The United Nations Environment Program is seeking to enhance collaboration with faith communities, in the common endeavor to tackle global environmental issues, and to care for our common home. Just a few days before the 3rd session of the United Nations Environment Assembly kicked-off in Nairobi, the UN Environment hosted a consultation forum with faith-based organizations.
At the forum, representatives of various faith groups – Muslim, Hindu, Bahai, Christian, Buddhist, Jews – engaged UN Environment on a draft strategy for engaging faith communities. CYNESA was represented by 6 delegates from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya chapters, and was the only youth faith-based organization present at the event. In his address, UN Environment Executive Director, Mr. Erik Solheim, stressed his organization’s desire to work with faith communities, noting their influential role in societies across the world in shaping attitudes and behavior, which is critical in addressing environmental challenges.
Representatives of different faith-based organizations including the Kenya Interfaith Network for Action on Environment (KINAE), the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, Catholic Relief Services, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, all had the opportunity to present their environmental initiatives. CYNESA’s Executive Director, Allen Ottaro, presented an overview of the organization’s mission and highlighted key activities undertaken in several of our chapters.
While it is not the first time that UN Environment is engaging faith communities, the timing of this year’s consultation just prior to the UN Environment Assembly, and the presence of Mr. Solheim at the meeting, gave a sense of a renewed sense of purpose at UN Environment to engage faiths. Dr. Peter Denton, and ordained minister from the United Church of Canada, shared with participants how just a few years, ago at the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum in the lead up to the 27th Governing Council session of UNEP, his was a lone voice in trying to get faith groups involved.
In 2014, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), signed a memorandum of understanding with UN Environment for joint co-operation, working with key religions on environment management in Africa. The then Director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Africa, Mr. Mounkaila Goumandakoye, described the work of faiths as “transformative”, and observed that “ we could be more successful, we could be more relevant to the needs and aspirations of the Continent, we could have more impact in all African countries if we can work with you, the faiths, hand in hand.”
Earlier in 2017, President of the International Environment Forum, Arthur Lyon Dahl, called on UN Environment to engage more with faith-based organizations. Prof. Dahl opined that faith-based organizations can “help people to move from understanding to action”, and that “UN Environment should more systematically focus on ethics, and the responsibility of states, leaders and the general public for the common good in the interest of our only one Earth, across all parts of its work programme, and involve faith-based organizations in these efforts both to develop targeted messages and to increase outreach.”
At CYNESA, we look forward to further strengthen our engagement with UN Environment through this new initiative, and to offer youth perspectives and leadership in this evolving strategy.
Founder & Executive Director, CYNESA.