Responsible Resource Extraction: A Conversation for the Whole Church

A conference on treaty rights and resource development brings South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the heart of Alberta’s oil sands region this weekend.

The gathering, “As Long as the Rivers Flow: Coming Back to the Treaty Relationship in our Time,” features Archbishop Tutu as a keynote speaker and takes place on May 31 and June 1 in Fort McMurray, Alberta.  The archbishop is known for his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and his support for divestment of fossil fuels in mitigating the effects of climate change.

The Anglican Church of Canada recognizes that one in every 54 jobs in Canada is in mining and more than 20,000 people are employed directly in the oil sands. The international reach of Canada’s mining industry is also strong – as of 2010 over one thousand Canadian mining companies comprising 60 per cent of mining and exploration companies operating globally, held assets in more than one hundred countries.

Our church is also aware that extraction and transport of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) affect the health of land, water and air, and the wellbeing of persons and communities often in ways that only become evident over time.

These operations also often cross the traditional territories of Indigenous people without their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), a right enshrined in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is a signatory.

The global reality is that the impact of resource extraction and climate stress fall disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable. Through our commitment to the Marks of Mission – “To seek to transform the unjust structures of society…” and “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation…” – Anglicans are drawn into this conversation worldwide.

Anglicans in Canada represent many and diverse experiences and perspectives with respect to resource extraction.  Together, we are finding creative ways to engage questions brought up by resource extraction. These expressions include:

  • Justice Camp 2014: Land, in August the Diocese of Athabasca will receive immersion session participants who will visit oil sands sites, First Nations communities and residents of the city of Fort McMurray in this program coordinated by the Diocese of Edmonton.
  • A study of the divestment of fossil fuels by churches
  • Participation in ecumenical and interfaith conversations about climate change.

In a 2013 Joint Declaration, the Anglican Church of Canada and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada spoke of “responsible resource extraction.” Our two churches affirmed that “responsible and sustainable relationships to water, land, home, and each other are part of realizing our full humanity.”

The Joint Declaration calls the whole church:

  • to learn about issues of resource extraction and the effects on environment, health, Indigenous peoples, communities, and economies and to raise awareness within our communities and with policy shapers and decision makers
  • to act in support of our partners in defining their own development goals, including supporting Indigenous communities in Canada and overseas in exercising their right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent; and to act to embed enforceable legal obligations based on FPIC in Canadian policies and practices with respect to resource extraction
  • to advocate for responsible and ethical investment and actions by individuals, faith communities, corporations, and governments both in Canada and around the world
  • to pray for the humility and discipline to use Earth’s resources wisely  and responsibly.

Our church commends the UN effort to reach a global treaty in 2015 to secure a global agreement on a net zero emissions goal. Seventy-nine percent of Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2011 were from carbon dioxide, mostly from the combustion of fossil fuels.

We recognize that these are long-term challenges that will require collaboration among all the stakeholders.  This work is urgent and requires our patience at the same time.  Through it all we pray for wisdom and the courage of our convictions.

To read the full text of the Joint Declaration, please click here. To learn more about resource extraction in Canada and abroad, please visit Anglican ecumenical partner KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. To learn more about ecumenical responses to climate change, please visit The Canadian Council of Churches

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