The celebration of the “World Interfaith Harmony Week” has emerged from the United Nations General Assembly Resolution in 2010. It seeks to promote harmony between citizens of the world, regardless of their faith. The World Interfaith Harmony Week was started in 2010 by King Abdullah II and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan. The week-long celebration aims at celebrating unity in diversity that is also a shared vision and aspiration of the ecumenical movement at the World Council of Churches.
On 28 January, as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023, during a daily morning ecumenical prayer of the WCC, the new general secretary of WCC, Rev. Dr Jerry Pillay reminded us that “God is doing a new thing.” The deeper involvement of WCC in ecumenical interfaith harmony initiatives for biodiversity protection could be among the “new thing” that God prepares for me as an agronomist and plant molecular biologist from Crete. Rev. Jerry Pillay reminded in his sermon that it is in response to the love we have seen in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, that we are moved to search together for justice, reconciliation, and unity, based on the Unity Statement from the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe in 2022. As I was fortunate be part of this assembly, I was moved and commit to do new things for God’s creation, in Christ. Being part of the Season of Creation Ecumenical Movement Steering Committee involving many Christian church denominations, I am also keen on interfaith collaboration for protecting nature and promoting environmental ethics with Muslims, Buddhists, Shumai, Hindus, Jews, and others.
The God, creator of everything, calls us to “Do good and seek justice” (Isaiah 1: 17), not only for human beings but for all creation, especially to the endangered biodiversity. This biblical verse is the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 2023 and I wish to extend it for the upcoming “World Interfaith Harmony Week” in February 2023, by saying let’s “Do good and seek justice for the vulnerable biodiversity in unity with interfaith initiatives.”
Since the adoption of the UNFCCC in Rio in 1992 and parties started to meet yearly in COPs, the WCC has always been very active in bringing ecumenical voices and ethical responsibility for creation care. WCC participation at all UN COPs meetings has been substantial, especially in tackling climate justice but the emergency state of biodiversity loss is calling churches to give more attention to the critical issues of COP 15 for biodiversity.
The COP15 UN Conference of Parties dedicated to biodiversity protection resulted in a promising commitment of 196 countries, called the "Kunming-Montreal" agreement, to stop biodiversity loss by protecting 30% of the planet and restoring 30% of degraded ecosystems through the adoption of four goals and 23 measures and actions.
To be effective, the Kunming-Montreal decisive targets need implementations and supports from the grassroots, especially people of good will and churches worldwide, otherwise the agreement will repeat the dark fate of the Aichi Agreement” from COP 10 in Japan. In 2010, the members of the United Nations signed this agreement aimed at countering the loss of biodiversity. Twelve years later, none of the 20 goals has been achieved. I still remember our enthusiastic participants at the conference “Planta Europa” that I organized at the Orthodox academy of Crete to mark the beginning of the decade for biodiversity in 2010. The theme was “Living in harmony with nature!”
Will the COP15 promises be kept?
My feeling is rather pessimistic unless religious leaders rally with political leaders’ decisions and engage together harmoniously for the protection of biodiversity. For the moment, the absence of real control measures from political sphere raises fears of seeing a renewed failure of the Aichi objectives. However, ecumenical movements and interfaith initiatives for nature protection, bring hope with their renewed deeper involvement on biodiversity justice.
Today’s human activities continue to threaten biodiversity to extinction. The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. From the nearly 2 million species recorded, about 200 to 2,000 extinctions occur every year. Scientists reported a loss of 83% of wild mammal biomass, and half of the world’s plant biomass. Only 17% of land surfaces and 8% of oceans are protected, more than 80% of territories and maritime areas are impacted worldwide by industrial development, urbanization, agricultural activities, and overexploitation of resources from land and sea. We as people of faith are called to reverse this trend. We need to repent and act for ecological conversion in our economy and social daily life. Ecosystem pollutions and greedy exploitation of biodiversity for human benefits must be stopped and condemned as ecological sins before God and religious leaders.
Biodiversity is essential for the sustainability of our planet and the survival human beings. Climate change affects biodiversity loss and biodiversity damages worsen the climate crisis. Every part of God’s creation is interconnected. Among other beneficial ecosystem functions, biodiversity acts as a buffer against extreme weather surges, floods, landslides, infectious diseases, air pollution and, the most critical one, carbon emissions. Biodiversity protection is the best solution to reach the goal of net-zero carbon emissions that may tackle climate change. Climate justice and biodiversity protection are intrinsically interdependent issues, so religious leaders and political leaders should give equal accountability in collaboration with scientists and all people of good will. May this “World interfaith harmony week” inspire all people of faith for unity and common care for biodiversity without borders of any kind.