ECEN Assembly 2018

November 24th, 2018 3:04 pm

Maria Atanasoaei is WSCF-Europe Communications Officer, and former Social Responsibility Coordinator of the InnBetween, WSCF-Europe-affiliated SCM in the Netherlands.

“COP24 will be a milestone in international climate policy”, I heard Jochen Flashbart, German State Secretary for Environment, say a few days ago, and my mind went back to the ECEN Assembly that I attended in October this year. The European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) is an alliance of churches and religious organisations, representing a range of Christian denominations, which come together to discuss and take action against environmental degradation and climate change. At the core of ECEN lies the belief that religious organisations have a huge role to play in actively defending the environment and promoting sustainable livelihoods, particularly through community engagement and activism. WSCF-Europe is proud to be part of this network and support these efforts. The ECEN Assembly that took place in October explored the intersection between economic and ecological justice and was the 12th gathering of this kind in the history of the network. The location where the Assembly met this year has a special relation to the topic of environmental protection – Katowice, Poland, is the city which, between 3rd-14th December, will be hosting COP24, the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event will bring together leaders and high-level representatives of countries across the world in a series of mandated events, action events and roundtables, focused on a range of topics related to environmental protection and climate change.

The ECEN Assembly was not a gathering on the same scale as the COP24, but it nevertheless brought together representatives of churches and religious organisations from 22 countries, mostly from Europe, but also from outside Europe. The Assembly kicked off on Saturday, 6th October, with a welcome reception and a brief introduction to the history of ECEN, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. In the introduction, the notion of property was discussed in relation to nature as Creation. ECEN’s achievements were highlighted, with the emphasis being on the way in which ECEN managed to create a bridge between faith communities and environmental activism over the years.

Prof. Mikael Fortelius (University of Helsinki) talking about the urgent need for climate change action.

The second day started with a beautiful worship service, which we attended at the invitation of the Polish Council of Churches and which was delivered partly in English, and partly in Polish. The day continued with a visit around Katowice, helping us explore a history which was deeply marked by the coal exploitation industry. This Silesian region relied almost entirely on coal extraction for over 40 years, a period in which severe environment damage occurred. A series of reforms in recent years have facilitated the transition of Katowice’s economy from a focus on heavy industry to a concentration of small and large businesses. In the second half of the day, Bishop Nicholas Holtam (Church of England) and Prof. Mikael Fortelius (University of Helsinki) helped us explore questions surrounding ethics and climate change. One key idea discussed was whether or not the seriousness of the climate change issue should be approached with a sense of urgency or embraced and tackled with optimism and joy, bearing in mind that no matter what attitude is embraced, the aim should be that of closing the gap between acceptance/belief and activism/action. Following this discussion, we had the chance to see some examples of activities that have closed this gap. These came from Germany, where churches significantly contributed to the discussion on the closing of coal mines, and from Hungary, where certain church schools teach environmental education, treating it as a subject of equal importance to all the other subjects of the curriculum. The second day closed with an evening open forum on care of creation in European churches.

Dr. Eszter Kodacsy-Simon talking about environmental education in Hungary.

The third and fourth days of the Assembly continued these conversations. Professors from the University of Poznan and University of Katowice talked to us about the concept of climate justice and its intersection with economic justice. We also had the chance to hear from Jukka Uosukainen, Director of the UN Environment Climate Technology Centre and Network, about the preparations and hopes for COP24. Our own reflections were shared in small groups focused on a range of topics. I was part of the environmental education thematic group, in which we discussed barriers to changing behaviours that damage the environment, as well as ways of overcoming these barriers and what position can educators take in facilitating community engagement in environmental protection.

The Assembly concluded with a festive evening and a message of approaching the future with hope, yet caution. The conclusion was that dealing with climate change should be treated as an urgent issue and acted-upon immediately, but with the hope that past experiences of transition from environmental-damaging practices to environmental-friendly ones provide a learning ground which shows that action can lead to positive change. I found the Assembly to be a great learning experience and an important reminder that belief without action cannot lead to real change.

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