The world’s major religions have long expressed concern about the harm climate change can do to the planet, especially poorer communities that lie along vulnerable coastlines or suffer the ill health effects of pollution.

The most famous examples are Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and the Islamic Declaration on Climate, both released in 2015. But prominent leaders from the Protestant Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish communities are also raising the issue.

Religious representatives from the U.S. made a strong showing in Paris at the COP21 negotiations in December 2015 and took the “Paris pledge,” promising to do their part to lower carbon emissions.

More than 4,500 faith communities and individuals agreed to cut their carbon footprint in half by 2030 and become completely carbon neutral by 2050. Sally Bingham from Interfaith Power and Light, a coalition based in San Francisco, was even invited to present the group’s work at the U.S. Center, the official U.S. public outreach platform at the Paris Climate negotiations.

Interfaith Power & Light believes that by living as examples, its members show world leaders a path to a cleaner energy future.

Many coalition members are changing to more efficient light bulbs and installing solar rooftops and geothermal systems, in order to reduce their carbon footprints.

“We need the engagement of all segments of our society, including state and local governments, the business community, civil society and others,” said Shaun Casey, the special representative for religion and global affairs for the U.S. Department of State, in lauding the involvement of religious representatives.

Four women holding a scroll (Courtesy of Jennifer Hadden)
Interfaith Power & Light gives the State Department’s Karen Florini (second from right) a 3.6-meter scroll with 4,500 signatures to the Paris pledge. (Courtesy of Jennifer Hadden)

Religious leaders “have a moral voice and can inspire action with regard to global environmental issues and offer hope,” he said.

Moreover, there’s an economic benefit.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if the approximately 370,000 U.S. religious communities cut their energy use by only 20 percent, it would save them nearly $630 million per year. The electricity saved would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 480,000 cars off the road or planting 60,000 trees every year.

“The Paris Agreement is more than nations coming together,” Casey said.  “It is about cities, states, religious communities, citizen activists, and others joining together to take a new view about the future of the planet and leaving it a better place for those who come after us.”