Religions for Peace Launches Historic Movement for Rainforest Protection

Rainforests sustain all life on the planet, provide 1.6 billion people with the necessities of life, store millions of tons of carbon, regulate the global climate, and create cooling air and rains that support life on Earth. They are home to indigenous peoples and forest communities that have served as their guardians for many generations. If protected and restored, rainforests can provide an indispensable contribution to sustainable development. Instead, they are at grave risk.

We are losing rainforests at a perilous rate. Extractive industries and land conversion for agricultural products like beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper are driving tropical deforestation. These drivers are exacerbated by corruption, weak governance, inefficient land use and unsustainable patterns of consumption. Each year, an area of tropical rainforests the size of Austria is levelled to the ground. It undermines sustainable development, hastens climate change, drives species extinction and threatens planetary survival.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, climate change has taken an unprecedented turn for the worse, and food shortages, wildfires, and a massive die-off of coral reefs are likely to happen by 2040. The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming. If left unchecked, the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions will raise atmospheric temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius, undermining sustainable development, hastening climate change, driving species extinction and threatening planetary survival.

In Indonesia, a country with some of the last expanses of pristine tropical forest left in the world, the Interreligious Council of Indonesia (IRC Indonesia-RfP) led by Prof. Dr. Din Syamsuddin [Co-President for Religions for Peace and Moderator for Religions for Peace Asia] launched a new initiative entitled “Multi-faith Collaboration for Rainforest Protection” in Jakarta on 26-27 October 2018. The IRC Indonesia-RfP consists of major religious institutions in Indonesia including Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah, Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), Supreme Council of Confucians in Indonesia, Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia, Indonesian Council of Churches, and Buddhist Association of Indonesia.

The launch brought together approximately 500 people, including representatives of indigenous communities led by Ms. Rukia Sombolinggi, Secretary General, Alliance of Nusa Tara Customary Community (AMAN), and a coalition of religious communities and environmental civil society organisations SIAGA BUMI. Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Presidential Special Envoy for Interfaith and Inter-civilizational Dialogue, senior advisors from Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Foreign Ministry were present.

Bishop Gunnar Stålsett [Honorary President of Religions for Peace] joined the launch together with Rev. Kyoichi Sugino [Deputy Secretary General of Religions for Peace], Religions for Peace partners Dr. Charles McNeil, Senior Advisor, UN Environmental Program and Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director, Greenfaith.

Bishop Gunnar Stålsett stated, “Climate issues can not be solved neither by political decisions alone nor by economic mechanisms alone. It requires a moral and ethical commitment of people. We say in Religions for Peace ‘Different Faiths, Common Action.’ It is an expression of mutual respect, openness and commitment to practical action together. Engaging spiritual, moral and social capacities and networks of religious communities for climate and rainforest protection is critical. As religious communities, we must reflect with critical eyes our own morality and our commitment to the values we profess, and deepen our efforts to mobilise and engage a vast spiritual, social, cultural network of people for common action.”

The IRC Indonesia-RfP’s new initiative will intensify multi-religious engagement in education, advocacy and concrete community level action for the protection of rainforests, in partnership with indigenous peoples as their guardians, other civil society organisations, parliamentarians, and the government. The initiative will lobby for the enforcement of laws and policies that reduce deforestation, that provide sanctuary, support and safety to rainforest guardians, and that protect the rights of the indigenous peoples that inhabit them. The initiative will provide religious leaders and actors at multiple levels to become agents of behaviour change at the grassroots level for forest protection.

It has set up a permanent mechanism with a rotational presidium of three founding organisations with CDCC (serving as the Secretariat for IRC Indonesia-RfP) as its secretariat.