Sustainability |

Interfaith Rainforest Initiative: Religious Institutions Calls for Action to Protect Ecosystem and Prevent Emerging Diseases

Religions institutions within the international community with faith have a pivotal role to save the future from biodiversity loss and zoonotic diseases. Photo courtesy of Interfaith Rainforest Initiative/NOW!JAKARTA 

Our love of nature is not only by looking at its green foliage or enjoy the deep blue color of the sea. Protecting and look after nature is a Godly thing to do. Spiritual and interfaith community, as well as environmentalists, believe that the current pandemic has something to do with our ecosystem that has been exploited with no mercy.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has been linked to the environmental destruction with unethical deforestation, and wild animals have been taking away from its habitat, Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI), a movement established in 2017 continue to spread their vision to save the future by calling for significant action to protect, the rainforest, the oldest living ecosystem on earth. In February 2020, Interfaith Rainforest Initiative was launched in Indonesia to secure the commitment to conserving and protecting the tropical rainforest in the archipelago nation.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides the secretariat for IRI and also works closely with global interfaith partners to equip religious practitioners with the latest data, science, and research on forests and indigenous communities, so they can be partners in the fight to defend forests and their guardians. Spanning from Northern, equator, to Southern Hemisphere, temperate and tropical rainforests remain irreplaceable. Although it only covers less than 2 per cent of earth’s total surface area, rainforests provide 40 per cent of breathable air and it is home to 50 per cent of animals of plants, according to The Nature Conservancy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare a broken relationship with nature. The global economy, consumption patterns, and production systems not only endanger nature but human-being. The pandemic is a warning sign: failing to care for the planet, for forests and for biodiversity, means not taking care of human life.

Dr. Jane Goodall, primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist invites religious leaders to participate in the campaign and spread the mission to the community of faith to take care of nature. “There is still hoe, where a different future awaits us. Where faith unites us, to make rainforest a shared spiritual priority,” Dr. Goodall said for Faith for Forests.

The Role of Religious Community in Protecting nature and Rainforest

Religious leaders can help usher in the transformational change that is so urgently needed — a move away from unmitigated growth at all costs and toward social and environmental responsibility across all sectors. Although rapid change is difficult, the Covid-19 crisis has shown it is possible, as humans have witnessed the global economy and social systems shift practically overnight. In recovering from this pandemic shock, international communities of faith have the chance to “build back better”— to create new incentives for sustainable and equitable growth.

Religious leaders and faith communities have an essential role to play in educating our constituencies about the connections between tropical deforestation, habitat loss, and pandemic disease outbreaks, and advocating with government authorities at all scales to prioritise the protection of forests and nature as a policy response. “Getting to that level of awareness is something that I think religious institutions and religious leaders can contribute to, quite significantly,” said Prof. Azza Karam, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace at United Nations.

“...Because religious institutions from which religious leaders emanate are the oldest knowledge mechanisms known to humankind. They’re oldest social service providers known to humankind,” prof. Karam added.

As a representative from Indonesia, Prof. Dr. Sin Syamsuddin who also attended the declaration of IRI in Oslo, Norway stated that the religious community becomes the vicegerent of God has an obligation to respect nature. Indonesia, as the largest Muslim population in the world and a nation where rainforests are located, needs to establish a sustainable economy that has fundamental values that respects nature.

“From my religious perspective, Islam, protecting nature is very important and a central obligation. In Islam, the human being is the vicegerent of God. So, the Almighty God, the Creator has made human beings as his vicegerents with the very mission to safeguard the Earth. So, there is a divine dimension in nature, and therefore human beings should treat nature in a more respectful way,” Prof. Dr. Syamsuddin said.

On 29 June 2020, IRI released a Resource Guide on Rainforest Protection for Religious Communities. Fusing research from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with spiritual guidance from religious thinkers across ten different traditions, the Resource Guide seeks to merge the scientific and moral urgency of protecting Earth’s remaining rainforests into a call to action and an instruction manual on where religious leaders can begin.

The Resource Guide is part of a growing library of materials that UNEP and the IRI partnership have developed for religious leaders and faith communities on rainforests, climate change, and the rights of indigenous peoples.  Others include country primers on deforestation, issue briefs on subjects such as tropical forest conservation and engaging indigenous communities, faith toolkits, and an upcoming primer on pandemics.

IRI has programs in five countries that together contain more than 70 per cent of the world’s remaining tropical forests - Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. IRI has already trained thousands of religious leaders to protect rainforests.

IRI’s Indonesia launch brought together over 250 leaders from the country’s eight major faiths as well as the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). It set the groundwork for a new partnership to protect forests and the rights of indigenous peoples in the country.

“Religious leaders, they have the privilege because they also have political power. So they can really help indigenous people by using their influence, using political power to influence the government to influence the private sector to stop destroying forests, to stop taking away indigenous people’s land and territories. And by doing that it’ is actually they are helping a lot. For all of us,” said Rukka Sombolinggi, Secretary-General of Indigenous People Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).

At the global level, in August 2019, more than by 900 of the world’s senior religious leaders from 125 countries and representing a constituency of over 1 billion people, agreed to work together through IRI and endorsed a  statement of purpose in the Faiths for Forests Declaration. It committed religious leaders to lead their congregations toward opposing deforestation as an expression of their care for the earth.

Critical to the world’s rainforests are the indigenous and local communities who live in the forests and have been their greatest caretakers for countless generations. Engaging indigenous communities is especially important now, as Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerability of forest communities to pandemics. From the start, IRI’s work has been built on partnerships with indigenous and forest communities. Each declaration and national political strategy is developed in consultation with indigenous representatives.

Hear from other religious leaders around the world and get to know more about Interfaith Rainforest Initiative on