Plants decorating different corners of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) is quite an ordinary sight. But one tree, located in a COP28 special pavilion, is no ordinary tree. Twenty-eight high-ranking religious leaders from over 19 faiths and denominations came together in November in Abu Dhabi, and collectively planted the ‘Tree of Conscience’.
The Tree is now housed at the first-ever Faith Pavilion at a COP, inaugurated on Sunday.
Among the world-renowned figures present at the inauguration of the Faith Pavilion on the fourth day of COP28 in Dubai were the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al Tayeb along with Pope Francis and numerous other religious and political figures. The Pavilion serves as a global platform fostering dialogue and collaboration among religious leaders, scholars, and environmental experts, aiming to address the pressing climate crisis with tangible solutions.
During the event, the religious leaders representing diverse faiths also signed ‘The Abu Dhabi Interfaith Statement for COP28’, a statement on climate action designed to leverage the collective influence of religious leaders to inspire environmental justice.
“In Islamic logic, humans are responsible for the environment, and for their fellow human beings”, Al Tayeb told the audience virtually via video. “Islam has a specific position on the environment and its elements…This position is reflected in the divine command directed at every human being, believer, and non-believer, to reform the earth and all that is on it, and in the prohibition and warning against causing corruption to it,” Al-Tayeb said.
“The Quran abounds with verses that urge respect for the environment and its elements”, the Grand Imam said, further expounding that in the Islamic religion, special legislations address how the earth and whatever is on it constitutes trust in the hands of humans, and that humans shall stand accountable before God for repairing it and protecting it from corruption. He added that God warned humans that if they “make mischief they will suffer diseases, calamities and disasters proportionate to inflicted corruption”.
Calling for urgent action against the climate crisis, Al Tayeb underscored the imminent climate threat posed by the rise in temperature, sweeping floods, devastating wildfires, and severe drought, as well as the extinction of numerous species.
Al-Tayeb ended his message with a cry for help for Palestine against “the relentless terrorist killing machine wielded by the merciless against the innocent citizens of the world encompassing women, men, children, and the unborn, and the destruction observed in the occupied land”.
“It is time to halt these atrocious criminal wars. I am convinced that if they persist in this manner, we will be left with neither a viable environment nor a livable climate for our children and future generations,” he implored the global community.
Pope Francis, also addressing the audience through a video message, “Today, the world needs alliances that are not against someone, but for the benefit of everyone. Let us, as religious representatives, set an example to show that change is possible, to demonstrate respectful and sustainable lifestyles, and let us fervently ask the leaders of nations to preserve our common home”.
The Faith Pavilion and the Abu Dhabi Interfaith Statement initiatives were established by the Muslim Council of Elders in collaboration with the COP28 Presidency, the United Nations Environmental Programme, the UAE Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence, and a coalition of faith partners.
The Statement garnered signatures from various faith and spiritual leaders from around the world, representing Anglicans, Bahá’is, Bohras, Buddhists, Coptic Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Mahikaris, Mandaeans, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Shia Muslims, Sikhs, and Sunni Muslims.
The Pavilion, envisioned as a platform for dialogue among religious leaders, scholars, environmental experts, women, youth, and indigenous peoples is slated to host over 65 sessions with 325 speakers representing nine major religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Indigenous Religions, and Zoroastrianism.
During the pavilion’s inauguration, COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber said, “Climate change cares little about our politics, our borders, or our differences in religion. Our success depends on our ability to come together as one global community to solve it, and global faith communities play a significant role in instilling awareness of the shared social responsibility of all people worldwide towards environmental protection”.
In recent years, numerous initiatives, such as Ummah for Earth, an alliance-led initiative that aims to empower Muslim communities facing climate change, and Green Ummah, a Canada-based Muslim community engaged in building a green future have emerged, aiming to integrate faith communities into climate change discourse.