Author: Tim Cross

“Planting Seeds for Change”: Faith + Food Global Online Forum on July 27

What are the impacts of our global food systems on people and the planet? What can we learn from Indigenous communities and traditional food practices? How can a respect for faith and values make food systems more healthy, sustainable, and equitable?

To help answer these questions, the Faith + Food Coalition will host “Faith + Food: Planting Seeds for Change” on July 27, 2021 at 8 a.m. Central European Summer Time (2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the US). This global online forum will present the Coalition’s findings and recommendations to improve food security and access in conjunction with the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome. The Pre-Summit—which will engage policymakers, advocates, NGOs, healthcare leaders, and others from around the world—is part of the lead up to the UN Food Systems Summit on September 24 in New York.

“Values and ethics must be included in the global policy-making conversation about food,” said Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics. “We are honored to convene this forum with people who bring real insight about this essential dimension of human life.”

From top left: Chris Elisara, Marium Husain, Lina Mahy, Gopal Patel, Andrew Schwartz

Speakers will be Dr. Chris Elisara, director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Creation Care Task Force and a senior fellow at Duke Divinity School’s Ormond Center; Dr. Marium Husain, president of the Islamic Medical Association of North America and a hematology/oncology fellow at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center; Lina Mahy, technical officer in the World Health Organization’s Multisectoral Action in Food Systems Unit; and Gopal Patel, co-founder and director of Bhumi Global. Andrew Schwartz, the director of sustainability and global affairs at the Center for Earth Ethics, will moderate the discussion.

“Planting Seeds for Change” builds upon five interfaith dialogues that CEE convened in May and June as part of a formal UN process to engage diverse stakeholders in the Food Systems Summit. The Food + Faith dialogues explored how faith communities—including Indigenous communities—could support the transformation of global food systems toward something that was truly sustainable, accessible, equitable, and regenerative. They engaged grassroots organizers, farmers, food advocates, and policymakers to gather insights and develop holistic, inclusive recommendations.

“Engaging faith-based groups and Indigenous communities is essential to shifting worldviews toward food and the natural world,” says Schwartz. “We’re delighted to have been invited to organize this forum alongside the Pre-Summit.”

“Planting Seeds for Change” will review key findings from the five Food + Faith Dialogues, identify crucial topics for the Summit to address, and issue calls to action.

The Food + Faith Coalition comprises seven groups—the Center for Earth Ethics, Bhumi Global, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, Interfaith Public Health Network, Islamic Medical Association of North America, Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the World Evangelical Alliance’s Creation Care Task Force –that came together to create a platform for faith groups and Indigenous communities around the world to contribute to the UN Food Systems Summit.

The forum is open to all without charge, but registration is required.

REGISTER

Gore Speaks about Faith Communities, Values, and Development at G20 Interfaith Forum

On Wednesday, July 14, Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics, was a panelist at a webinar, “Interfaith Initiatives to Achieve the Agenda 2030 Environmental Goals,” sponsored by the G20 Interfaith Forum. The other panelists were Arthur Dahl, president of the International Environment Forum, and Astrid Shomaker, director for global sustainable development in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment. Pasquale Annicchino of the Bruno Kessler Foundation moderated the discussion.

Listen to the panel discussion.

“Everyone is experiencing climate change,” Gore said. “It is important to acknowledge inequities and those who are suffering and dying right now.”

She emphasized two global megatrends in play: depletion, including the deforestation of the Amazon, and pollution, most importantly the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. “This is about more than data and science,” she said. “It’s about belief systems and values.” Even the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Gore noted, have sometimes been used “to justify the continuation and even expansion of fossil fuels.”

“Money is often confused with virtue,” Gore said. But she sees faith communities playing three main roles in reframing the conversation. They can be prophetic, in the sense of “telling the truth” about climate and sustainability during a worldwide “crisis of fact and knowledge.” They can be pastoral, being there in communities, caring for those who are suffering, and helping “shepherd people into new ways of being in ecological balance.” And they can be practical, mobilizing their organizational and physical resources.

In his remarks, Dahl noted the history of religious groups being engaged with environmental issues going back to the 1970s. He emphasized the challenges in translating global goals to local situations and in measuring development according to values, not GDP. “How do you measure progress on values?” he asked.

Shomaker offered a policy perspective, noting that her remarks came on the same day that the EU announced its ambitious “Fit at 55” legislative agenda to cut emission of greenhouse gases by 55% and make Europe “the first climate-neutral continent.” The EU is embracing “the people’s agenda,” she said, which means acting with “a sense of urgency” about pollution. It also means embracing equity, not only equity within society (including respecting women’s knowledge and roles) but also intergenerational equity, recognizing that this generation has a responsibility to generations to come.

“We’re all in this together,” Annicchino concluded. “Nobody is saved alone.”

Wednesday’s webinar was sponsored by the G20 Interfaith Forum, a network of religiously linked institutions and initiatives that engage on global agendas, especially the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It was the fifth session of the group’s “Ahead of the 2021 Italy G20 Summit” series.

See also: Interfaith Initiatives to Achieve the Agenda 2030 Environmental Goals: Meeting Summary

UN Environment Programme Grants Accreditation to CEE and Union

The United Nations Environment Programme has accredited Union Theological Seminary through the Center for Earth Ethics. Accreditation grants Union observer status and other privileges at the United Nations Environment Assembly and its subsidiaries. The Center for Earth Ethics initiated the accreditation process and is Union’s official connection with this UN body.

The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, Union’s president, was informed of the accreditation in a letter from Jorge Laguna-Celis, UNEP’s secretary of governing bodies, on July 7. The announcement, Jones said, is “a testament to the CEE’s unique ability to engage religious and spiritual communities in ecological discussions at all levels and to establish unprecedented connections between faith-based and secular concerns in order to advance the great work of protecting life on Earth.”

“We are grateful for this honor and opportunity,” said Karenna Gore, CEE’s executive director. “The Center for Earth Ethics at Union is energized and ready to join the great efforts underway at UNEP to correct course so that people can live in balance and harmony with Earth and each other.”

Accreditation is the main entry point for groups and stakeholders into the UN’s environmental policy dialogue. Schools and other non-governmental organizations must successfully meet the requirements of UNEP’s accreditation process before being granted observer status to the UN Environment Assembly, which governs UNEP, and the Committee of Permanent Representatives, composed of all accredited permanent representatives to UNEP.

The Assembly, which will meet next in February 2022, is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, with representatives from all 193 UN member states. It sets priorities for global environmental policies and develops international environmental law. In the months leading up to Assembly sessions, accredited organizations participate in Regional Consultation Meetings, contribute to Regional Civil Society Statements, comment on working documents, and participate in public meetings. During the Assembly itself, accredited organizations attend plenary sessions, where they interact with governments, circulate written statements, and make oral presentations.

CEE’s Director of Sustainability and Global Affairs Andrew Schwartz shepherded Union and CEE through the accreditation process; he will serve as Union’s point of contact with UNEP. 

“Observer status helps us advance faith-based and other underrepresented groups as full participants in the UN’s ongoing dialogues on the environment, climate, and other defining issues,” Schwartz said. “We’re looking forward to amplifying these voices at the next meeting of the Assembly.”