JAKARTA (UCAN): Religious leaders in Indonesia have committed to protecting the country’s rainforests, the third largest in the world, by launching the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI) Indonesia.
Nine leaders representing Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism as well as a leader from the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago signed a joint declaration at the IRI Indonesia launch on January 31.
They included Din Syamsuddin, chairperson of the Inter-Religious Council, and Bishop Yohanes Harun Yuwono of Tanjungkarang, chairperson of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
In the three-page joint declaration, they said the country’s rainforests, which cover nearly 94 million hectares, are an important habitat for millions of people. They provide livelihoods, food sources, herbs and clean water as part of their significant role in indigenous people’s lives and rituals.
However, they said unsustainable development policies have led to rainforest destruction.
“The governments issue concession permits for large-scale plantations, mining operations, infrastructure development and illegal logging. Such practices, which are socially and ecologically unsustainable, have caused biodiversity loss, polluted the environment, degraded people’s quality of life, widened the social gap, created conflicts and violated human rights,” they said.
“We are ready to mobilise our communities—from the grassroots to high-level groups—to work together with the government, social elements and businessmen as well as UN (United Nations) partners in protecting rainforests.”
The religious leaders said they will organise regular programmes focusing on advocacy and awareness.
Catholics to strengthen efforts
Speaking after the declaration, Syamsuddin said IRI Indonesia will fight for the issuance of a regulation on rainforest protection.
“Regulations on forests and biodiversity already exist. Since this is a serious issue, however, we need a regulation on rainforest protection,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bishop Yuwono acknowledged that the initiative will strengthen Catholic efforts to protect the environment.
“We have been introduced to Laudato Si’. Thus, I will regularly reintroduce it in various activities,” he said. Pope Francis 2015 encyclical called for swift action on climate change, among other issues.
“Since 2010, I have called on every couple to plant trees in their gardens before they get married. Besides protecting the environment, such a move serves as a reminder of their marriage,” Bishop Yuwono said.
Also attending the IRI Indonesia launch was Reverend Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for the environment based in New Jersey, the United States of America.
“When religious leaders regularly teach and speak and educate their communities about the importance of protecting the forests, that will create cultural change,” he said.
“And we know from our conversations that these strong leaders here are committed. I think that combination of cultural change and public pressure is very important,” he said.
The IRI is an international, multifaith alliance working to bring moral urgency and faith-based leadership to global efforts to end tropical deforestation. It was launched in June 2017 at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway.