Meeting the SDGs: The Role of Religions for Sustainable Development

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat role can faith-based organizations play in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) until 2030? This question stood at the center of the KAAD seminar held in Bonn from 13 to 16 March 2017. 28 participants from 17 countries shared a wealth of experiences from their home countries in an animated exchange with experts.
The opening lecture by Prof. Dr. Andreas Lienkamp from University of Osnabrück spelled out how the core principles of human dignity, social justice and stewardship of creation as expressed in Catholic Social Teaching are reflected in inter-religious documents such as the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic. In a close reading of key passages of the Papal encyclical Laudato sí, he underlined that religious communities can be particularly influential in addressing the ecological (“cry of the earth”) and social crises (“cry of the poor”) of today’s world in an integral global and long-term perspective.


In a visit to the UN Climate Secretariat in Bonn, participants had a chance to realize how much impact this can mean in practical terms, taking as an example the progress on SDG 13 achieved at the climate conference in Paris 2015: “Faith-based organizations did an excellent job in helping us get this ambitious agreement”, explained UNFCCC Secretariat staffer Alexander Saier. The seminar also gave participants the opportunity to analyze to what extent religions matter in different other sectors of sustainable development. In Sub-Sahara Africa, for instance, some 50% of basic social services are provided by faith-based organizations. They offer ethical, spiritual, material and organizational resources for ending poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2), providing health care (SDG 3) and quality education (SDG 4) and working towards equality at different levels (SDG 5 and 10). A particularly valuable contribution towards these global goals can be made by religious actors who can build on intercultural and inter-religious expertise, migration expert Dr. Sascha Krannich emphasized in his evening talk.

A lively discussion was held about the role of religions with regard to SDG 16 (“Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”). While recognizing the potential of the world’s religions toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA mobilize their followers for violence, the KAAD students discussed ample examples for the positive role of religion for working toward peace and reconciliation. Dr. Markus Weingardt from Stiftung Weltethos shared encouraging examples from Mozambique, the Philippines, Kambodia as well as Muslim communities in Ruanda. Given the comparative advantages with regard to access, authority and credibility in the communities, religious actors are becoming increasingly important partners for official development cooperation. The seminar participants had a chance to discuss the new sector policy of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) which reflects the growing role of the FBOs with Michael Kronenberg who has been in charge for the publicly financed EZE projects by the church development agency Bread for the World.

In addition to stepping up financial aid for the achievement of the SDGs, seminar participants also see an important role for churches in the Global North in public advocacy against the unsustainable and asymmetrical terms of trade of economic globalization.