Africa: What Did the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative Achieve in 2019?

press release

"We recognize that outdated and unsustainable patterns of development, production and consumption are driving deforestation and that a major, fundamental shift in values, lifestyles and public policies is needed to protect rainforests. Agriculture is now the primary driver of deforestation - an unnecessary trade-off, as we can feed a growing population with the land we already have."

This above is part of a declaration called Faiths for Forests - a global campaign launched in September 2019 by the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, which works with partners across the world to highlight the importance of conserving and restoring tropical rainforests.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) provides the secretariat for the Initiative, which has nine partners in all.

"We are a lead partner of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, an international, multi-faith alliance that is working to bring the moral, ethical and political influence of the world's religions and faith leaders to bear on efforts to protect forests and their guardians," says UNEP's coordinator for the Initiative, Charles McNeill.

"In addition to mobilizing faith-based movements to end deforestation, a major part of our 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."

Country primers on deforestation for religious leaders and faith communities have been published for each of the Initiative's programme countries (Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru), as well as issue primers titled Tropical Forests: A Resource Under Threat; Tropical Forests and Climate Change; and Indigenous Peoples: Guardians of the Forests. All publications are available in five languages. The Initiative also has a growing library of faith toolkits, which provide spiritual reflections, quotations from sacred texts, sample sermons, religious lesson plans and talking points for different religious traditions on the spiritual basis for protecting and restoring forests.

At the UN Environment Assembly in March 2019, the Initiative took part in the Faith for Earth Dialogue, demonstrating that the Faith for Earth Initiative provides an appropriate and effective forum for dialogue with policymakers around the world.

Activities in target countries

Launched at the Nobel Peace Centre in June of 2017, the Initiative works at the global level and in five countries: Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru.

In August of 2019, the Initiative was adopted and endorsed at the 10th Religions for Peace World Assembly, where more than 900 senior religious leaders, representing over 1 billion people around the world, agreed to work together through the Initiative on efforts to protect and restore the planet's rainforests.

In 2019, work in its five countries also made big advances.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country programme was launched during a three-day event that included the training of over 180 religious leaders from across the country, as well as indigenous and community leaders, the participation of the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, and the establishment of an Advisory Council.

In Colombia, which is hosting World Environment Day events on 5 June 2020 with a focus on biodiversity, the Initiative successfully launched five local chapters in parts of the country with the highest rates of deforestation. It provided training to over 500 religious leaders and negotiated a commitment from Congress to end deforestation as part of the country's National Development Plan.

The Initiative also briefed the President, hosted political debates with mayoral candidates in high-deforestation municipalities to get them to commit to protecting rainforests, embedded its representatives in municipal development councils to shape forest policy, developed and placed op-eds on the spiritual responsibility to protect forests, and prepared and submitted a position paper calling on the government to include commitments to end deforestation in its next nationally determined contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"In Peru we launched a local chapter in Puerto Maldonado and have plans for two more in 2020," says McNeill. "We also engaged in extensive awareness raising about the Initiative in religious communities across the country, developed and placed op-eds on the spiritual responsibility to protect forests, hosted political debates on forest protection with candidates for Congress, and prepared and submitted a position paper calling on the government to include commitments to end deforestation in its next nationally determined contributions."

In Brazil, which contains 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, an Executive Council of religious leaders held a successful two-day education and planning event in São Paulo with the participation of more than 90 faith leaders. Similar events are planned in four other Brazilian cities--Belém, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília--in February and March of 2020.

"The initiative is also positioned to make a real difference in Indonesia," says McNeill. "We now have a country planning team of key interfaith partners meeting weekly to plan for the launch of an Indonesia country programme at the end of January."


A three-minute Interfaith Rainforest Initiative video was developed with an introduction by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, and featuring Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, including versions with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Bahasa. The video has been shared with millions of people around the world.

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

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