World faiths at UN Environment Assembly say they want action beyond resolutions

As the 4th UN Environment Assembly concluded in Nairobi, Kenya on 15 March, faith leaders at the gathering urged action beyond the resolutions, while warning that the current ecological crisis, if not urgently addressed, could grow to a catastrophe.

The leaders from across the world had been attending the assembly as part of the “Faith for Earth Dialogue.”Nearly 5,000 delegates had gathered in the East Africa city to discuss the ecological crisis.

“My sense is that we have not fully understood the urgency of the situation we are in. The resolutions…at this UN assembly are important, but I think they can go further in helping humanity towards a sustainable direction. I think it’s important that these resolutions be enforced which is some cases is not the case,” said Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Centre for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem.

A draft resolution declaration of the assembly said it will address the damage to the ecosystem caused by the unsustainable use and disposal of plastic products by significantly reducing single-use plastic products by 2030, in part by working with the private sector to find affordable, environmentally friendly alternatives. Indigenous and local knowledge on the environmental practices will be respected, and the engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities promoted.

According to Fr Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, these discussions are about the values that guide world policies and a religious perspective needs to be brought into the heart of these conversations.

“It is important that a significant number of groups…are having an opportunity to connect with the larger discussion here. It’s a big step forward. Previously there was very little religious presence that was officially recognised,” Harper said.

At their tent, the faith leaders explored concerns such as increased forest destruction, air and water pollution, plastics, and the destruction of seas, oceans and rivers. The participants heard that by 2050, if the flow of plastic into oceans is not stopped, there will be more plastics in the sea and ocean than fish. According to the leaders, the challenge arising should be addressed with urgency.

“It would be important to see a real call for re-energising our engagements into real solutions for the degradation of the earth, the eco-system and whole question of climate change,” said Bishop Arnold Temple, president of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).

They also want communities to shed lifestyles that encourage consumerism, rather than conservation.

This is the first time the faith leaders have sat together at a UN assembly to listen to the ecological engagements and best practices of each other.

“We have realised that the earth belongs to all of us and we must work together to protect it so that it can provide for us. I hope in the future, governments and institutions reach out to the faith organizations for more work. This is one of the best ways to reach a wide constituency,” said Canon Charles Byarugaba of the Anglican Church of Uganda.

“We have a wide constituency at the grassroots level. It is very important that the message of the stewardship of the earth be taken to that level,” said Temple.

* Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist covering the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi

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