Why climate change unites Buddhists around the world

International climate change talks are in the works, and different religious leaders are weighing in, including – in a remarkable show of unity – Buddhist leaders.  

Ashwini Bhatia/AP
An exile Tibetan bows to seek blessings of his spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as the Tibetan leader leaves after attending an event at a Tibetan school. The Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders released a declaration on climate change Thursday in a display of unity.

The interactions between environmental issues and faith are evolving, as religious leaders weigh in to guide actions of the faithful on climate change. 

Buddhist leaders expressed support and lofty expectations for the Paris climate talks at the end of November in a document they call "Global Buddhist Climate Change Collective," released Thursday.

"We are at a crucial crossroads where our survival and that of other species is at stake as a result of our actions," leaders wrote in the statement. "There is still time to slow the pace of climate change and limit its impacts, but to do so, the Paris summit will need to put us on a path to phase out fossil fuels."

The statement was signed by the Dalai Lama and 14 other Buddhist leaders from nations including Japan, Mongolia, France, the United States, and Vietnam. They represent roughly one billion Buddhists, and this is the first time so many Buddhist leaders have expressed a united opinion, according to the BBC. 

The leaders themselves call their climate statement an unprecedented show of Buddhist unity, according to the Huffington Post. The leaders who signed the document received further support from Chan Khong, a Buddhist disciple at Plum Village in Vietnam. 

"We must take action, not out of a sense of duty but out of love for our planet and for each other," she wrote, according to the Buddhist publication, the Lion's Roar. 

Most responses to her statement on an official Facebook page expressed support, although one man who commented expressed concerns that the political thrust on the issue threatened Buddhist teachings against extremism. 

"I do believe action is warranted by the facts," he commented. "That said, the solutions included in this statement are political in that they are specific."

The declaration is the product of a council of Buddhist leaders formed in September to contribute to the United Nations climate talks in Paris starting Nov. 30, according to Lion's Roar. The Buddhist leaders do not set out a policy in their document; rather they described their view and called on political leaders to take action. They hope to decrease global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels and phase out fossil fuels.

They end by expressing solidarity with Catholic and Muslim leaders, who have already released formal statements on climate change, and interest in an upcoming "Hindu Declaration on Climate Change."

Religious leaders have been weighing in on climate change this year, but this is one of the most unified calls from a religion's leadership. The pope referenced his encyclical "Laudato Si," which advocated action to protect the environment, when he spoke to the US Congress in September, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

A group of Muslim leaders published the Islamic Climate Declaration from Istanbul in August, although it was much less representative of the broader Islamic world than the statement by Buddhist leaders, the BBC reported. 

"We are not set up like [Christian] churches; there is no Islamic pope," Fazlun Khalid, an Islamic environmental activist who helped draft the declaration, told the BBC. "The Declaration is like a trigger – to say, wake up wherever you are, wake up and take care of the Earth."

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