The Prince’s Rainforest Project event kicks off in England today, bringing together leaders from the government, business and nonprofit worlds in solidarity for global action against deforestation. Earlier this month, one of the British monarchy’s royal residences played host to a similarly-themed meeting with a slightly different guest list: spiritual leaders from across the globe.
Faith and Conservation
On November 2-4, over 200 representatives from a wide variety of religious and secular groups came together for the Windsor Celebration of Faiths and the Environment, a summit held at Windsor Castle.
The summit was hosted by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a nondenominational organization that works to unite believers from the world’s most widespread faiths—including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism and Jainism—behind a common strategy of environmental action. Climate change was one of the major issues discussed.
Climate change talks are usually dominated by scientists and policymakers; however, the expansion of the topic into the religious sector holds tremendous potential for large-scale action. More than half of the world’s schools have religious affiliations, and faith-based institutions own more than five percent of the world’s forests.
Despite their differences, all of the world’s major faiths emphasize the necessity of caring for Earth, a divine creation, as an important act of faithfulness. Recent studies show that more than 85 percent of the world believes in something, a fact that could help greatly increase global engagement in the fight against climate change and other environmental issues.
From Many Paths, One Mission
Among the attendees of the Windsor summit were ARC founder Prince Philip and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as Conservation International’s (CI) Fachruddin Mangunjaya, who runs the Conservation and Religion Initiative for CI-Indonesia.
IN DEPTH: Discover the role forests play in mitigating climate change.
During the summit, the nine major faiths made specific commitments to “protect the living planet.” Commitments ranged from Chinese monks promoting vegetarianism to the expansion of solar power use in buildings run by the Armenian Apostolic Church.
One of the biggest agreements to emerge from the Windsor summit was the official launch of the Muslim Seven Year Action Plan for Climate Change (M7YAP).This plan is a product of an umbrella organization called the Muslim Association for Climate Change Action (MACCA) that aims to engage the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in conservation efforts.
Among the M7YAP goals are the development of a sustainable hajj (pilgrimage) within ten years (through actions such as eliminating the use of plastic bottles); the construction of more energy-efficient mosques; and the transformation of the city of Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city, into a model green city within seven years.
Islam and Nature in Indonesia
As the only Indonesian at the Windsor summit, CI’s Fachruddin Mangunjaya was the key voice for his country’s Islam followers. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, with more than 202 million Muslims who make up 88 percent of the country’s population.
Mangunjaya has been advocating faith-based conservation for years, working in some of the country’s more than 17,000 pesantren (Muslim schools) to inspire the next generation of conservationists. In 2005, CI and the World Bank published a reference book about the deep connections between Islam and nature. Five thousand copies of the book were distributed throughout schools, mosques and other religious organizations.
Mangunjaya has also been instrumental to the success of a pesantren reforestation campaign, in which participating schools require every student to plant and care for a tree on the school grounds. This campaign has helped restore degraded ecosystems around the schools and provide alternative sources of revenue through selling the trees’ fruit. Planting trees also teaches students an important lesson about environmental stewardship.
Successful projects such as these make Indonesia the ideal host country for MACCA’s first general congress meeting, currently being planned for this winter.
READ MORE: In Defense of Forests