Faith groups in sub-Saharan Africa are mobilising to protect the environment in what the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) believes is the biggest civil society movement on climate change the continent has seen.
This month, 26 Christian, Muslim and Hindu groups, which between them have 183.86 million followers, will launch long-term action plans on environmental care at a celebration organised by ARC. The Many Heavens One Earth Our Continent celebration will be held from 18-20 September, 2012 at the All Africa Conference of Churches’ Desmond Tutu Conference Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. It will be attended by senior representatives of faith groups from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The plans, which have been developed over the past 18 months, outline the environmental actions the faith groups commit to taking over the next seven years and include each group’s faith mandate to protect the environment. In particular, the plans focus on practical action to:
• Plant millions of trees across Africa;
• Launch major awareness campaigns on the environment and global warming;
• Engage in extensive environmental education (more than half the schools in these countries are run by the faiths; they also have huge influence in community groups, women’s groups and youth networks);
• Train their people in sustainable farming.
“With 90 per cent of Africa’s population being either Christian or Muslim, the way to the heart of Africa is through faith. And faith is at the heart of these plans,” says ARC Secretary General Martin Palmer. “Faith groups all around Africa are rediscovering how the mandate to protect the richness of God’s Creation is clearly set out in their holy texts and this is leading to profound practical action – everything from restoring habitats and planting trees to reducing energy use and training young people in environmental care and protection.”
Mr Palmer added: “In 2009, when 31 faith groups from around the world launched long-term plans on the environment at ARC’s Windsor Celebration, UN Assistant Secretary-General Olav Kjørven described it as ‘potentially the biggest civil society movement on climate change in history’ and ‘the biggest mobilisation of people and communities that we have ever seen on this issue’.
“With these inspiring and carefully developed plans, African faith groups are also responding to the challenge facing our planet. We believe they constitute the biggest – and potentially the most important – civil society movement on climate change yet seen in Africa. Faith groups are the biggest element of civil society. They are trusted where politicians and governments are not and they are key to changing perceptions and behaviour to protect the planet.
“For example, for the first time, Ethiopia’s 40,000 mosques will each commit to planting 5,000 trees over the next three years. Some of them will become eco mosques, establishing woodlots in order to become self sufficient in their fuel supply. Each eco mosque will have its own tree-planting club running workshops and annual Tree Days as part of a wider effort to lead and educate the community in environmental action.”
Other faith groups are also engaging in tree planting on a grand scale.
• In Uganda, the Muslim Green Top Tree planting project aims to distribute, plant and grow 2.5 million seedlings for fruit and agroforestry as part of its plan;
• The Council of Protestant Churches in Rwanda has committed to planting one million trees a year for the next seven years;
• Christians from the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania propose planting 8.5 million trees as community forests in the deforested Mount Kilimanjaro region;
• Five million trees are to be planted at church and community levels in the Church of Uganda’s Bunyoro Kitara Diocese;
• The Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ghana, along with the interfaith body, RELBONET, is mobilising 10,000 Christian and Muslim congregations to plant 7 million trees in seven years.
Alison Hilliard, co-ordinator of ARC’s Africa programme, says the launch of the long-term faith commitments marks an extraordinary moment for the environment in Africa. “These are exciting plans. Many are ambitious and will require outside funding and partnership to get them off the ground. Others will happen because the faith groups who have drawn them up are convinced that this is the right thing for them to do,” she says.
“Catholic leaders have called this a ‘moment of grace’ – a chance to move towards a different future. The Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, put it another way, calling this our ‘Kairos moment’: a moment where extraordinary things can happen – where we can act and offer a new vision of a new way of living. These long-term plans are part of that vision.”
The Nairobi celebration will also include the launch of faith pledges to protect wildlife in Africa, organised in partnership with WWF. In the past five years alone, rhino poaching has increased over 3,000 per cent while last year witnessed the highest recorded rates of elephant poaching in Africa. Illegal killing for trade is the biggest factor in the decline of these animals. While every faith has teachings about protecting creation, this will be the first time major faiths of Africa come together to pledge to protect wildlife species.
The Many Heavens One Earth Our Continent celebration is funded by the World Bank, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the USAID-supported Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group. This programme has been supported by the World Bank as part of its TerrAfrica partnership, which involves 20 countries and focuses on land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa including sustainable land management such as agroforestry, water harvesting and erosion control.
Date: Tuesday 18 September 2012
Venue: Desmond Tutu Conference Centre, All Africa Conferences of Churches, Nairobi, Kenya