding of environmental issues and can genuinely provide a force to make a difference," said David Shreeve, director of the U.K.-based Conservation Foundation. "Canberra was excellent and it comes at a time when there is a surge of interest and an encouragement from many quarters to link environmental concern with faith and spirituality."
The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, a California priest and an Episcopal Church participant at the ACEN meeting, is executive director of the Regeneration Project, an interfaith ministry devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith. "Every mainstream religion has a mandate to care for creation," she said. "It is particularly important for us to recognize that the poorest countries will feel a disproportionate negative impact from global warming. Yet these are the countries that can least handle disruptions to their food and water supplies. And, unlike the wealthier nations, they are the least able to pioneer solutions."
Another positive feature, Shreeve noted, is the networking about environmental issues throughout the Communion. "In Canberra there were representatives from developed and developing countries. Some were from huge continents suffering from major drought; others were from tiny islands threatened by rising sea levels," he said. "The network [gives] its members a unique opportunity to share and discuss a wide range of issues presented by colleagues with first hand knowledge. You just don't get that from the media."
The Anglican Observer at the United Nations, Archdeacon Taimalelagi Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, also attended the meeting.
The network was formed after the Anglican Consultative Council, the Communion's main policy-making body, met in Hong Kong in September 2002 and adopted a resolution -- based on a proposal presented by Tuatagaloa-Matalavea -- which asked all churches of the Anglican Communion to place environmental care on their agenda. The council also requested that ACEN be established as an official network of the Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church's 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis passed a resolution on sustainable development which endorsed the ACC resolutions.
Gardner, who is also a lay deputy to General Convention and co-chair of the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group, said, "The more education and advocacy we do to change our ways, both from the public policy perspective...and changing our own consumer ways, the more we are going to help our Anglican sisters and brothers around the world."
The network is currently unfunded and Gardner is hopeful that fundraising efforts can be initiated. "We have a real role in the network to take some leadership," she said. "I am confident we can identify some resources."
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who the network commended for his outstanding leadership, has warned that continued failure to protect the earth and to resolve economic injustices within and between societies will lead not only to environmental collapse but also to social collapse.
"The conference was a marvelous opportunity for study, worship, reflection and scientific analysis in the context of a well-informed faith community," said Anglican Church of Canada representative Ken Gray. "It was beneficial to meet in the global south which faces specific climate-related challenges caused in significant part by established industrial practices in the global north."
Presentations were offered by leading Australian environmental experts, including Professor Ian Lowe, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University in Brisbane, and Professor Peter Cullen, emeritus professor of the University of Canberra, where he was dean of applied science.
"We were particularly blessed by the contributions of Australian participants, who shared insightful and detailed scientific analysis of the consequences of global climate change in their region," Gray said.
The Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, the Anglican Communion's consultant for ethics and president of the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia, described the meeting as a success. "We had good representation from regions affected by global climate change," he said. "There is clearly a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the work and it was good to hear some of the initiatives that are taking place in a variety of places."
Out of a total of 38 Anglican provinces, 13 were represented at the Canberra meeting. Each regional co-coordinator agreed to work at gaining representatives from the provinces in their region that are not currently represented. The regional coordinators form the Executive Committee of the network, of which Bishop Browning has agreed to be the convener.
The network will also include energy points, individuals who are not official representatives but who have knowledge, energy and commitment to contribute to the network.
A soon-to-be-released statement from the network meeting highlights environmental concerns and proposed responses designed to encourage Anglicans to play a major role in effecting change. "We commit to pray for one another, especially our sisters and brothers who courageously set standards in developing countries," the statement says. "We commit ourselves to maintain this global network, to share resources with each other, and to lift the Anglican Communion to new levels of both awareness and commitment to these aspects of our Gospel imperative."
The statement will be presented to the June 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council for endorsement.
Further information about the Anglican Communion Environmental Network can be found online at: http://www.aco.org/ethics_technology/introducing_the_network.html.