Faith groups, including Baha'is of Germany, meet on environment and climate concerns

June 4, 2002

GOETTINGEN, Germany — At an interfaith meeting in May, representatives of the main religions in Germany, including the Baha'i Faith, drafted and accepted a joint memorandum stressing the common ground among the religions on the issue of climate change and the environment.

Chaired by Gottfried Orth, director of the Ernst Lange-Institute for Ecumenical Studies, and held under the auspices of the German Federal Environment Ministry, the meeting took place 6-7 May 2002 and was titled "Orientation dialogue of religions represented in Germany on environmental politics with reference to the climate issue."

The main goal of the meeting was to widen the dialogue between the government and various religions in Germany on environmental issues as part of a process to enhance the receptivity and responsibility of important pillars of society.

Participants included three representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches; the general secretary of the Central Muslim Council and a scientific advisor; a member of the council of the Buddhist Union and two other Buddhists; and three representatives of the Baha'i Community of Germany. Also present were observers from the World Conference on Religion and Peace and a group representing the Earth Charter.

The final memorandum issued by the religious representatives stated that, regardless of the differences between the holy writings and traditions of the various religions, there is much common ground between them on the issues of nature and the environment, which gives rise to a common responsibility for action.

"The central cause for the destruction of nature and the basis for life on earth is the waste of goods and resources," said the memorandum. "We in the industrialized countries need to recognize our primary responsibility for global threat to life. We cannot insist on a lifestyle with high energy consumption and emission of greenhouse gases that cannot be generalized worldwide."

The memorandum said love, justice and ethics can be the foundation for sustainable development, a point that must be considered at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, scheduled to be held in August in Johannesburg, South Africa. The memorandum also emphasized that water -- an expression of spiritual life in all religions -- needs equal attention in its use.

"Approximately two-thirds of the time of the meeting was dedicated to presentations on the position of the various religions concerning creation, nature, man, ethical approaches, attitudes towards scientific predictions on climate effects as well as aspects of political actions," said Ingo Hofmann, who, along with Ulrich Gollmer and Friedo Zölzer, represented the Baha'i Community of Germany at the meeting.

"But these presentations were followed by equally long sessions of questions and answers," said Dr. Hofmann, who is a professor of physics at Frankfurt University. "And there was consensus, at the end, that the whole meeting was held in a remarkable spirit of dialogue and openness, giving a good example of religious dialogue applied to a burning problem of society."

In the memorandum, each religion also cited a main concern with respect to the environment. The Baha'i contribution was to say that "for the Baha'is, nature and humankind are an organic entity, from which we derive the principles for proper action in compliance with the needs of environment and social justice," said Dr. Hofmann.

German Federal Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin attended the second day of the meeting, when the memorandum was presented to him. At a well attended press conference he stressed the importance of religions in the process of making society more receptive to environmental issues.

The dialogue was designed as a follow-up to a meeting of G-8 environment ministers and religious leaders in Trieste in March 2001, at which religious leaders appealed for governments to give environmental concerns a higher priority.

In terms of follow-up, the religious communities will continue the process of discussing environmental issues both inside and outside their own communities. A book containing the statements of the various religious communities is also being prepared, with a fall 2002 publication schedule. The memorandum expresses the commitment to continue the dialogue locally, regionally and on the European level.