02 Apr 2020 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Coronavirus, faith leaders and sustainable development

Photo by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency People and Planet

“The coronavirus has turned our world upside down. Countries, societies, families and individuals are affected in so many ways. In the midst of this global crisis we believe that this is also a time for innovation, for finding new and better ways to tackle our global challenges.

“We need new pathways for a just and speedy transition to sustainable development, a form of development that doesn’t damage the natural world upon which we all depend for our survival.

“Innovative faith partnerships are one key to the realization of the 2030 Agenda. By bringing faith-based actors, civil society, government agencies, United Nations bodies, academia and private sector actors to the same table we are able to put Global Goal 17 [Partnerships] into action.”

So says Josephine Sundqvist, Programme Manager Specialist at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and global coordinator of the People and Planet—Faith in the 2030 Agenda digital conference.

Across the world, hundreds of millions of people are in quarantine, in lockdown or self-isolating. Many are not able to be with their families. At the same time, thousands of churches, mosques and other places of worship are closed, with religious ceremonies and prayers switching to digital platforms.

A recent global event touched on this current reality and featured discussions focused on the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and biodiversity loss, and the role of moral duty bearers such as faith leaders and indigenous groups.

Organized by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Faith for Earth Initiative, in close collaboration with the Stockholm International Water Institute and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket), the meeting brought together 200 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa and Sweden for an all-digital conference from 16 to 18 March 2020.

The Faith for Earth Initiative is a global coalition that highlights the need for interfaith collaboration to tackle the environmental crisis.

“The coronavirus pandemic is focusing hearts and minds, says the director of Faith for Earth, Iyad Abumoghli. “Faith for Earth is mobilizing youth, the leaders of faith-based organizations, as well as scientists and theologians to work together for innovative change to speed up sustainable development.”

As the world’s population heads towards 10 billion, and climate change is making weather patterns more unpredictable, access to fresh water, critical for sustaining all life and for health issues, including handwashing, is becoming a key issue.

"Water and faith groups have been set up to tackle water scarcity issues. Our partnership with Faith for Earth and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency has provided an excellent platform for reflecting the spiritual value of water in larger water management systems,” says Katarina Veem, Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

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Live-streaming from the local forest—connecting the local landscape and Mother Nature to the global digital dialogue platform—People and Planet 16–18 March 2020. Photo by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency People and Planet

 

The conference included twinning sessions between countries to discuss common environmental issues with a thematic focus on water scarcity, deforestation and youth leadership, and a global café where individual participants shared their experiences.

“We need to work together collaboratively across religions to tackle global challenges,” says Azza Karam, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace.

One theme of the conference was education. “With half of all educational institutions managed by faith-based organizations, there are huge opportunities for collaboration between religious organizations and youth to shift the needle on sustainable development,” says Abumoghli.

The conference called for the transformation of our education systems to emphasize critical thinking and knowledge-sharing, as well as innovative ways of working. Such transformations may be getting under way given that the response to the pandemic has meant that a huge number of classes for students of all ages have been suspended or forced to go online.

“We have had enough of single events, single conferences, and single workshops. What we need is structural, transformative change so our single events fit into the larger picture, ensuring local and national ownership. That's why we are engaging with faith-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, the private sector and governments,” says Sundqvist.

For more information, please contact Iyad Abumoghli: [email protected]

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