UN Environment head addresses “Faith and Environment” at India House of Worship

UN Environment head addresses “Faith and Environment” at India House of Worship

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, speaks at the Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi, India.
New Delhi—5 October 2016

The unifying narrative of religious belief has throughout history been essential to community building – and it should now be put to the service of peace, development and environmental conservation.

That was one of the messages offered by Erik Solheim, Executive Director of United Nations Environment (UNEP) during a talk on the subject of “Faith and Environment” at the Baha’i House of Worship here on 5 October 2016.

“It was religion and faith that made it possible for humans to come together,” said Mr. Solheim. “Because unless you have some overarching faith… some overarching narrative, human beings have huge difficulties coming together.”

For that reason, he said, religion has been at the center of successful communities since humanity emerged as a species. “In my opinion, no society of any size at any point in human history has been without religion and faith,” he said.

In this light, he added, “there is a very strong case to be made that whatever you want to achieve in society, whether peace, development or environment, we need to work with religious groups and faith leaders.”

Speaking in particular about the importance of faith-based communities and their leaders in promoting environmental conservation, he said religious belief can assist in raising consciousness about one’s role in environmental protection and preserving natural resources.

“When we build on what is good in religion, it can become a positive and deep source of true motivation in people to bring about change,” he said.

He also noted that the abuse of religion can produce fanaticism, division and conflict. The key to eliminating religious conflict, he said, was for religious groups to avoid a sense of superiority and self-righteousness, which too often “makes us think that our religion is the best and we know everything, while others are ignorant.”

Mr. Solheim also said UN Environment, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, will seek to work closely with faith-based organizations everywhere to help protect the planet.

In August, in a letter to the Addis Ababa Office of the Baha'i International Community, Mr. Solheim said he had “every intention of advancing our environmental agenda in close collaboration with diverse partners and stakeholders, including faith-based organizations such as the Baha'i International Community.”

He added: “I note with appreciation the Baha'i International Community's fruitful record of engagement with the United Nations and hope that the recent establishment of its Addis Ababa Office signals not only your strengthened commitment to the sustainable development agenda on the African continent but also to your growing engagement with UN Environment and the UN Environment Assembly, which I would warmly welcome.”

Techeste Ahderom, the resident representative of the Addis Ababa Office of the BIC, welcomed the letter – and took note of the speech on “Faith and Environment” in New Delhi.

“We look forward to cooperating with Mr. Solheim and UN Environment,” added Mr. Ahderom.

Following an extensive career focusing on environment and development in government and international organizations, Mr. Solheim was elected to become the Executive Director of UN Environment on 13 May 2016.

Mr. Solheim's entire talk can be viewed on YouTube, here.