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Australians part of global climate change symposium

Australian officers and employees joined hundreds of other delegates from 50 countries to participate in a global online symposium on climate change last month.

Australian participants and presenters joined around 300 people representing 50 countries at The Salvation Army Online Climate Change Symposium on 21-23 May.


The Salvation Army’s International Development Services at International Headquarters, London, hosted the symposium in response to the growing impacts of climate change around the world.


The event was supported by simultaneous translation into several languages, with presentations from specialists and practitioners from every continent and zone.

General Lyndon Buckingham gave the keynote message, exploring how the symposium – themed, ‘For the adaptation and resilience in the Global South’ – fit with the International Positional Statement on Caring for the Environment and the mission of The Salvation Army, as well as highlighting the urgency for these discussions.

“The General spoke to our responsibilities as stewards of creation,” said Major Brad Watson, Head of Community Engagement for The Salvation Army Australia, who attended several sessions during the three days. “Lieut-Colonel Dr Karen Shakespeare [also] presented a theology of why we need to act on climate change.”


Lieut-Colonel Shakespeare is Chair of The Salvation Army International Theological Council.


Two representatives from the International Children and Young People Advisory Group – Treasure Umoh (Nigeria Territory) and Blessed Kachepa (Zambia Territory) – also shared their perspectives as young Africans experiencing the realities of climate change, reminding delegates that we are not just responsible for God’s creation, but as his children we are part of that creation. “We are called to see our care for the environment and our response to the impacts of the climate crisis as part of our care for one another and ourselves,” they said.


Australian contributions

Presenters from Australia included Bruce Edwards, Project Coordinator for Salvation Army International Development (SAID); Amanda Lennestaal, Gender Equity Advocate and Officer Sustainability Project Lead; and Martin Nordstrom, Environment and Sustainability Manager, Salvos Stores Operations.


Bruce spoke about disaster resilience, Amanda about impacts of climate change relating to gender, and Martin about the circular economy and sustainability. 


Sector-specific case studies focused on community health, human trafficking, gender inequity, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and agriculture.


Presenters and delegates shared their lived experience of the direct impact of climate change personally and for their local communities. Diverse and innovative Salvation Army ministries around the world to mitigate against these effects were showcased.


“I think the symposium was called for several reasons,” said Brad. “We recognise that climate change disproportionally impacts the countries where people can least respond. We understand the responsibility of the G20 economies, who are the world’s biggest polluters, to act, and that includes Salvation Army territories in those countries.


Majors Robert (not pictured) and Vanessa Evans with two other delegates ready for the symposium.

“We understand that our work, particularly in emergencies and development, requires us to focus on climate resilience and responses that are sustainable, while also including ‘climate’ as a key consideration in any government partnerships.”

Living reality – Solomon Islands Australian officers currently serving in the Solomon Islands, Majors Robert and Vanessa Evans, also attended the symposium with Auxiliary-Captain Wency Ramo’oroa, Honiara Corps Officer, and two men from Fouele village in South Malaita where a small corps is located.

Foundations of the Anglican church on Fanalei Island, South Malaita, before the waters rose and took over.


“Fouele is populated by families who have migrated from neighbouring Fanalei Island, which is now almost uninhabitable due to rising sea levels,” explained Robert.

“Their story is well-researched and documented. More than 90 per cent of the population of Fanalei are now living on the mainland. We have visited this island and have seen the devastating impact of rising sea levels that have washed away houses and community structures, including the church. 

“Saltwater intrusion has destroyed any remaining arable land and freshwater sources. When I first arrived at the island there were a series of large steel containers loaded with rocks lining the shoreline in front of the remaining houses to hold back the tide. The fact that these two guys chose to attend this symposium makes a statement about their concern for climate change in the Solomon Islands."


Some of the Salvos who joined Robert and his walking group on the cleanup walk, 5 June.

Robert also planned a cleanup walk along the Rove Creek with his regular walking group and some Salvos youth on World Environment Day (5 June).

He preached on the theme of World Environment Day on Sunday 1 June and referenced the Climate Change Symposium. "It’s an alignment of opportunity that I’m keen to embrace, given the very real environmental issues in the Solomon Islands," he shared.


Closing reflections

“We need to devise sustainable strategies for the future,” said Colonel Diana MacDonald, Territorial Commander, Pakistan Territory. “All sessions at the symposium have reconfirmed our commitment to contribute to creating a better world around us.”


Lauren Westwood, Communications Specialist for International Women’s Ministries said, “Several times, we have been reminded of the unjust reality that those who are most impacted are often the least empowered to speak out and inform decisions. Despite the heaviness of the topic, conversations around the intersection of gender inequity with climate change were encouraging and hopeful, venturing beyond tokenistic contribution and abstract concepts of gendered impact. As Amanda Lennestaal astutely put it: “A commitment to gender equity will not solve climate change, but when women are involved, we are not forgotten. When women’s stories, insight and leadership are offered, it is to the betterment of all society.”


“Climate change is real,” proclaimed George Obondo, a project manager from Kenya East Territory, in his powerful and inspiring presentation, “and it is our responsibility, as we respond, to not leave anyone behind.”


A report of the symposium outcomes, along with recordings of the sessions, will be available in the coming weeks.


Article by IHQ Communications based on a report prepared by IHQ International Development Services







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