Religious leaders gather in Memphis and New Orleans as sea level rise threat grows.
Released for 19th October 2009

With the continuing and increasing threat of erosion, sea level rise, pollution and storms to the Mississippi basin and particularly the delta, religious leaders from the US and overseas are gathering with experts in Memphis and New Orleans this week. Their aim is to push for a successful outcome of crucial international climate talks to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in early December.

The Religion, Science and the Environment Symposium, being based at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans, brings together some of the world's leading scientists associated with climate change, and local and international dignitaries and environmental experts. Delegates will be touring the delta from October 21st to 25th.

“Taking action against climate change should not be understood as a financial burden but as an important opportunity for a healthier planet in order to benefit all humanity” says HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of an estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world.

Bartholomew, known as the “Green Patriarch” for his enduring concern on environmental issues, says reaching a good agreement in Copenhagen constitutes “a moral imperative for the conservation of God's creation.”

Other green religious leaders attending the symposium include Reverend Jim Ball, Reverend Sally Bingham, Bishop of London Richard Chartres, HE Archbishop Demetrios of America, HE Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Roman Catholic Church.

Also in attendance will be indigenous leaders Oran Lyons and Particia Cochrane, representing native American and Inuit communities.

The Symposium will discuss ways in which religion can be brought to influence world leaders on issues of the environment and in particular climate change.

One main theme of the event will be the vulnerability of coastal cities such as New Orleans to sea level rise, and the increasing incidence of tropical storms and hurricanes. Experts will tell the meeting of latest figures on melting in the Arctic region which indicate that sea level rises around the world will happen considerably earlier than previously estimated and be much larger. This poses serious problems for those tasked with defending vulnerable cities. Many cities are building, or in the case of New Orleans rebuilding defences, using already out of date predictions for sea level rise.

Figures from Arctic expeditions released last week suggest the Arctic could be largely ice-free within a decade, accelerating the loss of glaciers and the Greenland’s ice cap.

“The Arctic sea ice holds a central position in our Earth’s climate system. Take it out of the equation and we are left with a dramatically warmer world” said Dr Martin Sommerkorn, head of the Arctic Programme at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the latest ice melt data was released last week. “Such a loss of Arctic sea ice cover has recently been assessed to set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic itself – self perpetuating cycles, amplifying and accelerating the consequences of global warming. This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world’s population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions from massive carbon pools and extreme global weather changes", Dr. Sommerkorn said.

As coastal defences such as wetlands continue to be destroyed, cities such as New Orleans, London, New York, Dacca in Bangladesh and Manila in the Philippines come under ever greater threat from storms and rising sea levels.”

The Bishop of London will be among those sharing his concerns about his own diocese and the vulnerability of other coastal cities and communities to climate change at the Symposium and the need for them to combine together to face the threat of sea level rise and eroding coastlines.

More than 40 media from both inside and outside the US will be covering the event.

Press contacts:
Paul Brown: paulbrown5@mac.com +44 7771 973640
Kieran Cooke: keiran.cooke@btopenworld.com

For more information visit the main press briefing here.