OSLO (Reuters) – Religious and indigenous leaders began talks on Monday on ways to protect tropical rainforests, with host Norway warning that a global plan to slow climate change will be doomed without action ranging from the Congo basin to the Amazon.
Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist representatives met with indigenous peoples in Oslo to explore moral and ethical arguments to shield forests that are under threat from logging and land clearance for farms.
Organizers said the Oslo Interfaith Rainforest Initiative was the first to gather religious and indigenous peoples to seek out common ground to protect forests. They hope to organize a summit in 2018.
“We are losing the tapestry of life and biodiversity that is in rainforests,” Norwegian Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen told a news conference on the June 19-21 meeting. Forests are homes and a source of income to millions of people.
And rainforests are also a giant natural store of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels. Trees release the gas when they rot or are burnt to make way for farms, such as for cattle or palm oil plantations.
“The Paris Agreement is doomed if deforestation continues,” Helgesen said.
Many countries have reaffirmed support for the 2015 Paris pact to phase out greenhouse gas emissions after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans on June 1 to pull out, saying he wants to promote the U.S. fossil fuel industry.
Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said trees were vital to the cycle of water and life on Earth. “If we alter this we can arrive to have a planet that has no life,” he told Reuters.
“Trees don’t have only ecological value for us, but also cultural value for us. Every tree,” said Joseph Itongwa of Democratic Republic of Congo, a representative of indigenous peoples in Africa.
The net extent of the world’s forests shrank by 33,000 square kilometers (12,700 square miles) a year from 2010-15, about the size of Belgium, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization says.
The rate is still high though about half that of the 1990s.
Mary Evelyn Tucker, director of Yale University’s forum on Religion and Ecology, said religious groups such as the World Council of Churches were seeking ever more to restrict investments in areas that damage the environment.
Among other measures, for instance, Indonesia’s highest Islamic council last year issued a fatwa on burning land and forests in an effort to protect forests and halt toxic smog.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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