June 27, 2012



Last weekend, the 20th U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development ended in Rio de Janeiro without an agreement on an international action plan to curtail environmental degradation.   Government representatives issued a 53-page document titled “The Future We Want,” but it is short on actionable commitments.  Faith-based groups were quick to criticize the lack of progress on environmental goals and sustainable development.

Some NGO observers, such as Jim Leape, the Director General of WWF International, commented that real leadership on the environmental front is coming from individual governments, companies, and NGOs rather than in multilateral fora.  In a New York Times op-ed dated June 24, 2012, he wrote about initiatives by single countries, states, civil society, and corporations.  Examples include the Mexico City Pact to reduce carbon emissions and the Consumer Goods Forum, a group of 20 large companies striving to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.   

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams seemingly would agree with the importance of these smaller initiatives.  In a video message he recorded shortly before the Rio+20 Conference, he noted that “we have to start small and we have to start local…Last year in Kenya, I was able to see the work done by the Anglican Church there in developing the Umoja agricultural methods, methods that lift people out of subsistence agriculture to real sustainable production of food for themselves, and training also in nutritional information so that agricultural development, food security, and healthcare go together. There are many other such local projects, and I have also been deeply impressed by the way in which people locally across the world have challenged and resisted some of the depredations of the extractive industry, in many areas one of the greatest threats to a sustainable future.”  The complete text and video of his message can be found here.

The Church remains a source of leadership in promoting  environmental protection and sustainable development.  And if communities of faith, secular NGOs, businesses, and individual governments all take these small initiatives, we may yet see progress on the environmental front.  

Katherine Wood
Associate Director, Center for Anglican Communion Studies