SGI-UK Taking Action for the Climate
SGI-UK General Director Robert Harrap talks about SGI-UK’s history of climate action and its joint activities with other faith communities in the lead up to and during the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, UK, in 2021.
Environmental issues are taken seriously in the UK and civil society is actively engaged in tackling these issues. The network of religious organizations has strengthened as climate issues have come to be seen as moral and ethical challenges to protect not just humanity but the precious planet that is our home.
A network called “Faith for the Climate” has pulled together members of many faiths, and SGI-UK has played an active role in this.
A History of Dedicated Climate Action
SGI-UK has a long history of engaging with environmental issues. In 1992, we hosted the “Pre-UNCED [United Nations Conference on Environment and Development] Conference on Sustainable Development” at SGI-UK’s Taplow Court center. Out of this came the Taplow Court Declaration, which contributed to the landmark Rio Declaration on Environment and Development at the Earth Summit in Brazil later that year. We have supported the Network of Buddhist Organization’s annual interfaith Buddhist Action Month for many years, which has care for the environment as one of its key themes, and SGI-UK members have contributed by taking action to protect and nurture the environment.
Taplow Court, SGI-UK’s national center, has a number of projects including tree planting, recycling, replacing our petrol vehicles with electric ones and developing a chalk grassland meadow within the grounds so that we can become more sustainable.
In 2020, we started a series of webinars titled “Bodhisattvas for the Earth—The Buddhist Response to the Climate Crisis.” The Centre for Applied Buddhism led the webinars every other month, introducing speakers from other faith backgrounds who shared the climate issue from their religious perspective. In alternate months, we showcased the work of Soka Gakkai members from many different fields who are taking inspiration from their Buddhist practice to make positive contributions to solving the climate crisis.
In one of the webinars, I presented some of the ideas that President Daisaku Ikeda has shared over the years in his dialogues with global thinkers and in his peace proposals to encourage action on climate issues. We also invited our friends from the Soka Institute of the Amazon, an affiliate of the Soka Gakkai, to share their work. Through this alternating monthly rhythm, we were able to create a valuable network of friends and supporters that proved invaluable during the time of COP26.
SGI-UK was also involved in a number of interfaith events, such as the COP26 Vigil that took place in Glasgow’s George Square on October 31, 2021. Chiara De Paoli from SGI-Italy and I joined the outdoor event before being invited to tea by the Lord Provost (equivalent to Mayor) of Glasgow in the Council Chambers. Later, in the oldest synagogue in Glasgow, we participated in an interfaith discussion called the Talanoa Dialogue where faith leaders discussed the key topics to present to world leaders.
One key discussion was on loss and damage—urging countries to make financial contributions to countries such as the low-lying island nations in the Pacific for the loss and damage they have suffered due to the climate crisis. I was asked to speak at the interfaith service that concluded the event and shared some thoughts on the Buddhist view of the oneness of life and its environment.
SGI-UK at COP26
For the first week of COP26, SGI-UK organized a series of events in Glasgow at a venue near the Blue Zone where the COP26 negotiations would take place. We showed the “Seeds of Hope and Action: Making the SDGs a Reality” exhibition, a joint initiative of the SGI (Soka Gakkai International) and the Earth Charter International, and held a series of engaging panel events involving speakers who had participated in our webinars the previous year.
We were delighted when Kenyan youth activist Elizabeth Wathuti, a disciple of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, was able to join us to open the exhibition. Visitors to the exhibition were inspired by the message of “Seeds of Hope and Action” and drew great inspiration from the featured stories of individuals who have demonstrated that even small actions, when repeated, can make a difference.
Our events involved members of other faith groups, youth, climate activists from the Global South, storytellers who shared the narratives of those affected by climate change, and people moved to share their perspective through music, art and performance. Canon Giles Goddard of the Church of England and director of Faith for the Climate chaired the interfaith panel on November 2, 2021, and Dr. Maureen Sier, director of Interfaith Scotland, participated in a number of events with us. All our events were shared online and the recordings remain available.
Throughout the two weeks of COP26, a number of Soka Gakkai members from the UK and from abroad were able to enter the Blue Zone and be present during the negotiations. We were able to hear presentations on different aspects of the key issues: the participation of indigenous peoples, what a “just transition” means, the importance of establishing a loss and damage fund and the concerning aspects of carbon trading, and so on. We were also able to hear international speakers such as Barack Obama, Al Gore, Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate speak passionately on important topics.
SGI-UK is now accredited as an official observer organization of the COP process. Currently, we are discussing what this will mean for the future and how we can bring the voices of youth, the indigenous peoples of the world and the Global South to these crucial negotiations that impact all of us on planet Earth.
The next conference, COP27, will take place in Egypt in November 2022, and we are determined to have even more impact and to help achieve the important goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.