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Asian Catholics urged to tackle deforestation before it's too late

Asia has lost half of its forest cover, worsening the climate crisis, say Laudato Si' Movement leaders

Every year the world loses 10 million hectares of forest due to deforestation and forest degradation, according to the UN Environment Program

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

Published: June 25, 2022 02:56 AM GMT

Updated: June 25, 2022 03:24 AM GMT

A panel of experts have insisted on the urgent need for climate education and action from Catholics to curb deforestation and protect the environment in Asia.

The call was made during a webinar organized 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” drew participants from a host of Asian nations including Indonesia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, Myanmar and India.

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LSM biodiversity and climate manager Carol Kiiru warned that Asia faces a dreadful future if nations fail to halt the fast disappearance of forests.

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

She pointed out that countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are recording 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 don’t do anything now, your children will be your judges,” said Father Rey Raluto from the Philippines, which imposed a logging ban in natural forests in 1991.

The Global Forest Resources Assessment Report 2020 states that an estimated 420 million hectares of forest have been lost worldwide through deforestation since 1990.

The report noted that Asia ranks third in the list of highest annual deforestation for the period 2015-20 with 2.24 million hectares of forest destroyed.

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

Panelists at the seminar agreed on the need to provide better education and information on climate and environment among youth and children.

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 we do not know how to fix the environment, we should not break it,” she said, stressing the need to create awareness among children about natural calamities and ecological imbalances caused by deforestation.

She cited floods and landslides as an example and suggested that people should reduce the use of fossil fuels, walk rather than taking a vehicle whenever possible, and reduce single-use plastics.

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

Mudita Sodder, an activist from 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, has collaborated with nuns from the Our Lady of the Missions congregation to create a bio-reserve on a hill area between Shillong and Guwahati.

Among the group's notable campaigns are cleaning the environment, garbage segregation, 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 more than 200,000 members.

Hong Phuc Dinh, an activist from Vietnam, said a seed sharing program has been successful in preserving traditional plants that were almost extinct due to farmers’ selective cultivation and promotion of hybrid seeds by pesticide companies. The program lets farmers exchange crop seeds to which they have limited access.

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

“We integrate planting trees in other sacramental celebrations. When you have candidates for baptism or marriage, you require 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 famed environmental encyclical Laudato Si'.

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