Faith-based organisations can have an “immense” impact on sustainable development, states a new report.
According to research by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), these organisations control 8 per cent of the Earth’s habitable land, as well as 5 per cent of commercial forests and 10 per cent of financial institutions. Experts say this means they play a substantial role in limiting climate change and reversing environmental degradation.
“The potential aggregate impact of faith-based organizations on sustainable development is immense,” Iyad Abumoghli, director of the UNEP Faith for Earth Initiative, tells Euronews Living.
“In addressing the unprecedented environmental challenges of all times, we have tried technology, we have tried policies, but we have forgotten the essential role of religious and spiritual values for caring for our nature.”
Abumoghli adds that the diversity of faiths, all united in one moral responsibility, can “play an enormous role in achieving the behavioral change in our production and consumption patterns".
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined by the UN, including clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities, zero hunger and quality education. The report lists five examples of how faith-based organisations are helping to achieve these goals.
Five examples of faith groups saving the planet
According to the report, 16 congregations of Dominican Sisters across the United States have provided $46 million (€39 million) in seed capital for an investment fund that focuses on providing access to clean energy in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. The project highlights the power and wealth of religions and their contribution to financing sustainable development.
Another example hails from Peru, where A Rocha Peru, a Christian faith organisation, has planted 26,000 Huarango trees over three years. These trees are well adapted to surviving the arid climate of southeastern Peru and are important for traditional agriculture to thrive on the Peruvian coast.
Vardayini Mata Temple in Maharashtra, India, is helping to conserve the endangered mahseer fish population. For Hindus, these fish are sacred - so protecting them against dam construction is not only important to their faith, it helps with conservation efforts in the area.
Various Sikh communities around the world have committed to plant 1 million trees in 1,820 different locations by November 2020. The project is driven by a group called Ecosikh, whose goal is to increase reforestation and encourage people to reconnect with nature.
The last example is a Shiloh Temple in Minneapolis, US, which installed a community solar garden on its rooftop in 2017. This provides energy to the temple, a nearby mosque and almost 30 residences.
The UNEP report, entitled Faith Action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Progress and Outlook, is in collaboration with the Parliament of World’s Religions, United Religions Initiative and Bhumi Global. It is being presented at the Faith Action for Nature conference in Iceland, which runs online from 5-8 October.