CEE and URI Launch Ecosystems Restoration Conversation Guide at COP15

Earlier this year, the Center for Earth Ethics hosted a set of virtual consultations that explored ecosystem restoration through the lens of values, culture, and spirituality. Focusing on critical ecosystems in the United States, India, Kenya, the Philippines and Jordan, these consultations brought to the forefront Indigenous voices, community organizations and leaders, and faith communities as they respond to ecological degradation that could lead to a million plant and animal species going extinct within decades?

“We wanted to see the difference between those [biodiversity projects] that worked and those that didn’t,” said CEE Director of Sustainability and Global Affairs Andrew Schwartz, who organized the consultations.

Building on the consultations, the Center for Earth Ethics and the United Religions Initiative partnered to create a guidebook for individuals and local organizations that want to host similar conversations in their communities about ecosystem restoration. The “Values, Culture, and Spirituality: Ecosystems Restoration Conversation Guide” (available for download here), which was compiled by Schwartz and Lauren Van Ham, an interfaith minister and climate action coordinator at URI.

The guide was launched officially at “Values, Culture, Spirituality, and Ecosystem Restoration,” a side event held on December 13 in the Faith Pavilion at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, which recently concluded in Montreal. Van Ham, CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore, Diane Klaimi from the United Nations Environment Programme, and Avaaz campaign director Oscar Soria participated in a discussion of the guide and, more importantly, why it is so necessary. Schwartz, who organized the session with Senior Advisor Gopal Patel, moderated.

Schwartz noted that the challenge is not just to focus on biodiversity loss, but also on the “conditions that led to degradation.” What is needed, he said, is “community and social restoration” as well as ecosystem restoration.

What is non-negotiable is the protection of life in all forms.

Gore questioned the commonly accepted development paradigm. “What does GDP not measure?” she asked, noting that pollution, depletion and inequality are not factored into conventional measures. We need “to understand how we really want to measure our society.”

Grassroots organizers have long known that values-based approaches, which integrate culture, Indigenous knowledge, and lessons from spiritual traditions, can help motivate and sustain meaningful shifts in behavior and attitudes. The guide aims to capture that wisdom.

As Klaimi noted, in discussions about biodiversity and ecosystems, “values should be uplifted.”

Van Ham noted that the climate crisis and biodiversity loss are complicated issues. “We want to have enough courage and curiosity that we wade into the mess,” she said.

Faith communities and Indigenous leaders have been generally, if somewhat cautiously, positive about the framework that has come out of COP15, which affirmed the 30 time 30 goals, with protections for local communities and Indigenous groups. But the overarching goal goes beyond Montreal.

“What is non-negotiable is the protection of life in all forms,” said Soria.

Download “Values, Culture, and Spirituality: Ecosystems Restoration Conversation Guide.”