It is a pivotal moment for our world," said Ban as he co-hosted with Prince Philip an inter-faith gathering of religious and secular leaders at Windsor Castle called Many Heavens, One Earth: Faith Commitments for a Living Planet.
At the event organized by Prince Philip's Alliance of Religions and Conservation, leaders from nine of the world's major faith traditions are highlighting the Earth's fragility, and discussing initiatives to protect the planet against the ravages of climate change.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, meets UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British monarch. (Photo by Mark Garten courtesy UN)
Prince Philip said, "The fact that the majority of the world's faiths ascribe the creation of the world to an all-powerful deity, implies that the leaders and followers of each faith have a moral responsibility for the continued well-being of our planet, and particularly for its natural environment. In recent times it has become apparent that the sheer size of the human population, and its consequent increasing demand for natural resources, is seriously threatening the future health of our planet and the welfare of all life on Earth."
Leaders from Baha'ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism and Sikhism gathered to commit to long-term practical action to save the environment.
During the three-day gathering, which concluded today, the leaders announced 31 long-term commitments to protect the living planet. Practical initiatives include new faith-based ecolabeling standards for Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism; the planting of 8.5 million trees in Tanzania; sourcing sustainable fuel for India's Sikh gurdwaras, which feed 30 million people every day; the greening of religious buildings; and the introduction of ecotourism policies for pilgrimages – still the world's biggest travel events.
With the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen just over one month away, the event is seen as a way to reach out to the 85 percent of humanity who follow a religion.
In Copenhagen December 7-18, nations are expected to finalize a new agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions that will take over when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period expires at the end of 2012.
Any deal reached in Copenhagen must be "comprehensive, equitable and ambitious," Ban said, urging faith communities to help communicate the message that action must be taken urgently.
The potential impact of faith communities is "enormous," said Ban, because they have the ability to set an example for the lifestyles of billions of people and reach millions of young people through education.
"You can – and do – inspire people to change," the secretary-general said. "Your practical commitments can encourage political leaders to act more courageously in protecting people and the planet."
Minarets of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia (Photo by Shabbir Shiraj)
"We can lay a foundation for peace and security for generations to come," Ban said. "We can define a more sustainable relationship with our planet."
Among the commitments made by faith leaders, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Goma'a, unveiled a Muslim Seven Year action plan on the environment. Under the plan, one of Islam's most important cities, Medina in Saudi Arabia, is to become a model green city.
Other cities to be greened include Sala in Morocco and the Grand Mufti's own city of Dar Al Iftaa in Egypt, which he told his fellow religious leaders "had already started taking practical steps to go carbon neutral in 2010."
Sheikh Ali Goma'a said Muslims have "a religious duty to safeguard our environment and advocate the importance of preserving it. Pollution and global warming pose an even greater threat than war, and the fight to preserve the environment could be the most positive way of bringing humanity together."
Commenting after the announcement, ARC Secretary General Martin Palmer said, "This is part of a hugely complicated process - Islam saying to Islamic governments that this is how you should act Islamically. It also involves launching an umbrella association – the Muslim Association for Climate Change Action, MACCA."
Nigel Savage, founder of the Jewish environmental NGO Hazon, based in New York, told the gathering about the Jewish Climate Campaign and Pledge. This campaign encourages Jews to sign a pledge to make a greater commitment to transformation over the next few years.
"We're inviting every Jewish institution - every synagogue, school, JCC, camp, every Jewish organization, every Jewish-owned business, every Hillel, every youth group - to set up a Green Team," Savage said.
Buddha statues at the Jade Buddhist Temple, Shanghai, China (Photo by Andy Teach)
There are more than 100 million Buddhists in China, with more than 13,000 monasteries and around 200,000 monks and nuns. The Shanghai Eight Year Plan on Environmental Protection, created by the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai in collaboration with other monasteries, involves 90 temples and monasteries.
It involves actively promoting the idea of not using disposable fast-food containers, reducing use of chemical detergents, sorting and recycling waste, promoting pollution-free diets and food sourcing; mobilizing followers and monks into activities such as recycling, beach and mountain cleanups, tree planting and water conservation. The plan calls on people to start with small personal actions such as saving water as they wash, saving electricity, and not wasting food.
Daoists in China are installing solar panels at all their temples in China. The first Daoist ecological temple – at Taibaishan in Shaanxi Province – was built in 2007 with local sustainable materials: it is now a model for ecological temples being planned throughout China.
The Daoists also are prohibiting the use of ingredients from endangered animals and plants in their health care, food and medicine.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is taking the lead in promoting solar power in Armenia by installing solar power systems in churches and some public buildings such as kindergartens and bathhouses.
St. Denys Church in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England (Photo courtesy St. Denys Church)
The Church of England discovered, in a 2007 audit, that the national carbon footprint of its 16,200 churches as well as clergy houses, halls and offices was 330,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It has pledged to reduce this by at least 42 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050. One example is St. Denys Church in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, which despite being Grade I listed and subject to rigid architectural controls, has installed solar panels on its lead roof using a frame with non-intrusive clamps.
Quakers in the UK have pledged that their historic conference centre, Swarthmoor Hall in Cumbria, will come off-grid by 2012 through on-site small-scale energy production. They are investigating using their surrounding farmland to install commercial wind turbines.
The New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, a predominantly African-American church with a Sunday congregation of more than 7,000, is developing its new US$41 million church to be energy-efficient, and its garden a center for teaching people about growing their own food as a means of returning to a simpler lifestyle.
The U.S. Catholic Coalition on Climate Change is working with its 18,000 parishes, 8,500 schools, 244 colleges and universities and dozens of hospitals to link with the U.S. government's Energy Star programme to buy green energy, and is initiating conversations with treasurers of Catholic institutions to discuss how Catholic investment portfolios can encourage green energy technology and support environmentally careful companies. Some 25 percent of the U.S. population is Catholic.
In total, the faiths own around seven to eight percent of the habitable land surface of the planet, and more than five percent of the forests. Many of the faiths, led by the Shinto, who are major forest-owners in Japan, have joined a program coordinated by ARC to create a Religious Forestry Standard for religious owned and managed forestry.
Greek Orthodox officials are promoting water saving devices in all church institutions and in all Orthodox homes. particularly important in arid countries of the Middle East.
Prince Philip expressed confidence that the commitments made at this gathering "will make a significant difference to the quality of life on Earth in the long term."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.