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EcoSikh joins interfaith effort ahead of COP26

EcoSikh, which draws on Sikh ethics, beliefs and the example of Sikh gurus to confront the world’'s environmental challenges, described the COP26 event as a ‘last ray of hope as the earth faces an unprecedented ecological crisis.’

Tree planting by EcoSikh members. Photo courtesy of EcoSikh

(RNS) — EcoSikh, a Sikh American nonprofit, has renewed its calls for action on climate change ahead of the COP26 conference that opens Sunday (Oct. 31) in Glasgow, Scotland.

EcoSikh, which draws on Sikh ethics, beliefs and the example of Sikh gurus to confront the world’s environmental challenges, issued a statement describing the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference as a “last ray of hope as the earth faces an unprecedented ecological crisis.”

EcoSikh was formed in 2009 out of a program launched by the United Nations Development Program and the now-defunct Alliance of Religions and Conservation to spark fundamental and long-term change. Toward that goal, EcoSikh developed a garden in northern Punjab, the first to include every tree and plant species mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy text of the faith. The U.S.-based organization now has chapters in India, Canada and Ireland. The organization is developing chapters in several Commonwealth countries such as Kenya and Australia.

“Religions have yet to understand their own power. We control so much resources and land. We have so many people willing to take action when religious leaders speak,” said Rajwant Singh, the founder and president of EcoSikh, in a speech at a climate-focused gathering of interfaith leaders outside the State Department last week.

EcoSikh logo. Courtesy image

EcoSikh logo. Courtesy image

Singh also performed a hymn written by Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith; it was the same hymn Singh performed at a special climate change-focused event at the Vatican in Rome earlier in October.

The “Faith and Science: Towards COP26” event at the Vatican involved faith leaders from around the world. The meeting produced a joint appeal for net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible. Of those in attendance, Pope Francis was chosen to submit the joint appeal at COP26 as a show of interfaith solidarity. Several interfaith leaders from the Rome event will also attend the COP26 summit, including Singh.

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Singh, a resident of Maryland, was one of four Americans to sign the interfaith climate change agreement in Rome. Other American signatories included Maria Reis Habito for the Museum of World Religions; Gretchen Castle, general secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation; and Rabbi Daniel Swartz, executive director for the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

In addition to advocacy work, reforestation is a key area of focus for EcoSikh, which has worked to develop 365 man-made sacred forests around the world, though its operations are primarily focused on the United States and the Punjab, where Sikhism emerged more than 500 years ago.

Today the Indian region is home to only 3.5% of its historic tree cover, according to the nonprofit. EcoSikh believes increasing the tree cover of the region to 33% would improve air, water and soil quality in the region. 

“Religions need to do their own self-examination and take action as a community … whether that is greening spaces or cutting energy usage,” Singh said. “All faith communities have landholdings that they should consider converting into forests.”

The 12-year-old nonprofit also promotes a Sikh Environment Day held on March 14.

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