Ecumenical News International 

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has told leaders from the world's major faiths that they occupy a "unique position" in future discussion on the fate of the planet, and that their communities count on this crucial issue. 

His words came on 3rd November, shortly after he expressed reservations about hopes pinned on politicians for the December UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, after talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London.

Copenhagen

LOOKING FORWARD: The December climate change conference will take place in Copenhagen. PICTURE: Anna Gambardella (www.sxc.hu)

"Together the major faiths have established, run or contribute to more than half of all schools worldwide. You are the third largest category of investors in the world. You produce more weekly magazines and newspapers than all the secular press in the European Union. Your potential impact is enormous."

- Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

"I'm reasonably optimistic that this Copenhagen [meeting] will be a very important milestone," Ban told journalists after meeting Brown, according to the AFP news agency. "At the same time, realistically speaking, we may not be able to have all the words on detailed matters." He noted, "We need the political will, if there is a political will I'm sure there is a way we can conclude a binding agreement." 

Ban then made a speech at a three-day conference on faiths and the environment organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and the United Nations Development Programme at Windsor Castle near London. 

There Ban told around 200 leaders representing nine of the world's major religious communities, "The world's great faith communities occupy a unique position in discussion on the fate of our planet and the accelerating impacts of climate change. You are the leaders who have the largest, widest and deepest reach." 

In the presence of Britain's Prince Philip, who is one of ARC's founders and also the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, Ban noted, "We have the know-how, we have resources, but the only vacuum is political will. You can inspire, you can provoke, you can challenge your leaders, through your wisdom, through your followers." 

"Together the major faiths have established, run or contribute to more than half of all schools worldwide. You are the third largest category of investors in the world. You produce more weekly magazines and newspapers than all the secular press in the European Union. Your potential impact is enormous." And Ban added: "You can - and do - inspire people to change." 

Ban, whose speech deviated from a prepared text, said, "Science has made it quite clear - plainly clear - that this climate change is happening and accelerating much, much faster than one realises." 

The U.N. head noted that the world's poorest are also the least responsible for the emissions in the atmosphere yet "the most likely to suffer first and foremost" from the impact of climate change. 

Faith groups, he said, speak to the heart of humanity's deepest needs. "This is why the voices, the deeds and the teachings of the world's faith groups are so vitally important. In the coming weeks I urge you to make your voices heard loud and clear," Ban stated. 

Later, Martin Palmer, ARC's general secretary said: "The UN secretary-general goes to Copenhagen not just with the prayers and best wishes of every major faith in the world but with the knowledge that if, God forbid, the nations of the world are unable to rise to the occasion at Copenhagen, the faiths will - and already have. 

"It may be that it falls to civil society to have the energy, the vision, the strength and the will to go to where no major national government will go," said Palmer. "Nothing would give us greater pleasure than for the governments of the world to walk side by side with the faiths but if they cannot, then we and many other sectors of civil society will journey on and hope that at some point in the future they might catch us up."