Home Climate justice Factbox: Prayers, petitions and boycotts: Desmond Tutu’s climate activism

Factbox: Prayers, petitions and boycotts: Desmond Tutu’s climate activism



DURBAN, Dec. 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – After the anti-apartheid and pacifist South African archbishop, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, died at the age of 90 last Sunday, world leaders have hailed his long-standing advocacy on social justice issues ranging from inequalities, racism and homophobia to climate change.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has become an environmental icon as the effects of global warming became more apparent, using his influence to hold governments and the fossil fuel industry to account while giving voice to young activists Africans for the climate.

Ahead of Tutu’s funeral on Saturday, here are some of the ways he shed light on the climate emergency:

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Anti-apartheid activists succeeded in toppling the white minority regime by calling for a boycott and sanctions against the racist South African regime – a tactic Tutu has often said should be deployed to reduce use fossil fuels that heat the planet.

In articles, interviews and speeches, Tutu encouraged consumers to avoid media, sports teams and events sponsored by fossil fuel companies and to buy low carbon products.

He also called on universities, municipalities, foundations, businesses and cultural institutions to sever ties with big oil companies and invest in clean energy.


In 2015, Tutu used his profile to collect nearly 333,500 signatures for a petition calling on then-US President Barack Obama, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders to fix. a target of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

In the petition, Tutu called climate change “the greatest moral challenge of our time.”

The effort was part of an international campaign by religious leaders to pressure politicians to implement ambitious climate action ahead of the 2015 United Nations summit, where some 195 countries adopted the Accord. of Paris to curb global warming.

Tutu’s work also inspired students at the University of Cape Town to start their own petition, calling on the university to move away from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable energy.

Since submitting the petition in 2016 and other campaign years in August, the university’s responsible investment panel has recommended full divestment from fossil fuels by 2030.


Tutu was the first president of The Elders – a global group of human rights activists and political leaders fighting for peace – and has used this platform to publicly lobby for urgent action to tackle climate change.

Under Tutu’s leadership, The Elders lobbied world leaders to keep the path to the lowest 1.5 degree Celsius limit on global warming in the Paris Pact alive, through lectures, blogs written by young climate activists and other advocacy campaigns.


As part of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation – established to promote human rights research and leadership training – an annual peace conference held on Tutu’s birthday brought together various human rights experts at over the years.

For the 10th edition in 2020, young Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, among others, was invited to speak on climate justice, highlighting the unfair impacts of a warming planet and how African women and children are facing both poverty and climate shocks.

Nakate, who has worked to promote youth climate protests alongside Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, has drawn international attention for using platforms, such as the Peace Conference and climate talks in the United Nations, to highlight the problems affecting Africa.

Young South African climate activist Ayakha Melithafa was also invited to speak at the Tutu Foundation conference, along with other voices from the continent and high-level political figures.


As in the apartheid era, Tutu used his position as a religious leader to promote interfaith interventions such as petitions, marches and prayers to end human rights violations, support marginalized groups and fight against climate change.

His 2015 Paris petition was part of the “Faiths for Earth” initiative that brought together religious leaders from around the world to lobby governments for stronger climate action.

Tutu also shared an online prayer for the planet ahead of the 2014 UN summit of key climate leaders.

“We pray for our leaders, guardians of Mother Earth … that they will negotiate with wisdom and fairness … and lead us on the path of justice for the good of our children and the children of our children,” said writes Tutu in prayer.


Tutu was also a supporter of the Earth Hour movement, led by the global green group WWF, which unites businesses, communities and individuals to turn off electric lights for one hour at the same time each year to save energy and raise awareness. .

An event that started in 2007 in Sydney has now grown into an international campaign involving millions of participants.

“If we all do this simple act together, it will send a message to our governments too powerful to ignore,” Tutu said in a statement.

“They will know that the eyes of the world are watching,” he added.

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Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @KimHarrisberg; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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