October 19, 2023
Rosh Lal is the movement builder at Faith for the Climate, a climate justice charity that aims to inspire and encourage UK faith groups to address the climate crisis together.
My first interaction with the environmental movement was probably similar to many people of colour. It was a relief to find others who cared deeply about ecological destruction, but I was left wondering - where were the people who looked like me? We have made progress since then; there is increasing recognition that racial and environmental justice are deeply intertwined. But there is also an increasing awareness that inclusion in the environmental movement is still lacking. That’s why I was so heartened to see the launch of the RACE report, and why I was so eager to submit our data.
Faith for the Climate is a small organisation; we have three part-time staff - two of whom are people of colour - and eight trustees - four of whom are people of colour. But by having a mission to stand in solidarity with minority faiths groups, our work has ensured the participation of ethnic and racialised communities that call the UK home. Many of the minority faith communities in the UK claim a heritage in the Global South. These links to beloved kin, ancestral lands and diasporic communities are a motivator for faith communities to take action.
In my work at Faith for the Climate, I have developed relationships with four minority faith organisations and their representatives. By working closely with Kamran Shezad (Bahu Trust), Amandeep Kaur Maan (EcoSikh UK) Avnish Thakrar (Hindu Climate Action) and Olivia Fuchs (EcoDharma Network) - three of whom are people of colour - I am able to stand in solidarity with minority communities on the issues and campaigns that matter to them. The relationship between the capacity builders is also a beautiful demonstration of interfaith collaboration and friendship. Our director, Dr Shanon Shah, also continues to cultivate relationships with minority ethnic partners, including members of majority Black churches and many other faith activists of colour.
The work minority faith communities have been undertaking on the climate and ecological emergencies has also reflected the values of their rich traditions and community priorities. Kamran, in his work with Bahu Trust (a Sunni mosque), the Al Abbas Islamic Centre (a Shia mosque) and others has secured £7m from Birmingham City Council to retrofit homes in Balsall Heath, the area he grew up in and a part of Birmingham many British Pakistanis call home. Amandeep, in her work with EcoSikh UK, has partnered with the Canal and River Trust to do community cleanups in areas where many in the Sikh community live as well as involving Sikh volunteers in EcoSikh’s ‘One Million Trees’ planting project. Avnish and Hindu Climate Action continue to do educational workshops in Hindu temples across the country and was also part of an interfaith delegation that delivered a petition of thousands of signatures to the Prime Minister demanding 'compassionate, loving and just' commitments from the COP26 climate talks.
So what advice would I give to organisations that are wanting to be more inclusive, as well putting in place processes that ensure anti-racist practice? At Faith for the Climate, we have ensured our organisation is inclusive by both mission and design. Our trustees and wider network include leaders and representatives from several minority faith communities. Although we can and will do better, visibility at the level of governance demonstrates a commitment to inclusion and diversity.
Our mission also shapes the design of our work. Being a small organisation, our capacity is limited, but, for example, we have a standard policy of not organising all-white or all-male events. We try to capture the collaborative nature of our work in our comms as best as we can. To the best of our ability, we promote and support minority-ethnic-led endeavours - often behind-the-scenes and occasionally as the face of campaigns. By seeking inclusion of a diversity of faiths, we have brought on board leaders, representatives and staff who can speak to the priorities of their communities, as well as already being experienced in advocating for those communities in their engagement with structurally racist institutions.
The barriers we face to a truly inclusive environmental movement are persistent, but not insurmountable. By engaging in the work of tearing down those barriers, through the RACE report and our organisational practices, we know we are working towards building a cross-racial movement that can win. Let's continue to collaborate and learn from each other, in a spirit of humility, to win the movement we all need.