When addressing issues of climate change, we need to adopt a holistic perspective, said the Baha’i International Community at a recent meeting on the environment that convened leaders in Africa.

The Regional Consultation meeting for Africa Major Groups and Stakeholders from 10-11 June 2017 in Libreville, Gabon. BIC Representative Solomon Belay is sitting 3rd from the left.

The Regional Consultation meeting for Africa Major Groups and Stakeholders from 10-11 June 2017 in Libreville, Gabon. BIC Representative Solomon Belay is sitting 3rd from the left.

“We have to look at the spiritual and material dimensions. How do we live with nature harmoniously?” asked Solomon Belay, Representative of the BIC Office in Addis Ababa. “We need a coherent view of environmental issues and a plan based on that.”

The meeting in Gabon from 10–11 June 2017 brought together around 45 representatives from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the PanAfrican Climate Justice Alliance, African Union Commission, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), and the Pan-African Parliamentarian’s Network on Climate Change, among others.

The BIC has been engaged in a conversation with UNEP about the contribution faith-based organizations can make to the UN’s environmental goals, and this month’s meeting was an opportunity for African leaders to build consensus around environmental issues in preparation for the third meeting of the UN Environmental Assembly at the end of the year.

Participants at the seminar in Gabon discussed innovative environmental solutions that would accelerate the implementation of the UN’s sustainable development goals in Africa. While this meeting signals yet another advance in efforts to protect the environment, the conversation on the environment still remains relatively fragmented, said Dr. Belay.

“The spiritual dimension is almost completely missing,” he commented.

At the meeting, the BIC Office shared its statement, “Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together,” which was originally prepared for COP21, the UN Conference on Climate Change, in December 2015. It said, in part:

Action on issues of sustainability is often grounded in the sentiment that we all live on the same planet. Of course shared concerns such as climate change, transnational migration, and global pandemics are not to be discounted. But truly transforming individual and collective patterns of life will require a much deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of the planetary biosphere. People and the environment are inter-connected aspects of one organically integrated system. At this point in history, neither can be accurately understood in isolation from the other. 

Implicit in this understanding is the organic oneness of the human race itself. Deceptively simple in popular discourse, the concept that humanity constitutes a single people has numerous implications for the formulation of effective action at all levels. COP 21 [The Paris Climate Accords], for example, can be understood as an opportunity to embrace more deeply the practical implications of the oneness of humanity, including the obligation to translate our moral responsibility toward one another and the natural world into tangible agreements, approaches, and plans of action.   

A rich and deepening consciousness of the oneness of humankind is the only way that the obstacles inherent in dichotomies like rich/poor, north/south, developed/developing can be overcome. –Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together, statement of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, December, 2015.

“Our relationship with nature should be examined at all levels,” said Dr. Belay, drawing attention to portions of the statement that call to individuals, institutions in society, and the community as a whole to embrace responsibility for change.

A rainforest in Gabon, the host country of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which took place from 10–11 June 2017 in Libreville, the capital city (photo published on the UNEP website , copyright Alex Rouvin)

A rainforest in Gabon, the host country of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which took place from 10–11 June 2017 in Libreville, the capital city (photo published on the UNEP website, copyright Alex Rouvin)

“Establishing sustainable patterns of individual and collective life will require not only new technologies, but also a new consciousness in human beings, including a new conception of ourselves and our place in the world,” the statement reads. This perspective emerges directly from the Baha’i teachings:

A new era of divine consciousness is upon us. The world of humanity is going through a process of transformation. A new race is being developed. The thoughts of human brotherhood are permeating all regions. New ideals are stirring the depths of hearts and a new spirit of universal consciousness is being profoundly felt by all men. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Asiatic Quarterly Review, April, 1913, quoted in Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 16.

Following June’s meeting in Gabon, there are plans to hold another gathering with a greater emphasis on the contribution of faith-based organizations to environmental issues.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

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