Protect the Rainforests: A “Prophetic Call” to the G20

By: Gunnar Stalsett

June 30, 2019

Responding to: The G20 Interfaith Forum: Why It’s Important

Protect the Rainforests: A “Prophetic Call” to the G20

During the first week of June, a gathering to advise the global leaders met in Tokyo. At this 2019 G20 Interfaith Forum religious and faith-inspired networks were called to provide the world with a “prophetic voice” on critical issues facing the world. The urgent need for action on climate change with a focus on saving the rainforests topped the agenda.

Here indeed is a moral and prophetic call for G20 leaders to focus sharply on action, before it is too late. People of faith are looking to the G20 meetings and beyond with prayers and hope.

Protecting the world’s rainforests is an area where there are clear paths forward and needs are urgent. Rainforests are a vital life-support system and cost-effective resource for reducing greenhouse gases, protecting biodiversity, and achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet, tropical forest loss is occurring at an alarming rate, with harmful consequences for the environment and indigenous and forest communities. 

Faith communities understand a sacred duty to safeguard the life-sustaining lungs of the world. The immediate harm caused to our indigenous brothers and sisters and to millions of species that call forests their home is a moral wrong. The long-term effects of weakened rainforest ecosystems will lead to a climate disaster of apocalyptic proportions.

It was with this urgent cry ringing in our ears that we came together two years ago at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo to launch the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI). A dynamic UN Environment-led, Norwegian funded, multifaith alliance of religious leaders, communities, organizations, and academics committed to working with indigenous peoples, governments, civil society, and businesses on actions to protect rainforests and indigenous rights, the IRI is now working in priority areas including Brazil’s Amazonas state, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia. Concrete steps have been taken in Peru and Colombia. Brazil is an urgent challenge. The Democratic Republic of Congo is high on the agenda, and in Indonesia steps are under way to launch a nationwide program to save the rain forests from further destruction.

Faith communities do not shy away from proposing concrete actions by governments. On the contrary there is on the climate issue, and especially with respect to the role of the rainforests, a consensus among people of faith and science that the man-made climate crises must be overcome by man-made actions. Wisdom of faith, moral conviction among people of good will, and academic-based facts are working in tandem towards a program to save the rainforests and their guardians, the indigenous rainforest dwellers who are the supreme guardians of this world treasure. 

Here are some of the concrete steps that the G20 countries could take in unison and individually to heed the call to act before it is too late.

Specific actions by governments can include ending subsidies and other incentives leading to deforestation and implementing economic incentives to protect forests and their ecosystem services. This would be in line with the Aichi target 3 under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and it would be a major achievement in the preparations for the global summit that will take place in China in 2020 (COP15). Actions can also be taken against companies that do not implement zero deforestation in their supply chains through public procurement regulations, import regulations, and taxes on products that contribute to forest destruction. 

Existing and new moratoriums, anti-deforestation policies, and the development of land-use plans that protect standing forests and prioritize securing land rights for indigenous and other forest communities need the support of G20 leaders. 

Ending deforestation is a proven low-cost and effective solution for climate change mitigation, particularly relative to the cost of remaining idle. The moment must be seized. 

There are several critical arenas in the coming months where the IRI impact should be felt as a vice of conscience. The UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019 and UN Climate Change Conference in December 2019 represent important opportunities. G20 countries should announce significantly higher ambitions to face the threat of climate change at these meetings, including through enhanced nationally determined contributions, which currently represent only 20 percent of the emission reduction needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The ongoing replenishment of the Green Climate Fund represents a key process for the mobilization of climate finance. To be successful, the fund should receive significantly more than a doubling of its current funds. This requires the committed engagement of G20 countries. 

Forests are an irreplaceable and miraculous gift. I am deeply moved by the call of the G20 Interfaith Forum in line with the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative to protect the planet and its rainforests. We, from all nations and sectors and beliefs, must respond to that call with partnership and action.

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