Global Anglican Congress on the Stewardship of Creation

Declaration to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development

We desperately need a change of spirit. The environmental debate is as much about religion and morality as it is about science. Sustainable development is one of the most urgent moral issues of our time. It begins in sustainable values that recognize the interrelatedness of all life. Sustainable development cannot be defined in economic terms alone, but must begin in a commitment to care for the poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless.

Therefore it is sustainable community that we seek. The ecological systems that support life, the qualities that sustain local communities, and the voices of women, indigenous peoples and all who are marginalized and disempowered must be approached from this perspective.

As we move into the third millennium, it becomes increasingly obvious that human beings are set on a path of unprecedented environmental destruction and unsustainable development. A profound moral and spiritual change is needed. Human exploitation of the environment has yielded not only benefit, but also appalling poverty, pollution, land degradation, habitat loss, and species extinction. Despite political and scientific debates in some quarters, it is clear that human behaviour has overwhelmingly contributed to ozone depletion and global warming. We desperately need to change.

We write as representatives of the Anglican Communion. Our 70 million members are present in 165 countries across the globe. They speak from their experience of the problems of development in both urban and rural communities. At all levels of the life of the communion the environment has repeatedly been identified as one of the key moral and religious challenges before us.

Religious faith properly understood can and should be a major force for change towards sustainable development, sustainable communities, and a healthy environment. Anglicans accept the need to oppose all forms of exploitation. Specifically, we believe that a better, more holistic, and religiously informed understanding of Creation, which recognizes that human beings are part of the created order not separate from it, will make a major contribution to the transforming change of spirit that is essential in the third millennium. We are committed to putting our faith into action.

Many different religious traditions start from the belief that the world primarily belongs to God and not to human beings. Land, sea and air belong first and foremost to God. At most they are entrusted to human beings who are expected, in turn, to respond with gratitude and to hand them on faithfully and intact to generations to come. As stewards of the environment human beings are required by God to act faithfully and responsibly. Other theological perspectives within the Christian faith also support a renewed ethics of caring for the whole creation.

All religious traditions call their believers to disciplines of life that show respect for the environment that we inhabit. We value life more than possessions. We value people more than profits. Based on this shared commitment this Anglican Congress calls on people of all faiths to act together by

  • seeing creation as good, beautiful and sacred;
  • understanding that humanity is a part of the created order, not separate from it;
  • evolving a new relationship with the created order founded on stewardship and service, with production and consumption restrained by genuine need and not simply governed by desire;
  • locating our unity in the Spirit that breathes life into all things;
  • celebrating the glorious God-given diversity that is everywhere.

We therefore call upon Governments of all nations to support sustainable communities, by

  • working together for peace, justice and economic prosperity within a context of ecological stability;
  • refusing to subordinate the good of all for the good of some;
  • recognizing the intrinsic worth of non-human forms of life, and committing ourselves to strengthen and enforce the protection of endangered species;
  • recognizing the intrinsic worth of the diversity of life, as well as the inextricable link between biodiversity and cultural diversity on which the survival of indigenous peoples, indeed all humankind, depends;
  • rejecting the destructiveness of the culture of militarism, that spends disproportionate amounts of money on armaments when so many people in the world are still hungry, and stockpiles nuclear weapons and materials at great cost to the environment and to human well being;
  • recognizing that environmental degradation constitutes a violation of the universal declaration of human rights. Poverty and environmental degradation are interwoven and it is the poor, and the exploited, often on the basis of race and gender, who suffer most from this degradation;
  • recognizing that development is not sustainable if it steals from present and future generations. The security of future generations can only be attained by addressing the urgent questions posed by the intolerable burden of unpayable debt, the challenges of unsustainable agricultural practices, and by the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to ecologically stable levels. To this end we recommend serious consideration of the principle of contraction and convergence;
  • affirming that the rivers and the land, the sea and the air are a global commons, entrusted to human beings to be handed on faithfully and intact to generations to come.
  • Defining the rules of international trade in ways that demand greater corporate responsibility in promoting greater inclusion of the marginalized and more sustainable environmental practices.
  • Recognizing that current rates of HIV/AIDS present a profound challenge to sustainable community, which must be met by adequate and equitable access to education and treatment.

released Aug. 18-23 2002

(statement was endorsed by Council of General Synod at its meeting Nov. 8-10, 2002)