President of Iceland, honorable faith leaders, dear friends near and far,
It is an honour for me to say a few words at the outset of this conference, Faith for Nature. This is not a one-time event, but firmly embedded in the initiative Faith for Earth, which aims to build bridges between religious organizations and the UN system with regard to environmental protection and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In short: This is a big thing!
The Government of Iceland decided to back up the holding of this conference, to show our support for its aims, and to signal a willingness to take its message to governments and others through the UNEP process and other channels. One way for this could be a resolution at the UN Fifth Environmental Assembly on the role of faith for sustainability and environmental protection.
I will not say much about the resolution or the UNEA process, as all international events and cooperation is in a phase of uncertainty, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What I will say is that it is important to have strong links between the UN system and faith-based organizations and to acknowledge the role that they have in achieving the important goals that the international community has set to improve human lives and to protect the planet that is our common home.
There are many ways to achieve this, but what is important is to keep the dialogue alive, and get the message across at every chance. I am therefore most happy that it has been possible to hold this conference on-line, in light of the difficult circumstances. It is an achievement in itself, and actually I believe that the conference has a better chance of success, because being on-line means that much more people are able to participate. I am certain that it will bring valuable results for the road ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me say a few words about my thoughts of the role of values in environmental protection and about the role of the faith community and faith-based organizations.
Our planet is facing challenges that we need to fight united. I thank you all sincerely for seeing the importance of coming together to do so.
We have reached a stage where humankind is the main force in the development of life on Earth – the only planet where we know for sure that the miracle of life has happened. We have also reached the stage where our actions could prove immensely harmful to the Earth‘s life-support systems – and ourselves. Biodiversity is rapidly declining. Coral reefs and rainforests are shrinking fast and face grave threats. Pollution reaches even the furthest reaches of the planet, including the Arctic, which was long thought of as pristine. The climate crisis is erupting all around us, with extreme weather records breaking, unprecedented wildfires and escalating loss of ice on sea and land. Our glaciers are receding, and some have already bid goodbye – we could face the prospect of Iceland without ice within a few generations. And all this is just a harbinger of decades and centuries of catastrophic change, if we can not act fast and cut emissions of greenhouse gases.
We deal with these challenges on many fronts, and by employing many actors and fields. We ask science to guide us. We need to understand our natural systems and get accurate charting of the dangers ahead. We ask economics to find solutions. We need to find the most cost-effective actions, and integrate them into trade and governance. We engage in political discussions – at home and at the international arena. The nations of the world need to define more ambitious goals and coordinate our efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We certainly need our best and brightest minds to engage in these efforts. But at the end of the day we are perhaps not moved primarily by scientific predictions or clever economic analysis and policy arguments. We are moved by our hearts. We are guided by our values.
For many, our values are closely connected to our faith. There is a great diversity of religions in the world, as is reflected in this conference. But all faiths have certain things in common. They contain ethical guidance, they speak to our hearts, they seek to give meaning to our lives. They teach respect for our fellow human beings and for creation. It is only natural that the faith community takes up the pressing issue of ethical stewardship of nature, so that we and other species may enjoy her fruits but conserve her wonders.
I represent the governmental sector here, but I greatly value the input of the faith community in the global discussion on environmental protection and sustainable development. My view on this is shaped by my prior experience, but I used to work for an environmental NGO before entering government. Governments have a primary responsibility in tackling the climate crisis and environmental matters, but I believe that those colossal challenges can not be overcome, except with the participation of civil society – by non-governmental organizations, by business, by scientists, by students and the young generation, who are standing up and demanding that we give them and all those who follow a livable planet to inherit. And that is our duty to future generations.
And the faith community has certainly a most important role to play here. Your voice needs to be heard. This conference is sponsored by many, but it is your forum. I for my part will listen to the message coming from this conference, and will speak for involving and empowering the faith community in UNEP and other venues.
I want to thank everyone involved in organizing this conference, in Iceland and all over the world. I am most grateful to faith leaders and others who address the conference and participate.
We must love our natural home, the Earth, and we must have faith in our common future – and we must act based on that faith.
I wish us all a fruitful conference,