Mobilizing interfaith collaboration

April 1, 2021 -- Living City

Mobilizing interfaith collaboration
Iyad Abumoghli, director of the Faith for Earth Initiative, on care for creation

The environmental crisis represents one of the most critical problems of our times. From all corners, people are raising their voices in support of building a better future for humanity and for our planet. Following the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, some have wondered about the role of religion in addressing the pressing challenges that we face. We asked Dr. Iyad Abumoghli, principal policy advisor at United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and director of the Faith for Earth Initiative, for his perspective.

Can you tell us a bit about your work at UNEP?

I joined the U.N. more than 25 years ago, providing policy recommendations to member states and stakeholders on environmental governance, strategic planning, knowledge and innovation and interfaith collaboration on environmental stewardship. My motivation at UNEP derives from my commitment to the United Nations’ Charter, which aspires to create a sustainable world where everyone holds equal rights and lives in peace on a healthy planet while enjoying prosperity. 

For most people, spiritual values and religion are key to driving individual and communitarian behaviors. Can you illustrate the work that the UN is doing in encouraging intercultural and interreligious dialogue in the face of climate change?

The world is facing unprecedented global issues, including poverty, health, and food insecurity, as well as planetary crises, manifested in the challenges of climate change, ecosystem destruction and pollution. While we know that these challenges are caused by human choices and overconsumption patterns of our limited natural resources, it is a crisis of values and ethical behavior towards earth. One example is the use of destructive methods in fishing, causing not only depletion of fish stock, but also damaging all life underwater. This is a demonstration of greed and selfishness. 

However, in all known religions of the world, these behaviors are discouraged. For example, in Islam, you are requested to conserve water when you are washing, even if you were on a running river. There are many examples from other religions on the ethical values governing human behavior. Thus our work at Faith for Earth is to bring these common ethical and spiritual standards to unite religions for a sustainable use of natural resources. This will not only serve the environment but will ensure peaceful coexistence among believers of all backgrounds. 

What is Faith for Earth? 

In 2017 the United Nations Environment Program launched a global strategy for engaging with faith-based organizations and faith leaders to enhance and mobilize interfaith collaboration for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 that was adopted by all nations to ensure a sustainable future. To implement this strategy the Faith for Earth Initiative was founded to serve three overarching objectives:  1) mobilize faith leaders to engage in policy dialogue with other political leaders on environmental governance; 2) encourage green faith-based investments and assets, since  faith investments are the fourth largest on earth; and 3) bridge a common understanding between contemporary environmental science and faith teachings to present a strong case for a global evidence-based and spiritual driven action. Faith for Earth aspires to rally faith believers across the world to ensure a world where everything is in balance. Our vision is derived from the fact that 85% of the people believe in a faith with a set of ethical standards motivating their actions and that caring for our only planet is a common theme in all religions of the world. 

What do you think is the specific role of religions in addressing the ecological challenges?

In fact, it is not a role but a spiritual obligation: humans stand accountable to their creator. In Christianity, for example, the Bible clearly states that we are accountable to God as in Romans 14:12 states, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” While faith leaders live modestly on earth, most faith followers do not practice what their religions preach. Let’s look at celebrations of religious festivals or holy days where the amount of waste generated exponentially exceeds normal practices in the use of gift packaging, chopping of trees, overconsumption of food, etc. We have an individual and collective responsibility to sustainably utilize our natural resources and promote sustainable behavior. Mosques, churches or temples must be examples of “green” buildings by utilizing renewable sources of energy, recycling of waste, efficient use of water and being models for local communities. The unmatched global reach of trustworthy religious leaders can be utilized to spread sustainable ecological behavior, affect political decisions regarding the use of natural resources and mobilize environmental actions.  

- Antonino Puglisi