HELSINKI – Religious and indigenous leaders on Monday called for an end to deforestation in the first international multi-faith, multi-cultural plea to reduce the emissions that fuel climate change.
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Participants from 21 countries gathered at a conference in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, hoping that billions of people of faith worldwide will unite to protect the Earth's rainforests. Those forests are fundamental to human life but are suffering from agricultural and industrial exploitation in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
Hosting the one-day meeting, Norwegian Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen said that halting deforestation requires "a global, tectonic shift in values."
The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative was launched by the Scandinavian country that has made reducing tropical deforestation one of its top international priorities, with investments of some $3 billion in the past decade.
"In that decade, the scientific case, the economic case, and the geopolitical case for ending deforestation has only grown. However, more is needed," Helgesen said. "It is not the realm of policy, commerce or science, but of spirit, faith and moral conviction."
Tropical rainforests contain most of the Earth's land-borne biodiversity, help regulate rainfall and temperature globally and regionally, and provide food, water and income to 1.6 billion people.
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The conference the rapid decreased in tropical rainforests has been fueled by palm oil plantations, cattle, soy and crop production and "rapacious and often illegal mining and logging operations." It said the reduction of the rainforests amounted to an area the size of Austria, or nearly 84,000 square kilometers (33,600 square miles).
"Forest communities around the world have put their lives on the line to care for the planet's tropical forests," said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. "We are nothing without our forests. Our culture, our spirituality, our livelihoods, our incomes and our health are tied to them."
Those at the meeting included representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths, and indigenous leaders, including ones from Indonesia and Brazil.