21 Feb 2020 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Religious leaders launch historic commitment to end tropical deforestation in Indonesia

Photo by the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative

Over 250 religious leaders gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia to make an historic commitment to protect the third largest tropical rainforest area in the world.

The two-day launch event in January 2020 of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative country programme in Indonesia brought together religious leaders and indigenous representatives from major forest areas across Indonesia—as well as non-governmental organizations, scientists, government leaders and the United Nations—at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

"The event inspired a whole new vision for collaboration among all faith traditions to end tropical deforestation and defend the rights of indigenous peoples," says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) coordinator for the Initiative, Joseph Corcoran.

Moved by the urgency of preserving this vital ecosystem, leaders of the eight major religions of Indonesia stood together with the Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago and declared:

“The destruction and loss of tropical forests is not consistent with the teachings and principles of religion, traditional beliefs and values, nor the State Constitution, which mandates that every human being maintain the integrity of nature and social justice. We recognize the destruction and loss of tropical forests as a threat to the sustainability of human life for generations to come, so we demand immediate and decisive action. Fundamental changes are needed to the country's values, lifestyles and policies to protect tropical forests of Indonesia, and we have a deep moral and spiritual obligation to protect them.”

The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative in Indonesia will be carried forward by an Advisory Council, representing a coalition between religious communities, indigenous peoples, civil society, the scientific community and the United Nations.

Group of leaders
The launch event benefited from strong endorsement by the three major Muslim organizations of the country (Indonesian Ulema Council, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah) and enjoyed support by the Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian faiths, as well as the Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago. Photo by the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative.

“We need to build and cultivate a massive social movement to end deforestation that reaches people on the level of values and ethics, and we realize we cannot solve this challenge without the help of our religious leaders and communities,” said Anita Nirody, United Nations Resident Coordinator of Indonesia, attending the event.

“Your influence, moral authority and mobilizing power is urgently needed on this issue.  With that in mind, I am thrilled to join you in officially launching the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative country programme. Through this initiative, we have an opportunity to mobilize a whole new level of urgency, awareness and action around rainforest protection in Indonesia.”

Interfaith Rainforest Initiative programme launched in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In December 2019, the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative also launched its Democratic Republic of the Congo country programme, a similar effort designed to protect the Congo Basin’s tropical forests. Over 180 faith leaders, indigenous peoples and forest communities, non-government organizations, scientists, government leaders and representatives from the United Nations attended.

The launch of the initiative builds on a strong precedent of interreligious cooperation in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the fields of electoral transparency, education and health, and is endorsed by all the country’s faiths, which together represent more than 90 per cent of the country’s population.

Monseigneur Utembi, President of the Catholic Church (left) and Reverend Bokundoa-bo-likabe, National President of the Protestant Church (right), holding up the national declaration of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative.

"Humans need to rethink their dominion over nature,” reads the declaration. “We are only stewards... As such, we must ensure a responsible and right management of the forests for the current and future generations.”


The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, launched in 2017, works with partners across the world to mobilize faith-based action to conserve and restore tropical rainforests. UNEP provides the secretariat for the Initiative, which has nine partners in all. A major part of its work is equipping religious leaders with the latest data, science and research on forests, so they can ultimately serve as informed and powerful partners in global protection and restoration efforts.

Nature-based solutions offer the best way to achieve human well-being, tackle climate change and protect our living planet. Yet nature is in crisis, as we are losing species at a rate 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded human history and one million species face extinction. In addition to important moments for decision makers, including the COP 15 on Biodiversity, the 2020 “super year” is a major opportunity to bring nature back from the brink. The future of humanity depends on action now.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners such as the Africa Restoration 100 initiative, the Global Landscapes Forum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Help us shape the Decade.

For more information, please contact: Joseph Corcoran: [email protected]