Asian Catholics urged to fight deforestation before it’s too late

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Asia has lost half its forest cover, worsening climate crisis, Laudato Si’ movement leaders say

Every year, the world loses 10 million hectares of forest due to deforestation and forest degradation, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. (Photo: United Nations Forum on Forests/Fendi Aspara)

Posted: Jun 25, 2022 02:56 GMT

Updated: June 25, 2022 03:24 GMT

A panel of experts has stressed the urgent need for climate education and action by Catholics to curb deforestation and protect the environment in Asia.

The call was made during a webinar hosted by the Asia-Pacific Unit of the Laudato Si’ Movement (LSM), a global Catholic environmental group, on June 23.

The event titled “Stop Deforestation: Protect Our Forests, Protect Our Home” attracted participants from many Asian countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, Myanmar and India.

LSM’s biodiversity and climate manager, Carol Kiiru, warned that Asia faces a dire future if nations fail to stem the rapid loss of forests.

“Asia has lost more than half of its original forest cover, which of course is the root of the climate crisis,” Kiiru said in his speech marking the opening of the seminar.

She pointed out that countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand have higher levels of deforestation.

Licypriya Kangujam, a 10-year-old climate activist from Manipur in eastern India, suggested students should plant at least one tree to save the environment

“If you do nothing now, your children will be your judges,” said Father Rey Raluto of the Philippines, who imposed a ban on logging in natural forests in 1991.

The Global Forest Resources Assessment Report 2020 indicates that approximately 420 million hectares of forests have been lost worldwide to deforestation since 1990.

The report notes that Asia ranks third in the list of highest annual deforestation for the period 2015-2020 with 2.24 million hectares of forest destroyed.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity.

Seminar panelists agreed on the need to provide better climate and environmental education and information to young people and children.

Licypriya Kangujam, a 10-year-old climate activist from Manipur, eastern India, suggested the students plant at least one tree to save the environment.

“If we don’t know how to fix the environment, we mustn’t break it,” she said, stressing the need to educate children about natural calamities and ecological imbalances caused by deforestation.

She cited floods and landslides as an example and suggested people should reduce the use of fossil fuels, walk rather than drive where possible and reduce single-use plastics.

“We integrate tree planting into other sacramental celebrations. When you have candidates for baptism or marriage, you ask them to plant trees. The more you appreciate creation, the more you appreciate God”

Mudita Sodder, an activist with the church-based green group Tarumitra (Friends of Trees) in eastern India, spoke about the group’s activities for ecological conservation.

The group, founded by Jesuit priest Robert Athickal, worked with nuns from the Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions to create a bio-reserve on a hill between Shillong and Guwahati.

Some of the notable campaigns of the group include environmental cleanup, garbage separation, organic farming and pollination in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand by promoting butterfly gardens.

The group has “eco-ambassadors” in 24 states covering 1,000 schools with over 200,000 members.

Hong Phuc Dinh, a Vietnamese activist, said a seed-sharing program had succeeded in preserving traditional plants that had almost disappeared due to selective cultivation by farmers and the promotion of hybrid seeds by pesticide companies. The program allows farmers to exchange seeds of crops to which they have limited access.

Father Raluto said they combined environmental protection with faith in the Philippines.

“We integrate tree planting into other sacramental celebrations. When you have candidates for baptism or marriage, you ask them to plant trees. The more you appreciate creation, the more you appreciate God,” the priest said.

The Laudato Si’ movement, formerly known as the Global Catholic Climate Movement, was established in 2015 in the Philippines following Pope Francis’ visit to the country. It takes its name from the pope’s famous environmental encyclical Laudato Si’.

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