Event Report

Expert Talk with Dr. Iyad Abumoghli: Faith, Wildlife and Biodiversity: Harnessing Religion for Environmental Conservation and Ethical Action

The Alliance welcomed Dr. Iyad Abumoghli, founder and director of the UNEP Faith for Earth Coalition, in April 2024 to share his expertise on ‘Faith, Wildlife and Biodiversity: Harnessing Religion for Environmental Conservation and Ethical Action’. Dr. Abumoghli has extensive experience within the UN structures, has served as Regional Representative of UNEP in West Asia, or as the Director of Knowledge and Innovation at UNDP’s Office for Arab States. He holds a doctorate degree in Bio-Chemical Engineering as well as an outstanding graduate of the Virtual Development Academy.

During the Event, Dr. Abumoghli highlighted the importance of the integration of faith-based organizations into conservation efforts. This connection is based on two factors that represent two major untapped powers: First, social and reach power. Science is often subject of discussions and debates, whereas Holy Scriptures tend to be lesser subjects of debate, and commonly advocate for ethical behaviour. The second untapped power refers to the economic potential of faith organisations, in terms of assets and capital. Three central goals are at the core of the Faith for Earth Coalition. Leadership for Policy Impact, Greening faith-based organisation’s assets and financing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Science-Faith-based evidence. In the process of achieving these three goals, the Coalition engages with Eminent Faith Leaders focusing on further work with the youth, women, several individual faith-based organisations, and the religion-science interface. The engagement between the Coalition and its partners is based on collaborations within areas such as policy advocacy, interfaith dialogues, and science-faith-based evidence and literacy.

However, how does this connect to the Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade? As Dr. Abumoghli has pointed out in his presentation, the untapped power of the social dimension impacted by faith represents the spill over of spiritual values into patterns of social inclusion, political engagement, and economics. In the context of conservation and wildlife preservation, most religious teachings exhibit an interconnection with today’s science when it comes to wildlife protection. These interconnections refer to aspects such as the concept of responsibility of humans to care for the environment, which is on the one hand a scientific principle of conservation as well as, on the other hand, the stewardship concept of humans to care for God’s creation as taught within Christianity. Also in Buddhism one can find the recognition of the ecological impacts of human activities on the environment and animals through the Buddhist teachings on the interconnectedness and compassion for all forms of life. Other religions and indigenous spiritualities show similar interconnections and general common religious values can be identified relevant for a harmonious and balanced relationship between societies, wildlife and the environment.

Besides the conceptual understanding of faith and conservation, the intrinsic value of the natural world that is taught through ancient sacred writings and teachings, Dr. Abumoghli showed how these aspects have been integrated into the political sphere today: The Global Biodiversity Framework and COP15 featured distinct faith-based approaches. For example, through education and outreach, faith-based organisations can advocate for conservation and environmental protection within their communities using spiritual and moral imperatives. Several initiatives are already operating that specifically address the establishment of partnerships between religious and spiritual leaders and environmental organisations, such as the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. Therefore, especially in the context of One Health and pandemic prevention, faith-based approaches can enhance community engagement to address health risks and behavioural change for more sustainable and safe practices.

If you would like to receive more information on the topic, you can watch the recording of Dr. Abumoghli’s Expert Talk in the Members Area or on Dr. Abumoghli’s YouTube channel. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with the Alliance Secretariat (alliance-health-wildlife@giz.de) or Dr. Abumoghli’ team (FaithforEarthTeam@unitednations.onmicrosoft.com).