At Copenhagen environment summit

Meghan Roth called it “a life-changing experience” when Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu spoke Dec. 13 here to those concerned about the impact of climate change on the world.


“I was extremely moved,” said the 23-year-old student at United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. who is from the Virginia UMC Conference. She was in the crowd at Copenhagen’s City Hall Square who watched Tutu present a clock to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The clock represented more than a half-million signatures calling for climate justice. The signatures were gathered in some 20 countries by the Countdown to Copenhagen Campaign.

Roth, a director of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS), is part of the agency’s delegation attending the Dec. 7-18 climate change summit. She marveled at the ability of the former Anglican archbishop of South Africa to encompass all affected by the issue.

“He can call people to confession, for those of us in places of more privilege, and also speak to those who are under systems of oppression, which limit their ability to speak out,” Roth said in a telephone interview from Copenhagen.

Tutu spoke of 300,000 people “dying as a result of the poverty caused by all of the emissions coming from the rich countries.”

After watching the speech, Esmeralda Brown, part of a delegation of United Methodist Women (UMW), told an interviewer that her organization stands in solidarity with Tutu. She pointed out that women and children are among those dying.

Marking the midpoint

Several United Methodists were among the religious and civil society representatives marking the summit’s midpoint. Events included a Dec. 12 march and rally outside the Bella Center, where negotiations are taking place involving 192 governments, Tutu’s speech and a Dec. 13 ecumenical celebration at a Lutheran church.

Ecumenical celebration in Copenhagen

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, right, and Bishop Sofie Petersen of Greenland, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, led a procession during a Dec. 13 ecumenical celebration.

The goal of the march was to bring outside voices to the negotiation process, said John Hill, who directs the GBCS work area on Environmental Justice.

In particular, religious leaders are suggesting that the United States has a responsibility to make strong commitments toward reducing carbon emissions and “strong funding for international adaptations for struggling countries,” Hill said.

“The conflict is between the actions of the developed countries and the lesser-industrialized countries,” Hill explained. “There has been a sense that the U.S. will not step forward until others do.”

The ecumenical celebration at the Church of Our Lady was attended by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, members of the Danish government, religious leaders and summit participants. The public waited outside in a long line to gain entry, but many were turned away due to lack of space, according to Ecumenical News International.

United Methodist Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic & Baltic Area, who is from Denmark, was part of the processional. The Rev. Ole Birch of the United Methodist Church in Denmark gave the welcome.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams preached the main sermon and told the crowd, "We cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow humans unless we also work at keeping the Earth as a place that is a secure home for all people.”

Security for all

Security for all is important to Church World Service (CWS), a partner in the Countdown to Copenhagen Campaign. The agency’s executive director, the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist, is also participating in the summit. "Faith-based organizations like CWS who are also humanitarian agencies can bring a unique and needed dual voice to the debate and help amplify the messages of poor communities whose voices otherwise would not be heard clearly,” he said.

That means listening to people like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist and the president of Liberia. She told a June climate change conference in Monrovia that the city is almost below sea level because global warming has led to higher water and beach erosion along Liberia’s coastline. She said higher sea levels also threaten the affordable supply of food from the sea.

Tupou Kelemeni, a Hawaii resident and UMW board member, expressed concern about the adverse impact of climate change on many countries, including her native Tonga in the South Pacific. “We must all try to share the burden of this heavy load,” she wrote in a blog about her participation in Copenhagen. “If not for ourselves, [we should] do it for the children, do it for the voiceless women of the Global South, do it for the youths and the future of our planet Earth.”