Religious and Indigenous Leaders United to Protect Rainforests

The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative Delegation with indigenous youth leaders Rainforests provide millions of people with food, shelter, livelihoods, medicine and clean water. If protected and restored, rainforests can provide an indispensable contribution to sustainable development. Instead, they are at grave risk.

Extractive industries and land conversion for agricultural products like beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp and paper are driving tropical deforestation. In the last decade alone, an area of forest the size of the United Kingdom, France and Germany combined has been lost forever. This destruction is unnecessary and is undermining efforts by the international community to address climate change, sustainable development and human rights.

Bishop Gunnar J. Stålsett [Honorary President, RfP] and Rev. Kyoichi Sugino [Acting Secretary General, RfP] led a mission to Indonesia for the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, together with Dr. Charles McNeill [Senior Advisor, UNEP] and Dr. Lars Løvold [Special Advisor, Rainforest Foundation Norway] on 5-7 September 2019. The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative brings the commitment, influence and moral authority of religions to efforts to protect the world’s rainforests and the indigenous peoples that serve as their guardians.

Indonesia is the home of an estimated 50-70 million indigenous peoples. For centuries, indigenous peoples and forest communities living in and near tropical forests have served as stewards and managers of tropical forests. Most of these forests are in countries where pressures to exploit forests are high. Indigenous peoples in Indonesia increasingly suffer from criminalization and violence, often related to investments in indigenous territories.

At the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Lindau, Germany on 20-23 August 2019, religious and spiritual leaders from all over the world united to affirm their commitment to end tropical deforestation and stand in solidarity with the indigenous peoples that serve as their guardians. “Faiths for Forests Declaration” adopted by the World Assembly states that “deforestation is rampant, and it is accelerating. This destruction is an affront to all faiths and spiritual traditions. … We see that protecting rainforests is part of a larger moral fabric that includes social and economic justice, respect for human rights and human dignity and achieving peace and equality.”


Celebrating efforts to protect the world’s rainforests

Recognizing the need for urgent and decisive action to address deforestation as a driver of species loss, deepening inequality and climate change, over 900 religious leaders from 125 countries endorsed the “Faiths for Forests Declaration.” The Declaration recognizes a “profound moral obligation to make care for tropical forests a top spiritual priority” and commits religious leaders to raising awareness about the deforestation crisis within their communities, places of worship and congregations as an expression of their care for the Earth.

The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative has been developing its country programs in Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru, which together contain 70% of the world’s remaining tropical forests. The Indonesian Country Preparatory Team has been established to harness the combined leadership and capacities of Indonesian religious communities and indigenous spiritual communities, NGOs, scientists and academics. The multi-year country program undertakes activities to a) raise awareness of the tropical deforestation crisis by equipping religious leaders with the science, information and tools needed to serve as effective advocates for rainforest protection, b) mobilize faith-based action by connecting religious leaders with allies from across sectors to multiply their collective impact, and c) advocate for policies that protect forests by encouraging governments and companies to adopt, fulfill and expand upon their commitments to protect rainforests and the rights of indigenous peoples.


Rainforest Protection Initiative  meets indigenous leaders in Indonesia
(From left to right) Dr. Charles McNeill [UNEP], Mr. Abdon Nababan [Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN)], Prof. Dr. Din Syamsuddin [Moderator, Asian Conference of RfP], Bishop Gunnar J. Stålsett [Honorary President, RfP International] Ms. Mina Setra [Indigenous Environmental Activist], Rev. Kyoichi Sugino [Acting Secretary General, RfP International], Dr. Lars Løvold [Rainforest Foundation Norway] and Dr. Hayu Prabowo [Siaga Bumi (largest religious environmental coalition in Indonesia)

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