The Youth Environment Assembly is organized by youth for youth. It is a self-organized space for youth to discuss critical issues and build their capacity to make change in the world. More immediately, the 2021 Assembly is a key moment for youth to organize in the run up to the online session of the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly, the high-level body where countries discuss and help set the direction of global environmental governance. Youth participants raised issues related to, inter alia, incentives for cross-faith youth collaboration, the need for the SDGs to be the basis for all faith-based discussions and children participation.
Youth will also be able to discuss key issues with other youth in their regions through the coordination meetings. There are also opportunities to speak to the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Inger Andersen, and the President of UNEA.
Youth and Faith-Based Engagement
Shantanu Mandal, Brahma Kumaris, Children and Youth Major Group,, began this thematic consultation by leading participants through an exercise to connect with their favourite seasons and experiences of nature. He drew a parallel between the optimism of building back better from the pandemic and the optimism that is the basis of faith-based action.
Alphonce Munyao Muia, Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability Africa, MGCY, started the session with a prayer. He underlined that the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises are caused by selfishness, greed, and apathy, and that these problems require spiritual, rather than political or technical, responses. He relayed that religious leaders are already supporting environmental goals and undertaking actions to contribute to sustainability.
Iyad Abumoghli, Faith for Earth Initiative UNEP, reported that the Initiative’s three goals are empowering leadership of faith-based organizations in decision making; greening faith-based financial and investment institutions; and bridging the gap between science and scripture. He stressed the need to bring the highest level of leadership of faith-based organizations together to discuss the environment with one another and with stakeholders such as youth through a Youth Council.
Neeshad Shafi, Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar, highlighted that religion can be fundamental in igniting the behavioral change needed to enable environmental protection. He underscored the need for a gender equality perspective.
In the ensuing discussion, youth participants raised issues related to, inter alia, incentives for cross-faith youth collaboration, the need for the SDGs to be the basis for all faith-based discussions and children participation.
In response, the panelists discussed eco-literacy and the potential to use all religions’ common concern for natural resources as a unifying and peacebuilding tool, and welcomed a forthcoming resolution led by Iceland, supported by the Nordic countries, recognizing the role of ethics and values in environmental governance, which represents the first such resolution in UN history.
Closing the session, Munyao Muia, emphasized the need to “put our morals and values ahead” in advancing the work on environmental protection, adding that religion has a crucial role to play in that.