UNITED NATIONS (Sept. 23, 2019) — Mobilizing communities through faith, ethics and values can help achieve the scale and speed of change needed to halt tropical deforestation, a senior U.N. envoy said at a recent gathering of more than 900 religious leaders in Germany.
Representatives from all major faith traditions, with a following of more than a billion people worldwide, committed to ending tropical deforestation through the “Faiths for Forests Declaration and Action Agenda.” They also pledged to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples facing threats to their traditional lands.
The faith-led focus on forests provides an extremely strategic and effective way to address the three challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and human rights abuse, said Charles McNeill, senior advisor on forests and climate at UN Environment (UNEP), which in 2017 led the launch of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI), a multi-faith alliance working to end tropical deforestation.
On Sunday, to contribute to the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit, UNEP announced IRI’s new Faiths for Forests campaign, through which religious leaders and faith communities have committed to support the protection of tropical forests.
Forest conservation is considered a key strategy to contribute toward meeting U.N. Paris Agreement goals on climate change, which aim to stop post-industrial average temperatures from rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius or more to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The campaign invites faith-based organizations and places of worship around the world to:
- Endorse the Faiths for Forests Declaration
- Download a series of issue primers, fact sheets and toolkits for religious leaders on forest protection
- Share the campaign with others through social media
Powerful economic and political interests are driving the destruction of rainforests to produce beef, palm oil and paper, wiping out countless species from existence, marginalizing the poor and deepening inequality, threatening the survival of Indigenous communities and destroying the best solution for climate change that we have, said British primatologist Jane Goodall in a short video launched as part of the campaign.
Data from human rights watchdog Global Witness shows that 164 land and environmental defenders — an average of more than three each week — were killed in 2018 for defending their homes, forests and rivers. A countless number of people were silenced by attacks, arrests death threats or lawsuits, according to the report, titled “Enemies of the State?” More than half of murders worldwide in 2018 occurred in Latin America.
“There’s still hope where faith unites us, to make rainforests a shared spiritual priority, where we teach our communities that rainforests are a sacred trust, where we feed a growing planet without converting rainforests, where we work with companies to ensure their products are deforestation free and where we make sure that governments protect forests and the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Goodall said.
Implemented by UNEP, the IRI partnership includes Religions for Peace, Greenfaith, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the World Council of Churches, the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, the Rainforest Foundation Norway and the Norwegian government.
It was launched by religious leaders who made a pact with Indigenous peoples to make rainforest protection a priority. The initiative is now active in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“An extremely significant dimension of this initiative is the special connection being established between religious leaders and Indigenous leaders – after a difficult relationship over the past 500 years,” McNeill said. “In each pilot country, religious leaders are valuing and respecting Indigenous peoples for their vital historic role in protecting forests for humanity and all other life forms.”
Indigenous peoples make up less than 6 percent of the world’s population but account for 15 percent of the poorest people, according to the United Nations. They live across some 90 countries, represent 5,000 different cultures and speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages. Over 80 percent of biological diversity is found on Indigenous peoples’ lands.
IRI was inspired in large measure through an appeal made by Pope Francis in 2015 urging the protection of tropical rainforests in a major document entitled Laudato Si’ (Praise Be). The pontiff shared his concerns about the impact of human activities on the environment, climate and rainforests.
“We’re seeing that many Indigenous peoples are willing to partner with faiths on this issue overcoming generations of tensions and possibly even leading towards reconciliation,” McNeill said.
Video: Faith for Forests declaration: Bishop Emeritus Gunnar Stalsett, honorary president, Religions for Peace and Sonia Guajajara, national coordinator of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.
Photo credit: Bishop Emeritus Gunnar Stalsett, honorary president, Religions for Peace and Sonia Guajajara, national coordinator of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, following endorsement of the Faiths for Forests Declaration and Action Agenda in Lindau, Germany.