G20 Interfaith Forum
For Nature's Sake: A Moral Compass for the SDGs
Blog by Arthur Dahl
The G20 Interfaith Forum, established to provide inputs from a faith perspective to meetings of the G20, has set up a Religion and Environment Working Group that is exploring how faith perspectives might improve the indicators used to measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. The mandate of the Religion and Environment Working Group is to monitor developments, theoretical and applied, in the areas of religion and the environment that pertain to fulfillment of the various environment-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); to explore and reflect on the ethical implications emergent in how human social organization impacts, and is impacted by the environment; to establish and encourage dialogue of all stakeholders in these areas; and to draw on and strengthen the work of existing and emerging networks in all of these areas of endeavour.
Two IEF board members, Victoria Thoresen and Arthur Dahl, are members of this Working Group that is preparing a policy paper on the topic. Arthur was asked to prepare a blog on the issue: "For Nature's Sake: A Moral Compass for the SDGs" that was published on the G20 Interfaith Forum website on 19 March. The link is https://blog.g20interfaith.org/2021/03/19/for-natures-sake-a-moral-comp…. Here is Arthur's blog.
The pandemic of 2020-21 has dislocated the world economy, disrupted social relationships, and brought great death and suffering, emphasizing the importance of health and healing to our well-being. It has also made evident the need for healing many other causes of suffering in our world, including an economy that treats the environment, the climate, ecosystem services and natural resources as externalities that can be ignored because they are not valued as capital and traded in the market, leaving us to face existential threats to the future of civilization. That same economic system, focused on maximizing short-term profits, creates great financial wealth for some while extreme poverty persists and half the world population is still struggling to meet basic needs.
A Framework for Sustainable Progress
Technological advances have transformed our world, and can easily be used to improve the common good and advance a sustainable civilization. However, they can just as easily be used to accelerate environmental destruction; to trap people in a consumer society relying on endless growth; to cultivate the basest aspects of human nature; and to invent new weapons of destruction. What is missing is an ethical dimension—a perspective that acknowledges there is a higher human purpose than just meeting material needs and desires; a moral compass that can give a positive direction to human society. This has traditionally been the role and purpose of the great faith traditions and of the world-views of Indigenous peoples.
The Sustainable Development Goals provide the accepted framework for the fundamental transformation needed in human society to resolve the threats from climate change; biodiversity collapse; the rape of the planet’s land, seas, and natural resources; and the economic deprivation and social fragmentation that marginalize and leave so many behind. The SDGs call for an integrated approach, since all these dimensions are part of an integrated biosphere, economy, and human system.
The Fuel Behind that Framework
But something more is needed: the motivation and political will to make the necessary changes in lifestyles, consumption patterns, energy sources, industrial processes, agricultural systems, economic paradigms, and institutions of governance.
Motivation comes from the heart—the domain of spirituality and faith, of altruism and self-sacrifice, of courage and patience, of love for humanity and nature. This is what the faith traditions contribute to the vision of the SDGs. Just as the SDGs have targets and indicators to measure progress and encourage effort, so do we need to develop complementary indicators of the values that motivate change and build unity in our diversity. The youth of the world need hope today more than ever, and their energy and idealism can be channelled through inspiring ethical principles and values to drive positive change and innovation as we build forward together.
The G20 leaders should incorporate this dimension into their policy recommendations and encourage partnerships with religions, faith traditions, and Indigenous peoples as valuable allies in the healing of the world and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
Last updated 19 March 2021